Obituaries

Peter John Staniforth

1927 - 2012

An appreciation by George Pipe

A man of singular virtue.” So said Dean Swift of Sir Thomas More in 1573, “a man of fine moral exellence and goodness, fervent loyalty, given to hospitality and charity.”

Peter Staniforth was like that and who can tell how many lives he touched? The Thanksgiving Service in a packed Leicester Cathedral on 21st February said it all: joyous, confident, full of hopefulness, celebrating the memory of one of the outstanding men of his generation. And not just in ringing which was where we, of course, knew him best.

St Martin’s, Leicester, beautifully reordered, still retains an intimacy wherein family and friends meet. The service gave us fine music and the Word, handbells and prayer in a cathedral Peter knew so well all his life. As St Peter said on the mountain-side, “Lord, it is good to be here.”

Our sympathy and love go out to Jill, his devoted wife of over sixty years and Rosemary and Kingsley and all the family. How good to see brother Michael again after all these years – no mistaking the family likeness there.

Peter, with Jill and her parents Harold & Phyllis Poole had been my friends since 1947. How well I remember my visit for a long weekend in Leicester; a great welcome, fine bells including the excellent ten at St John the Divine and nothing too much trouble. There was the chance to meet Ernest Morris, Fred Dexter, Arthur Debenham, Colin Harrison and other members of the Cathedral and St Margaret’s bands then in their halcyon days. What great things they achieved on tower bells and in hand.

Peter was born in Leicester (in Pool Road!) in 1927, fifth child of Daniel and Winifred Staniforth who amazingly having come from Kettering and the Leicestershire village of Barwell, met and married, not just up the road at Sileby but in Melbourne, Australia! Another of those coincidences that throw we ringers together. He learnt to ring at Anstey, a ‘43er’ and obviously showed early promise at the age of sixteen; his first peal was Stedman Triples. Jill Poole, already a capable ringer, eventually started cycling to Anstey for the practice night; “the pretty girl in the red coat” they told me. The rest, as they say, is history – or is it?

Inevitably, Peter was soon in the Leicester Cathedral band with their dynamic conductor Harold J. Poole. As an Ipswich man, their immediate post-War achievements are especially interesting to me. And it was rather nice to discover later that HJP had been in frequent correspondence with George Symonds and Charles Sedgley from the ‘Tower’. Leicester in 1945 carried on where Ipswich had finished in 1939 in the field of Surprise Royal and, especially, Maximus.

Ipswich, having recorded peals in eight different Surprise Maximus methods, after the York S. in 1939 was practising Bedford and Belgrave and certainly looking at Bristol since GES was in contact with George Baker in Brighton who had sent him a blue line of of it in 1938 (“that’ll take some ringing”). World War II brought all that to a close from which the ‘Tower’ never recovered until many years later.

Amongst many fine performances in the first five years from 1945, looking through Peter’s peal books, three are especially significant; the last peal by the old Midland Counties Association recorded below, the ground-breaking Cambridge Maximus in hand (see front page) and the now well-documented first ever of Bristol Maximus in 1950.

They went on to even greater things and by the time Peter had ceased regular and quite prolific peal ringing for those times in 1973-4 the Cathedral band had rung around thirty different Surprise Maximus and several of spliced up to twelve methods, sprinkled with a goodly number of Stedman Cinques.

Unfortunately, Peter didn’t keep an accurate record of his peals after his 1,000th in 1973 (his 999th was with Jill and daughter Rosemary for her first). Broadly, he rang getting on for 1,100 peals, conducted nearly 400 of which over 300 (cond 150) were in hand and in that total around 300 12-bell peals.

On the handbells side, a great love of Peter’s in which he excelled, as Robert B. Smith recalled in his Personal Reflections, Leicester became a centre of excellence matched only by the Hertfordshire band under Harold Cashmore. Leicester’s range was even wider – Stedman on all numbers and, indeed, Surprise equally so.

Something that was especially precious to the family – Pooles and Staniforths – was their friendship with the Lincolnshire families; the Richardsons at Surfleet and the Freemans in Lincoln – grand people and ringers. Coupled with that, an almost legendary welcome to newcomers to Leicester.

But the family had their share of tragedy too; the loss of Jill’s parents in1955 and 1958 was a body blow but resolve shone through and Peter & Jill made us stronger as a result.

Peter would tell you that one of the highlights of his ringing career was the Washington tour trip of 1964. He loved every minute of it and Stateside, they loved him too. Happily, with Jill, he was able to attend the 25th anniversary there in 1989, much to the delight of Richard Dirksen and his band.

Peter Staniforth’s contribution to the Exercise was a far broader canvas than peal ringing and his endowment to life and society even broader in the field of education, sport and the community. All this underpinned by his strong Christian faith. It is an oft-repeated comment, especially at funerals of someone greatly loved and respected: “Well, his place will be hard to fill.” I don’t think we shall fill it; we just say “thank you.”

The best thing that Peter did was to marry Jill Poole for which he interited gracious and talented in-laws Harold & Phyllis and was blessed with an equally talented daughter, Rosemary, now happily Mrs Kingsley Mason.

The Thanksgiving Service contained a reflection by his friend Bob Smith, readings from Masonic colleagues, a touching ‘Words from the heart’ from Rosemary, handbells by Jill, Emma Southerington, Bob, Roly Cook and Rupert Clarke, and a fine address by Canon Michael Wilson, Emeritus at the Cathedral. With his permission I record it in full:

Peter Staniforth R.I.P. 21 February 2012, Leicester Cathedral
St Luke 12:22-34

‘In his teaching about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Jesus distinguishes between genuine glory and false glory. The humble acceptance of God’s glory, the gift by God of the divine nature and its selfless appropriation is the genuine. Those who appropriate self-conscious, manufactured glory to themselves alone are missing the point and falling short of the mark. Receiving God’s glory brings untold value to our lives, gives us the longer and deeper view of people and things, and allows God’s generous loving kindness to grow and flourish within us and among us. In this Service we are committing Peter into the love and glory of God, into the hands of our heavenly Father who knows Peter better than he knows himself and who loves him with a generosity we would scarcely believe.

Redolent of Jesus’s remarks about God clothing the lilies and grass of the field with such immense but fleeting glory, Dame Vivienne Westwood, in the “glitz and bling” of UK Fashion Week has commented that the best dressed people are usually seventy years of age or over. I never thought I would view Dame Vivienne Westwood as a prophet! She gives her view that style without substance is rubbish. She grumbles that so much modem clothing is unimaginative and disposable, with people dressing like drab clones rather than like “Solomon in all his glory”, as Jesus would say. It is all too easy for today’s “time poor, cheque book rich, diary full” generations to view their lives as the only thing in the world that matters – as small, intricate and demanding self-centred entanglements. Jesus was always challenging this narrow view. In his teaching and ministry was always trying to raise people’s eyes to greater horizons. He confronted his hearers with the irresponsibly generous estimate God intends and sustains for men and women made in his image and likeness. The gift of new life in God’s kingdom is both ultimate style and substance: glory for this world and the next to all who would receive it joyfully. This why Jesus comments “Not as the world gives, give I unto you.”

Peter married Jill in this Cathedral Church in 1951. They celebrated the Diamond Wedding anniversary last year. He and Jill have seen change and development at Leicester Cathedral in their many years in this Cathedral community, with Peter as a Cathedral Warden. He realised that the “kingdom glory” Spirit taught by Jesus in our reading today is what God’s ambition for Leicester Cathedral and the world is about. In the words of Jesus, “the life is more than food and the body more than clothing”. The rich raiment of King Solomon is fleeting and is nothing in comparison to the gift of the kingdom of God available to all. Peter was always commending the faith and practice of the Church and of steady personal belief in Jesus Christ to all he encountered. A very short hymn by Christopher Wordsworth sums him up:


Lord, be thy word my rule,
In it may I rejoice,
Thy glory be my aim,
Thy holy will my choice;
Thy promises my hope,
Thy providence my guard,
Thine arm my strong support,
Thyself my great reward.

It is in this expansive, “kingdom glory” Spirit that we say “Thank you” to God for Peter Staniforth. Peter thrived in being part of human institutions with spiritual purpose: the Christian Church, young peoples’ education, that mathematical musical mystery called “bell ringing”, and his many friendships and associations. Freemasonry was a particular enjoyment, his mother Lodge being Halford Lodge. He served the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland as Assistant Provincial Grand Master amongst many other senior appointments. His affinity was such that he received the accolade of numerous honorary memberships. Although gregarious and sociable, as a man of the Spirit he sometimes needed solitude to think things through and take his bearings.

Peter was educated at Anstey Primary School, Loughborough Grammar School and King Alfred’s College, Winchester. He started his teaching work at St Peter’s Church of England School, Highfields, in Leicester – eventually holding headships at three Leicestershire Primary Schools: Bardon Hill, Wigston Glenmere and Whitwick. He always held the link between Church and Education is God-inspired and God-given. He appreciated the gift of music, expressing what goes far beyond words. Of course, rumblings of the traditional Headmaster would emerge even far into retirement. Peter had an interest in and affection for people. He was an encourager, and had distinctive qualities of decisiveness and leadership.

Peter never did things “by half’ including keen participation in sports. Conscious of his own competitive streak, he took great delight in seeing pupils reaching high standards in cricket, rugby and soccer. He expected much from himself, and this enabled him to be the servant of others, quietly working on behalf of others. To fulfil life’s demands and his demands upon himself, Peter sensibly acquired a quiet, dry and affectionate sense of humour that kept him buoyed up. This appreciation of other people and the desire to serve are shared completely by Jill. She and Peter treasured one another all their married life - and the spirit of them both is evident in Rosemary.

Jesus, in his warnings to follow and acquire the genuine everlasting kingdom rather than to go for less in this world, asks us not to be anxious. I have always thought on reading this passage of Scripture “more easily said than done!” Jesus’s response to this reaction is “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In recent years Peter had been schooled by occasional bouts of frailty. Stalwart in his final illness, he showed the dignity of our mortality and the fearlessness of faith. It was hard to watch and experience. As the things of this world receded, the kingdom gifts of faith in the promises of eternity, hope beyond our limited horizons, and reliance on the love of God and others became dominant. Peter looked towards the complete treasure that is God the Father’s good pleasure to give to those who believe and trust in him.

We all assure Jill and Rosemary and their families the assurance of our thoughts and prayers and support in the days to come. In the words of Jesus, Peter has “unfailing treasure in heaven” with nothing more to strive for, nothing to cause anxiety and no danger of destruction. The Scriptures envisage our transformed life beyond death clothed in glory and abounding with eternal treasure. May Peter rest in peace and rise in glory. May Peter’s heart enjoy God the Father’s treasure, and may our hearts be there with him, now and for ever. Amen.’

And so we come full circle, another chapter closed but not quite. I am reminded of the little prayer said every day of his life by another strong Christian man of high principle, the old Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammerskjöeld:
Lord, for all that has been – thanks
For all that is to come – YES!

Peter you will Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory and dwell in the heavenly belfry. A man indeed of singular virtue.

G.W.P.

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With the passing of Peter Staniforth, the ringers of Washington, DC have lost a friend very dear to those of us who knew him. He was also a ringer whose influence on the development of Washington ringing, and North American ringing by extension, is worthy of note for those who did not have that privilege.

Peter was a member of the extraordinary band of ten ringers imported from England to ring for the dedication of the Cathedral’s Central Tower in May of 1964. In the United States, bells were then being rung only by students at the Groton and Kent Schools, and at Chicago’s Mitchell tower. Change ringing was otherwise unknown in this country and the Cathedral’s untutored band of boys and men had been struggling since the bells’ installation in October to ring call changes and Doubles. We had only a vague idea of what ringing was supposed to sound like, and no knowledge of the broader culture of the ringing world.

The events of that week have been well chronicled and need not be repeated here, but it must be said that the interaction with those men, each in their own way, was a true epiphany for the Washington ringers and the Cathedral community at large. It also marked the beginning of many personal relationships which, from then on, provided developing Washington ringers with an ongoing source of instruction and connection with the British ringing community. The importance of those connections to the growth of American ringing, particularly in the first decade, simply cannot be overstated.

For over forty years, Peter and his dear wife, Jill, went to truly extraordinary lengths to house and entertain visiting ringers: fixing innumerable towers and visits to sites of historic interest, arranging teas, pub crawls and handbell gatherings, and peal attempts for those capable. Having led a dozen or so of those ringing trips, I know the ringers always treasured especially the days in Leicester for the incredible generosity and warmth of the hospitality provided by Peter and Jill and their friends.

Peter returned to Washington in July of 1976, to conduct a peal at the Cathedral for our nation’s bi-centennial using the ‘Washington Peal’ composition of Stedman Caters originally rung for the dedication. This remains one of the pre-eminent peals ever rung on the bells, and noteworthy particularly for the ongoing prominence of several band members: 1. Jill Staniforth, 2. Rebecca A. Joyce, 3. Ann G Martin (100th peal), 4. Margaret Fanfani (now Willans) (1st in method), 5. William A. Theobald, 6. Quilla Roth, 7. Marjorie B. Batchelor (now Winter), 8. Edward W. Martin, 9, Peter J. Staniforth (C), 10. Richard S. Dirksen.

Peter and Jill returned again in the fall of 1990, to participate in three peals marking the consecration of the finished Cathedral. Unfortunately, Peter had suffered a badly injured wrist and was unable to ring, but his presence – along with Frank Price and George Pipe as members of the original band – was of great importance to that significant occasion.

Peter Staniforth was a man – a role model, really – whom I greatly admired as a fellow educator, a superb ringer in every regard, a devoted husband and father, and a devout churchman and Freemason. He was passionate in his beliefs, but generally considerate of other points of view (such as those which sometimes emerged from this misguided side of the puddle), and possessed of a delightful sense of humor. Our hearts go out to Jill, Rosemary and Kingsley as we join them and his many friends in mourning his loss, even as we celebrate the tremendous joy which we shared in his life. He will be greatly missed.

RICK DIRKSEN

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers