05.02.33. - 16.06.11

John’s family originally came from Fletching in Sussex and his uncle and great uncle were ringers there. He was taught to ring at Newington-next–Hythe in Kent in his teens and was the oldest member of the band when he was elected tower captain at the age of seventeen, a post he held, along with that of organist, until his death.

He attended the Harvey Grammar school in Folkestone with Cyril Wratten and they would cycle far afield together to practice nights and meetings. Quarter peals required a different strategy and the band was often selected according to who owned a car and would be able to offer them a lift, although one ringer’s open jeep was somewhat cold in winter.

John’s first peal was of Grandsire Triples at Elham, conducted by William Bottrill, on 11th October 1952, and although not a prolific peal ringer, he did take part in some notable performances. On 28th February 1953 he rang in the first peal on the 18cwt ring of five at Eastry and then a month later, on 28th March, a band consisting of past and present Harvey Grammar school pupils rang the first peal at Barham, also a ring of five, both peals being three methods doubles conducted by Cyril Wratten. The next challenge, on 9th May 1953, was the then longest length of doubles for the Kent County Association of Change Ringers, 6840 changes of three methods doubles taking 3 hours 44 minutes on the 9cwt ring of six, again conducted by Cyril Wratten. You may wonder how the band decided on 6840 changes for their record attempt, and the answer is simply that they just kept going until the fifteen year old treble ringer looked like she’d had enough. This peal was Frank Knight’s 125th, a good number in those days, and this, along with the number of changes in their record peal, illustrates how much peal ringing has altered since those times.

John was an architect and his ringing record books are works of art, with beautiful pen and ink illustrations as well as meticulous details of everything including the quality of the ringing. Comments are usually positive with: “excellent striking on lovely bells” and “good ringing in pleasant company” but his honesty shows with the rare negatives: “I’ve never worked so hard for so little” and “I have heard worse – once only”.

John met his wife Valerie, also a ringer, at Newington and it was there that they were married in 1960. His daughter, Vanessa, continues the ringing tradition in the family, as does his nephew, Richard Senior and
his family.

Practice nights at Newington were always popular, with ringers from a wide area attending on a regular basis; this was not only down to John’s ability to get the best out of any group of ringers, but also because of his great sense of humour and generous nature.

Vanessa Gilham

BB BellBoard
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers