Obituaries

Frederick M. Mitchell

1933 - 2008

Although Fred Mitchell was and did many other things, ringing was important to him, and he left his mark on ringing in Shropshire.

Fred started to ring in 1944 at the age of 11, at St Mary, Stratfield Mortimer, Berks. Like many choirboy recruits, Fred was lured not by the sound of the bells or service to the church, but he was earning 1/6d at weddings, whereas the ringers walked off with 10/6d – so, as he said, no contest. The band could ring call changes and Grandsire Doubles, and Fred made further progress by travelling to neighbouring practices at St John, Mortimer Common and Bramley. When he was at school in Reading, Fred joined the ringing at St Mary and later St Laurence, learning to ring Caters, Royal and Maximus. Fred joined the RAF in 1949, which took him around the world, but only allowed him to ring when on leave.

In the early 1970s Fred and Tricia moved to Shropshire, firstly to Newport and later to Shifnal, where they have lived for many years. For most of the time in Shropshire Fred was tower captain at Shifnal, holding the band together through thick and thin. It was only last year that he handed over to one of his pupils, Ian Baker.

For nearly 40 years, Fred was a member of the Shropshire Association of Church Bellringers, and since 1973 a committee member: by turns trustee of the Association, ringing master, treasurer and, for 30 years until his death, Central Council representative. As ringing master, Fred was pleased to be part of the team headed by Vernon Beddoes that in 1982 restored the bells of Shawbury after 60 years’ silence. Fred called the first peal on the restored ring in the following year. The Association minute book reveals there was almost never a committee meeting, quarterly meeting or AGM when he did not feature – meetings would perhaps have been a lot shorter without Fred. His last committee meeting was in March, when although clearly not well, he was still enthusiastic and looking forward.

From 1977, Fred has represented the Association on the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. He enjoyed the ringing, meeting his old friends (he seemed to know everybody), the formal dinner and the seemingly endless business meeting. Peter Everall from Chetwynd also represented the Shropshire Association in Fred’s early years on the Council. Always hospitable, Fred and Tricia shared their caravan with Peter at a meeting in Penzance. In later years, bearing in mind Peter’s successors as second Association representative, Fred and Tricia’s hospitality never again stretched quite so far. In 1996, the Shropshire Association hosted the Central Council meeting. It was Fred who invited the Council and played a large part in the meticulous planning for the meeting in Shrewsbury. In no small part, Fred was responsible for the success of that meeting. For many years Fred put in good service as Shropshire Association treasurer. Fred’s accountancy skills are legendary. Following the Central Council meeting in 1996, Fred was unable to present the Association accounts, saying he was £600 adrift. The Association master, Edric Broom, blanched at the prospect of debtors’ prison – but no, it wasn’t that Fred had lost £600, he had £600 more than he expected! It may have been on that occasion that there were calls for Fred’s sacking, most vociferously from Tricia.

Fred was made honorary life member for his services to the Association in 2003. Although he said it was the highlight of all his ringing, this cannot have been true (he was being kind), but it meant a lot to him. He had first been proposed as honorary life member by Ernest Willcox in 1982. He turned it down; his reasons: such proposals were only for outstanding cases, and the Association needed his £1 subscription. By 2003, Fred clearly felt he was now an outstanding case, and the Association’s accounts were in such a healthy state that they did not need his £1 – after all Fred was no longer treasurer.

Fred and Tricia hosted a number of barbecues to raise money for the Shropshire Association Bell Restoration Fund. These were always enjoyable events in their beautiful garden, a perfect setting usually accompanied by perfect weather. Association members will have a clear memory of Fred standing at the barbecue, believing he was in charge, when Tricia knew the truth of the matter.

Fred was not a prolific peal ringer, ringing a little over 130 and conducting 20. After a failed first peal attempt of Stedman Triples called by Albert Diserens in 1949, it was a further 22 years before his first success, at Cheswardine with Eric Speake. Fred’s peal total for the Shropshire Association was 98. He wanted to ring 100 Shropshire peals, but sadly his health did not allow for this. His last peal was at Shifnal in 2002, of Shifnal Alliance Major. Fred was much more of a quarter peal ringer. He rang in and conducted many a Shropshire ringer’s first quarter. He said his most enjoyable quarter was ringing the tenor at St Chad, Shrewsbury to Cambridge Surprise Major. He probably enjoyed it more when it was over. Fred was an original member of the Edgmond monthly quarter peal band that in 1994 set out to ring the standard eight surprise with more confidence; ring spliced surprise; and incorporate more challenging methods into the repertoire. Well, it is still work in progress!

Fred has not just been involved with ringing in Shropshire. He and Tricia are well travelled, not only in this country (that caravan has been everywhere), but also around the world: Italy, USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Fred was a leading light and founder member of the RAF Guild, being at the inaugural meeting in Uxbridge in 1973. The first quarterly meeting based at Cosford, arranged by Fred, set the standard for future meetings, and they have followed this pattern ever since. His last tour was in Scotland earlier this year, when unfortunately he was not well enough to ring. If at all possible he attended Guild functions wherever they were, including the courses at Amport, where he was often employed as a speaker/instructor. Fred took part in six Guild peals: the first Guild peal at Cardington; three at St Clement Danes; one at Beccles; and he called one at Uxbridge. He rang in 37 quarters with the Guild, and called a number of these. Guild members will miss him at future events.

Fred will be remembered for the hard work, loyalty and enthusiasm in ringing; his long service to the Shropshire Association and the RAF Guild; and running the ringing at Shifnal. Fred will be remembered by all the ringers he has taught and encouraged over many years for his kindness and patience. In whatever he did, Fred was supported by Tricia, who was always there, but not always enthusiastic about catching hold of a rope. Our thoughts and best wishes are with her and the family.

NICK J. GREEN

 

Based on a tribute given by Nick Green, Shropshire Association ringing master, at Fred’s funeral on 21st August 2008 in the church of St Andrew, Shifnal, Shrops.

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