Obituaries

Gerald Penney

1940 - 2011

Gerald began to learn to ring at St Albans Cathedral in 1954, when his school friend, John Ewer, explained the delights of ringers’ teas. He was taught by Geoff Dodds, who, at that time, had taken on the daunting task of teaching twenty or so youngsters. These youngsters formed a ‘Society Junior Band’. They had their own rules and organised their own outings. Several of them became the backbone of St Albans District ringing for many years. Gerald was elected a member of the Hertford County Association in 1954.

In April 1956 Gerald rang his first peal; Plain Bob Major at Aldenham conducted by Tom Southam. Gerald was but one of four first pealers (at first attempt) in that band. This says rather a lot about the encouragement that was given to up-and-coming ringers at that time and to the care taken to nurture their skills. Gerald came to repay that care over many years as Abbey Ringing Master a role he took on in 1967 and continued in for 44 years.

Even before 1967 Gerald’s abilities were evident and, having become a regular supporter of St Albans District activities, he was elected District Ringing Master in 1960 a post he held until 1969. The Association more widely was becoming alive to Gerald’s skills and he was elected County Peal Secretary in 1968, serving until1971. In addition, Gerald served as a Central Council Representative from 1974 to 1981. In 1990 the Association was pleased to invite Gerald to become President, a role he fulfilled with modesty but with his, as I had come to appreciate, thoughtful and careful insight and helpful, practical support. Gerald became an elected Life Member of the Association.

He met Janet after a ringing session at St Peter’s in 1968 and persuaded her to ring at St Albans Cathedral. They were married on October 10th 1970 and rang a total of 163 peals together.

Many of Gerald’s peals were rung on Tom Lock’s annual peal tours which Gerald first went on when he was 21 years old. He took over organising the tours from Tom in the late 1970s.

Early on, Gerald took to the delights of handbell ringing and was greatly encouraged by Geoff and Joyce Dodds ringing many of his early handbell peals at their house in Queen Street, St Albans. In 1968 he rang in the then longest peal of Major on handbells, 17,824 of Kent Treble Bob Major at Leverstock Green.

John Mayne was another great influence on Gerald’s handbell ringing and in 1969 the band rang 32 Spliced Surprise Major, the greatest number of Surprise methods to be rung on handbells at the time; the second only peal on 14 handbells, and the first peal ever on 16 handbells.

Gerald rang a total of 1,125 peals, 869 on tower bells, 256 on handbells and he conducted 450. His last peal was of Kent Treble Bob Major in hand with Roger and Kath Baldwin and Christine Darby, and his last tower bell peal was on the treble to Stedman Cinques at The Abbey to welcome the new Bishop.

Amongst his tower bells achievements were to take part in 4 peals of Cambridge in a day in St Albans, and 5 peals at Loughborough in a day.

To no surprise, Gerald’s leading peal tower was St Albans Cathedral; ringing the 11th 50 times, and he was the first person to circle the tower.

As well as being a member of the Hertford County Association, he joined the Ancient Society of College Youths in 1962, along with many other ringing societies too numerous to mention.

Without a shadow of doubt though, Gerald’s greatest achievement in ringing by far was to spearhead the provision and installation of the superb new ring of bells now in place at St Albans Cathedral. This was a project that was brought to fruition by hard work, single mindedness, devotion and love over many decades. It remains a savage cruelty that his illness robbed him of the opportunity to actually ring on the bells for which he had worked so hard. A recording of the first ring on the bells was played to him the night before he died.

May he rest in peace in the garden of the Cathedral and may he not ever be troubled by poor striking.

JANET PENNEY, STEPHEN PENNEY and CHARLES POCOCK

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers