Obituaries

Dennis Beresford

12th May 1934 - 30th June 2011

The funeral of Dennis Beresford took place at the little Parish Church of St James-the-Less, Huish, Devon on July 11th 2011. The church was full to overflowing and it was fortunate the service was relayed to loudspeakers in the churchyard. There were large numbers of local people and from the Diocese and a large number of ringers including eight past Masters of the Cumberlands. George Pipe gave a splendid tribute to Dennis and some of it is included in this obituary with his permission.

Dennis was born in Lichfield in May 1934, twin of Peter and younger brother of Joan and Bob. He went to school at Pool Walk Primary and later at King Edward VI Grammar School.

He learnt to ring under the strict tutelage.of George Oliver and Frank Sedgwick at Lichfield Cathedral He joined the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths in 1956 after National Service from 1953 to 1955 in the Royal Army Pay Corps.

Then he went to Kings at the University of London, reading Chemistry and graduating in 1958. From there he joined Shell International for all his working life. A pivotal point in his life was marrying Mary in 1959. Subsequently they had four children, Hilary, Alison, Anthea and Jeremy.

He arrived in London, already a good ringer and conductor, with pride in his membership of the Cumberlands. This led on to another legacy, in some ways his destiny.

He told me that at the first meeting of the Society he attended in London there were just seven people attending including Tom and Margaret Francis. It rather shook him and he decided there and then to attempt to do something about it. He eventually became Master in 1960 for nine years and again in 1972 for another five years.

In those days the Society only had a monthly practice on the first Wednesday in the month at St Martin-in-the-Fields and an annual meeting and three quarterly meetings.

So he organised weekly practices in between at first by invitation until the rules were revised. These were mainly 8-bell practices at first apart from St Martin’s with the occasional 10-bell at St Clement Danes. Those of us who attended were subjected to rigorous but very encouraging improvement to our ringing abilities and over the months and years progressed through Glasgow and Belfast to London and Bristol Royal and then to Surprise Maximus with eventually Bristol.

This now sounds easy but not in those days and took a great deal of dedicated work by Dennis to achieve what undoubtedly was the saving of the Society.

It was not all plain sailing because Dennis had very high standards and very strong opinions not always shared by everybody. However targets were achieved.

Only two towers were under the control of the Society, St Martin’s and Shoreditch although others were very kindly made available to us. However apart from some Sunday Service ringing Shoreditch were unavailable because of the noise factor and a block of flats just across the road. The bells were on plain bearings and had to be oiled every time they were rung. Obviously a restoration project was required and Dennis spearheaded this so that in 1969 they were rehung on ball bearings, with the addition of a sharp second, and proper sound control added so that they could be rung for practices and peals. This involved a lot of hard work in the evenings and at weekends and he was at the forefront of this.

It had long been an ambition of Dennis’s that a ringable peal of bells should be installed at Spitalfields and this eventually became possible after the completion of Shoreditch. The bells from the church of Clapham Park which had to be rebuilt became available and after appropriate negotiations were installed in Christ Church again with appropriate sound control. Once again Dennis was the leader with a very willing and able body of helpers for a very big job which took two years to complete and the bells were dedicated in 1972.

Peal ringing for the Society in the fifties was at a low ebb with only 30 being rung in ten years. Dennis set about changing this after he became Master, again a slow process, but the foundation for the later explosion in numbers and complexity. This culminated in six peals of 9-Spliced on the same day by different bands in 1968 and two peals of Bristol Maximus by different bands on the same day in 1969. I personally owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for all the opportunities he gave me in ringing and conducting peals.

Dennis rang 565 peals including 250 for the Cumberlands and he conducted 256. His first three peals were all Grandsire Doubles, all rung in 1947, the second his first as conductor and the third his first in hand. There are a number of fine performances on heavy bells and he was a very good heavy bell ringer. He rang Wells tenor to London Royal and Sherborne to Bristol. He rang in a number of firsts for the Society especially Maximus peals at Shoreditch in a variety of methods (18 different altogether). He was particularly pleased with the silent peals of Pitman’s spliced, four, six, seven and eight methods and a peal at St Paul’s Cathedral, but was disappointed not to have rung a peal at Exeter, an attempt for Stedman failing with two courses to go due to the indisposition of one of the band.

In addition to his Mastership, he was a Central Council representative for the Society from 1960 to 1978 and was very active in the Redundant Bells committee. An important strand in his efforts and leadership was his attempt to build bridges between the Cumberlands and the other great Society and rival, the Ancient Society of College Youths. This culminated in 1972 by the two Societies jointly hosting the first Central Council meeting to be held in London since 1948 (prior to the Second World War meetings were held in London every three years).

However other ambitions were never realised, because, sadly, disaster struck in 1976 in the form of a mystery virus and subsequent surgery to correct the complications, which in effect reduced him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. Back and forth to hospitals like St Thomas’s and St Mary’s, it was sad to see this once very active man reduced to almost immobility. But not quite. He kept up his interests in business, current affairs, music and of course ‘the Art’. He was able to continue work from his wheelchair but this tragedy did at least have a benefit, because enforced early retirement, meant Devon – a place he and Mary loved. They moved down in 1991.

During his time in Devon he maintained a strong interest in teaching ringing and would run practices from his wheelchair.

One might think ringing was Dennis’s only real interest. Far from it. Apart from his family, he had a great love of classical music especially Elgar and Beethoven, politics, the workings of the Church and fine wine. He was in fact a connoisseur of French wine and Bristol Surprise!

His work for the church both at parish level and diocesan was highly regarded and invaluable. He was local PCC Secretary and Treasurer and Deanery Treasurer. This last position meant he became a regular adviser on financial matters to parishes far and wide. He was a valued member of the Diocesan Assets Group and his clear and incisive mind was always the source of invaluable contributions to discussion. He was never afraid of asking difficult questions and encouraging the Diocese to face up to difficult decisions. Even when in hospital he would still provide argument and advice tempered with his trademark good humour and gentle smile when visited by any member of the group.

And always there was Mary who faithfully drove Dennis wherever he needed to be and waited until the sometimes interminable meetings were over, only to drive him on to the next one and eventually home.

Dennis’s contribution to the Exercise and especially to the Cumberlands was enormous. To Mary and all his family we extend our very sincere condolences.

May he rest in peace.

DEREK SIBSON

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers