7th November 1916 – 17th February 2012

outside the beer tentA life full of strength, success, enthusiasm and happiness – these were the words used by Michael Uphill to sum up Harold’s long life in his tribute at the Service of Thanksgiving held at All Saints’, Isleworth, on Thursday 15th March.

In recent years Harold was perhaps best known among ringers for his remarkable enthusiasm for peal ringing well after his 90th birthday. This brought him much happiness and the success of most of his peal attempts was largely due to excellent organisation by David Dearnley, whose first peal Harold had called many years before. By this time he was not as physically strong as previously, when he was usually to be found round the back end often turning in tenors, but he remained mentally as strong as ever. Indeed, even after a year of poor health and several stays in hospital, he never gave up hope of fulfilling his aim of ringing 100 peals after the age of 90. He actually managed 85, far more than anyone else. It was this positive outlook on life that characterised everything that he undertook and kept him going after Olive’s death in 2004.

Harold was brought up on his parents’ farm at Chediston, a village deep in the countryside of north-east Suffolk. He attended Halesworth School and at the age of 15 he started an apprenticeship in motor engineering with Mann Egerton, first in Norwich and then in Ipswich. In 1936 he became an Engineer Officer on the motor vessel Queen Victoria, a new ship undergoing trials on the Clyde, and with her he had the marvellous experience of a voyage round the world. He often spoke of the thrill of sailing under Sydney Harbour Bridge. After that he moved to London, taking up engineering posts in Chiswick, Fulham and Croydon, and studying for a while at the Regent Street Polytechnic.

Harold had learned to handle a bell at St Mary’s, Chediston, and was soon introduced to change ringing by Frederick Lambert of Halesworth, who later called his first two peals. He continued ringing in Ipswich, not at St Mary-le-Tower where the standard of ringing was much above his, but with the Bowells at St Clement’s. In London he took lodgings in Chiswick and was soon advised to visit Isleworth tower, where of course he met the local tower captain, Olive Ashbrook. They were married in 1941, and their two children, Chris and Trish (now Hitchins) followed in 1943 and 1946 respectively. Harold and Olive remained living in Isleworth for the rest of their lives, for the last 53 years at 53 The Grove, where over the years countless ringers have been made welcome and provided with sustenance.

During the Second World War Harold served first as a Staff Sergeant in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and later as a Lieutenant and then Captain in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers – hence the ‘gallant captain’ of Tales of the London County Crypt. He spent the entire war at various postings in the British Isles, never overseas.

After the war Harold moved away from practical engineering (although he continued to service his car for many years) and became a technical author and copywriter, and later a director, with a company called Technical Designs Ltd, whose function was to produce technical publications and exhibition material. He stayed with that firm, under various name changes, for the rest of his working life and retired in 1977. He worked very hard and for long hours, usually arriving home late every evening except Friday (Isleworth practice night).

After work and family, ringing was his main passion, especially Isleworth church and the London County Association. At Isleworth he took over from Olive as tower captain in 1943 and remained in that position for the rest of his life – 69 years. He taught countless people to ring and kept the local band going through thick and thin. In the 1950s, with a number of good ringers in the band, he led them through peals and quarter peals in several Surprise Royal methods, at a time when ringing was still recovering from the war years and not too many peals of Surprise Royal were being rung anywhere.

In the London County Association he was general secretary for 17 years from 1946 and master for two three-year terms in the 60s and 70s. For many years he produced the Association’s annual report. As with everything he did, he put a lot of effort into the Association’s activities and, with Olive, he was particularly good at providing young ringers new to London with opportunities to make progress. He was sad that in 2007 it became necessary to wind up the Association, but, pragmatic as ever, he accepted that in the circumstances it was the right course of action.

Harold also much valued his connection with Southwark Cathedral. For about 30 years he and Olive organised quarter peals at Southwark on third Sunday evenings, with Harold often calling Stedman or Erin Cinques from the 11th. Later on, when the Southwark Cathedral Society was reconstituted in its present form, he served as Treasurer and also became a Cathedral Steward. One of the many kind messages received following his death was from the Dean of Southwark.

Another tower of which Harold and Olive were very fond was Inveraray. From the early 70s, when Norman Chaddock set about the major task of restoring the tower and bells, they were regular visitors to the annual Inveraray Ringing Festival. Harold was always keen to help Norman with jobs in the tower and later he provided and maintained the display boards for the tower exhibition. He continued to visit after Olive’s death, driving himself the 450 miles each way without overnight stops until, at the age of 90, Trish and Eric insisted on taking him. He was very proud to have rung 13 peals on the bells, including circling the tower, and it was a great tribute to him that a Scottish Association peal there on the day after his death was dedicated to his memory.

Another aspect of Harold’s service to ringing was his membership of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. He represented the London County Association on the Council from 1946 to 2000, when he received the honour of life membership. In his 66 years on the Council he missed only two meetings and was by some distance the longest ever serving member of the Council. For a good part of that time he was a member of the Public Relations Committee, on which his main role was to produce and maintain display boards for loaning out to towers and associations across the country for open days, etc.

Harold was always keen to ring peals, especially at Isleworth. According to his records, he rang 1,192 peals, of which he conducted 343. His first was on 23rd April 1938 at Huntingfield, Suffolk, in 3 Doubles methods, and his last was on 21st January 2011 at Isleworth, of Stedman Caters, his favourite method. Altogether he rang 271 peals of Stedman Caters, of which 240 were at Isleworth, and conducted 52 of them. No fewer than 705 of his peals were at Isleworth, including 163 on the tenor and 129 on the 9th. His 1,000th peal came 60 years and 6 months after his first peal – probably the second longest thousand after Len Stilwell. An article about his 1,000 peals appeared in The Ringing World of 15th January 1999.

Although Harold lived for most of his life in Isleworth, he always retained a deep love of the countryside, particularly his native Suffolk. He was always keen to return there, usually three times a year to visit his parents and other family members. In more recent years he loved staying with Trish and Eric in Norfolk and relished journeys out from there, where he would comment on the state of the land and the farming techniques. He was particularly fond of heavy horses, especially the Suffolk Punch, several of which were usually to be found on the farm at Chediston.

He was absolutely delighted when the bells of Chediston church were at last restored after a long period of disuse and was so pleased to have rung in the first peal on them after restoration. It was his final wish that he be buried in Chediston churchyard alongside the graves of his parents and brother. That wish was honoured on an amazingly mild February day after a lovely funeral service attended by over 70 people, many of whom had travelled long distances to be there.

At All Saints’, Isleworth, as well as being in charge of the tower and bells for so many years, Harold was a committed member of the church community. He served as a PCC member for many years, PCC Secretary for 10 years and for a long period as Churchwarden with special responsibility for maintenance of the fabric. In particular, he was heavily involved in the replacement of the temporary church erected after the fire of 1943 with the present building.

Thus it was very fitting that, after the funeral in Suffolk, there should be a service at Isleworth to celebrate his life. And what a celebration it was! Nearly 250 people attended, a good many of them ringers; Michael Uphill spoke of Harold’s ringing achievements, interspersed in his inimitable way with a series of anecdotes; Chris Rogers gave a resume of his life; the Revd Anna Brooker, Vicar of Isleworth, gave a thoughtful address, emphasising how much Harold was loved and valued in Isleworth; a touch of Spliced Surprise Royal was rung on handbells; the hymn-singing almost raised the roof; and the tower bells rang out to several touches of Stedman Caters.

The many peals and quarter peals rung to his memory are a testimony to the respect and affection in which Harold was held by so many ringers around the country. His was indeed a long life full of strength, success, enthusiasm and happiness.


Address given by Michael Uphill at the Thanksgiving Service on 15th March 2012

First, a word to those of you who are not bell-ringers. I do hope that you will make yourselves as comfortable as you can and forgive the next few minutes of campanological indulgence. I’m afraid you might not understand a word of it, except, perhaps, the naughty bits, but don’t think it’s never going to come to an end – you should be happily singing the next hymn by 3 o’clock.

I wonder if it was his happy upbringing on a Suffolk farm that led to Harold enjoying what some might describe as more than his fair share of Heydays. Some might, yes, … but not us, especially those of us who were privileged to share in that last great heyday, only recently ended, the one that defied the very meaning of the word. For a “Heyday” is supposed to be the time in your life during which you enjoy your greatest strength and success. The “Hey” in heyday comes from an Anglo-Saxon expression of enthusiasm and happiness. And those four attributes surely sum up Harold in a nutshell.
Strength, success, enthusiasm and happiness.
We’ll draw a discreet veil over the Anglo-Saxon!

Harold certainly applied all of his strength when he was at the end of a bell-rope, especially for countless peals and quarter peals on the 11th and tenor at Southwark Cathedral which he rang with such enthusiasm and happiness during one of those many heydays when, with Olive, he was a mainstay of a band that rang quarter peals there on the 3rd Sunday evening in the month for many years during the 60s and 70s. But Harold always put just about everything into his ringing, didn’t he, including the kitchen sink? Pat Cannon had a lovely story of him ringing the tenor to a quarter-peal on a 6cwt six during a Central Council weekend.

“There was Harold, heaving away as usual on this 6cwt tenor; big smile on his face; hands just about scraping the floor at the end of every handstroke. We’d rung the 720 and were just into the 540. I turned round to him and said ‘Dya think you’ll make it, Harold?”

They were great pals of course and often ribbed each other. In a conversation on the way to the pub, after a mid-week peal of Stedman Triples at Deptford in August 1974, they were discussing a peal of Double Norwich that Harold had called at Hayes the previous week. It had almost fired up several times but Harold had just about managed to drag it round. Pat naturally thought that, being Double Norwich, he would have made a better job of it. Later that month, they were going for Yorkshire, at Godstone, a peal that Harold was also going to call.
“Now look here Harold, I think you’d better let me call this peal at Godstone. What we’ll do is, we’ll get the bells into a bit of a muddle and then I’ll sort them out to show you how it’s done.”
“But Pat”, said Olive, “We don’t ring peals like that!”
At the traffic lights, waiting to cross the road, I said, “Olive, I don’t know how you can stand there and say that with a straight face!”
“Michael Uphill,” she said, “I don’t know what you mean, but if you’re talking about that peal of London Royal at Isleworth, I asked Richard Tibbetts not to count it!”

I knew absolutely nothing about the particular peal of London Royal but it had clearly been one of those not quite perfect peals with which the London County was sometimes associated, many of which have passed into legend, including several imaginary ones.

Well, Harold did call the peal of Yorkshire at Godstone and that brings me to another of his fine attributes – he was actually no mean conductor. One of the first of those heydays was a period in the 1950s when he called peals here, at All Saints, in quite a few different surprise royal methods and this at a time that ringing was still recovering from the war years when not too many peals of surprise royal were being rung anywhere; so this series was no mean feat. And of course Harold went on to call many more, including Stedman Cinques and Surprise Maximus, over 300 as conductor in a grand total of 1,192, stretching from his first in Suffolk in 1938 to his last here, at All Saints, 73 years later at the beginning of last year.

At the same time that Harold was calling those Surprise Royal peals, he was also secretary of the London County, a post he held from 1946 until 1964, retiring from it at the meeting at which Wilfred Wilson succeeded Taffender as Master. Harold was presented with a Parker pen as a token of thanks for his long period of service to the Association but, at that stage, he still had another 50 years of service to give. He was also in the early stages of a lifetime of service to the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. 54 years representing the London County and an outstanding contribution to the Public Relations committee led to the Council conferring Honorary Life Membership upon Harold in 2000.

