Obituaries

Sarah Elizabeth Stonehouse (née Hunt)

18th January 1972 - 13th December 2011

Sarah was born in Bath but within a couple of years the family had moved to Beverley and then on to Cottingham. Despite not coming from a ringing family, she was interested in ringing and in her early teens she asked a ringing friend about joining Cottingham tower, but she was told her that they had enough ringers, so she put the idea of ringing to the back of her mind. After graduating as a Teacher, she got a job at Rothley Primary School then in March 1997, following on from a Parents’ evening and being a Tuesday night, Sarah was travelling through the village with a fellow teacher when upon hearing the bells remarked that she had always wanted to try her hand at ringing. This time, Kate knew the tower was always short of ringers and so gave Sarah all the information and encouragement she needed. The next week she arrived at the tower and as with so many of the things she took on, she progressed quickly and competently. At that time we usually socialised after ringing so we had time to chat in the Woodies, and that was where we found out the spooky coincidence that we shared the same birthday, although it transpired that I was two years more mature! When Sarah started ringing, it was clear she enjoyed it and was very good at it, although she never pushed herself forward. After mastering the handling, she progressed to learning methods which was also a boost for the rest of the Rothley ringers. As her ringing blossomed, so did our friendship and we started going out in June. In September, I proposed to Sarah on Old John and to my great joy she accepted my offer and the ring fitted perfectly. Sarah had some daft idea of waiting until Easter, but I was too much in love to wait SIX months, so with a little manoeuvring managed to convince her that Monday, 22nd December 1997 would be much more appropriate. One goal was to ring something special prior to our wedding and so we successfully rang a quarter peal, although half a lead from home she almost dropped her rope but she regained her composure for the last five changes.

With our involvement in the local district – myself as Secretary supported by Sarah who later went on to take the post of Ringing Master – Sarah started helping teach ringing and methods at several towers round the district as well as at Rothley. Then in 1999 we started joining with other ringers nationwide and venturing outside Leicestershire. This started slowly but over the next few years we found ourselves joining up with many different groups, traversing the country and even further afield by going out ringing almost every weekend and during large portions of Sarah’s meagre holidays. Apart from the down side of racking up miles in the car, this was a wonderful opportunity to explore even more of this country, so now where ever I travel to, I can usually recall a happy memory of time spent there with Sarah. This also gave rise to another hobby, one that many bellringers enjoy, that of sampling lots of real ales, as the travel and overnight stays can so easily encompass visits to interesting pubs. The only problem arises when your favourite pub is a little distance from home and for Sarah ‘The Bridge’ at Topsham was her nirvana. Unfortunately, Topsham is a small village just south of Exeter so excuses just had to be found to divert there on any occasion we found ourselves south of Bristol.

Although the weekend trips were great fun, the chance to spend a week in one area was even better, and some of the weeks spent in Devon and Cornwall were glorious. One such memorable week was back in 2007 when we stayed in Newquay. Now we had played some Christmas tunes on Handbells at Rothley and Sarah had introduced the Belleplates – which are indestructible handbells – to the School where she taught the Children to play. However, while at the cottage, Sarah got the opportunity to learn to ring methods on Handbells and as some will know, this means you have to ring two bells which is not easy. Well suffice to say, after only a few days practice, Sarah had learnt all she needed and promptly rang her first quarter peal, again at the first attempt, but this time the chosen location was a pub!

While we had ventured overseas to ring in exotic destinations such as Anglesey, Isle of White, Isle of Man and even Holland, the chance to visit Australia with a couple of dozen other ringers was just to good to miss. With some extra organising, the preceding week in New Zealand was also arranged so as the School bell rang for the end of 2009 summer term, we headed off to Heathrow to make the 24-hour flight to Auckland. As Sarah always loved to see airplanes, the flight was exciting as it gave us a chance to fly on the Airbus A380 Super-Jumbo and, being Sarah, she just had to select a seat on the upstairs deck! On landing, all we had to do was stay awake the five hours before we rang for evensong at Auckland, which fortunately we managed. As a bonus, on the way back to the hotel we managed to locate Gabraith’s Alehouse, which is one of only a handful of real ale pubs in the country and as luck would have it, Bellringers Bitter was on! We drove as much as we could and Sarah loved the scenery, which at times was simply breathtaking, especially when we travelled down the South Island from Christchurch to Dunedin. As we crossed to Brisbane the ringing started in earnest, although some of the drives between towers were hundreds of kilometres, even now I can hear the immortal phrase ‘Stop the Car, there is a Kookaburra’. Given her love of heights and bridges, one thing that we had planned was to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which we duly did and managed to pick a wonderful day to take in the magnificent views. As we crossed the territories, Melbourne gave us the chance to meet up with my Auntie Peggy and while the day started with a leisurely tram ride round the city, knowing Sarah was always up for the more unusual activities, we then went to ‘The Edge’. This attraction is quite simple, it’s a glass cube that protrudes three metres out of the building which sounds simple, until you understand this cube is on the 88th floor and so it’s about 300 metres above the ground, but obviously Sarah loved it! At Bathurst we were allowed to ring even though the tower was being built, I wanted to do a lap of the circuit or visit the museum but as ever I was shown the error of my suggestion! The ringing continued with more towers and quarter peals and of course when the idea of a ‘Ladies only’ band was formed, who ended up as the conductress but Sarah, and so the quarter was scored with ease! All to soon we were on the final leg of the holiday in Perth, but that meant one of the ringing highlights, the Swan Bell Tower. This is a stunningly beautiful freestanding copper and glass campanile housing one of only three rings of 16 in the world, and while we didn’t ring a quarter on all 16, Sarah managed to ring her first and only quarter on 12 bells. We also new then that there would be no better place in the world to retire to, as Sarah knew if I was getting under her feet as I so often did, she just send me off to the Tower quite literally!

As we visited more churches together, we got ever closer to the milestone of 5,000 different towers and we knew we wanted to do something a little special. So we decided to ring at the village of Stonehouse in Gloucestershire and ring a quarter peal of the method ‘Stonehouse Alliance Minor’. The other four invited ringers were friends we had known for many years and rung with at so many of the previous towers, and so on 5th October 2010, together with Les, Sue, Ben and James we succeeded in our endeavour. We know of many ringing couples but none have rung at all the same towers as each other, let alone celebrated such a milestone together, so we were doubly proud of this unique achievement! As with all things we still remained modest about this event and held back from submitting an item to The Ringing World, so it seems only fitting to take this opportunity to list the details of the quarter:

Stonehouse, Glos. 5 Oct 2010, 1280 Stonehouse A Minor: Les Meadows 1, Sue Marshall 2, Ben Gooch 3, James Mort 4, Sarah Stonehouse 5, Ian Stonehouse (C) 6. First in the method for all the band. First non-Doubles conducted by 6. Rung for 5 and 6 to celebrate ringing at the same 5,000 towers each, with a band comprising friends who have already passed this landmark and have organised many tours and rung at many of the same towers.

Happily on October 13th we were invited to ring at the Appleton bell hangers’ campanile in Oxfordshire, and Sarah managed to make the journey to what was to be the 5,264th different tower we had visited together. It was a lovely evening for Sarah to ring with so many good friends and a few tears were shed by several that night. I even managed to take her out for a meal, having spent over 3 weeks in the Leicester Royal Infirmary, A Big Mac was at the top of her wants list, so there was no better end to a special day on what later turned out to be the last time Sarah ever rang a bell.

When Sarah was admitted to the Leicester Royal Infirmary in September, our world came to a stop when we were given the tragic news that cancer was spreading and was terminal. Sarah remained so strong, helped by her faith and never once complained, but the clock was ticking and on 13th December 2011 she finally succumbed to the disease. 33 peals and quarters, both hand and in towers were rung in Sarah’s memory, and included so many ringers who had rung with her on countless occasions. Everyone was so proud of her and was touched by her kindness, her passing leaves such a gap in so many people’s lives but looking down on all her friends and fellow ringers who gathered in Rothley Church for the memorial service held on what would have been her 40th birthday, I’m sure she’d be so embarrassed as she never courted attention or truly believed how well loved she was.

IAN STONEHOUSE

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