1923 - 2009

On relocation to the Foreign Office (now GCHQ) in Cheltenham in 1955 Val joined the band at St. Mary’s, Cheltenham. It was not long before she was ringing peals all round the area, on both handbells and tower bells.

Val rang 648 peals and her most prolific period of peal ringing was the twenty years from 1966 and included 122 peals on handbells, mostly rung with Cyril Wratten’s band (Cyril, Val, Frances Mulvey (née Fairbank) and Hugh Evans with Martyn Hawkes replacing Frances in 1969) at Val’s house in Willersey Road (her daughter Zoe had strict instructions not to interrupt), and Bernard Taylor’s bands. Handbell peal ringing culminated in peals of Double Norwich and 27-Spliced Plain Major. There were other more unusual venues including the ferry crossing the Irish Sea for the Cheltenham Parish Outing to Ireland. Another venue was St John’s Church, Northgate, Gloucester – the bells had been unringable for many years so being able to say they had rung a peal there made a few tower grabbers’ jaws drop! Val’s set of handbells were always used because they were not particularly tuneful and this kept them awake. When they tried a set with a lovely hum – probably Cyril’s – they lost their concentration admiring the sound.

By 1968 Val had rung peals of Stedman from Doubles to Cinques. Val’s first peal as conductor was of Minor at Randwick on 14th June 1969 in honour of the Queen’s official birthday and was also the first ladies’ peal for the G&B. Val conducted her second peal, Plain Bob Major, on 8th November 1969; this was the first ladies’ peal of Major for the Association. Her third and last peal as conductor was at Chepstow on 1st May 1971, rung for the Llandaff and Monmouth Diocesan Association.

When a new ring of six bells was installed at Woolstone in 1974 Val regularly helped with the training of the newly-recruited band.

Val was very helpful in a number of ways; she supported young ringers both by ringing and providing transport; she supported attempts at peal organising often volunteering to ring the treble; she helped ringers get into handbell ringing; she showed that ringing does not have to depend on ropesight. She was a very competent ringer and good striker who placed her bell entirely by listening. At first this could be rather off-putting to someone brought up on ropesight, but she would always look up from the floor if you ought to be following her and weren’t quite there! One got the impression she could learn most things if needed, and was comfortable on all numbers. Val was her ‘own person’ and not afraid to state her view, even if it was unpopular.

Val served as Cheltenham Branch secretary for 4 years from 1978-1981, bringing into play her Civil Service training to rationalise and focus the business meetings.

In November 1984 a farewell peal of Grandsire Cinques was rung at Gloucester Cathedral “With gratitude and best wishes to Valerie Willard on her retirement and move to Princes Risborough, Bucks.” And at Prestbury a peal of Plain Bob Major as a “Farewell compliment to Valerie Willard who is leaving Cheltenham after having been an active ringer in this Branch for 29 years.”

In 1989 Val came back to judge the Banner Trophy striking competition at Badgeworth, won by Charlton Kings.

With thanks to Frances Mulvey, Bernard Taylor and Hugh Evans in particular for their help in compiling this obituary.

Cheltenham Branch of the GBDA

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