In 1967 he was elected Master of the London County for the first of two three-year spells in this post.  It was a period marked by controversy and not a little hilarity. In his first speech as Master and again at the annual dinner, Harold set out his vision for a new co-operation between all of the London ringing societies. Christopher Dalton wrote about it somewhat cynically in a letter to The Ringing World setting the scene for a period during which life was none too straight-forward for the old London County guard. This was the era of John and Veronica, of Gee and Monty, of Frank and Julie, of Nellie Spriggs, Nigel Thomson’s membership certificate, the pound of flesh, the unpaid sixpence, the stranglehold of Woodlawn Road, the extraordinary tale of the ladies lavatories, and Peace in our time; all of which have gone down in London County folklore. And, of course, topping them all, that legendary moment in the crypt of St Clement Danes – a moment that provided the inspiration for the title of a certain book – when the ballot for deputy master resulted in Harold’s unforgettable declaration:
“Ladies and gentlemen I am disgusted! 53 votes have been cast … And there are only 47 membrrrrrrs in the room!

Olive succeeded Harold as Master at that meeting and ushered in a new era for the London County that included 12-bell practices and an increased level of peal ringing. This was another of Harold’s great heydays with opportunities, particularly for peal ringing, given to many. With Olive, Harold took the London County on the road to many parts of the country, including Inveraray where they helped and supported Norman Chaddock during lnveraray week for many years. They went to America with Wilfred Williams in 1974, taking part in the first peal of Surprise Major on the American continent. They had an amazing knack of persuading people to get involved and they kept Wilfred peal ringing long after he might otherwise have given up and included some ringers with whom, in earlier years, he wouldn’t have been seen dead, let alone ring a peal. I am indebted to Andrew Craddock for providing from his excellent web-site Pealbase, a list of those whose first peal Harold took part in during the last 60 years, which is as far back as it goes at the moment.

58 first-pealers, Harold himself conducting ‘firsts’ for 24 of them. The list contains not only several well-known London County and local Isleworth names but also many who have become leaders of the ringing exercise in a variety of ways. They include Kathleen Baker, Derek Barrett, Ian Cooper, David Dearnley, Julia Dixon (now Forster), Veronica Dupre, Jeanette and Norman Felton, John Hawes, Dennis Hewitt, Graham John, Tony Knights, John Mudd, Chris Rogers, Mike Thomas, and David Woodward to mention but a few. The last of these was just three years ago – Graham Downing – on the newly restored bells at Chediston, Suffolk, the bells of Harold’s childhood whose restoration had meant so much to him and where he was delighted to take part in a peal 75 years or so after having learnt to ring there, the record of which we saw on a fine board at his funeral service just a few days ago.

A renewed connection saw Southwark Cathedral become a sort of “pro” headquarters for the London County. Regular practices there enabled the association to expand upon the occasional 12-bell practices that it had previously started at Cripplegate so that, for the first time, it became a regular 12-bell ringing Association. They even managed to enter the National 12-bell contest at Southwark with the legendary London County tiddlywinks band.

The Vice-Provost, Canon Peter Penwarden, agreed to become the Association’s Chaplain, an office he held until his retirement more than 20 years later. He regularly attended the excellent London County dinners so carefully organised by Olive; dinners incidentally during which the Southwark and Camberwell ringers always held a sweep with two prizes, one for guessing how long Harold’s speech would last and another for guessing how many times he would take off his glasses and put them back on again during it.

Harold became a Cathedral Steward and when he was on Sunday duty in that capacity, Olive, surprisingly perhaps, joined the Cathedral tea ladies. It was the beginning of a period during which they both valued very highly their connection with the Cathedral; when leading members of the London County co-operated with and contributed to the formation of a renewed Cathedral band, the fruits of which we see today in some of the fine ringing being produced by the Southwark Cathedral Society. And, despite their initially being unenthusiastic about the reconstitution of a Cathedral Society and my appointment as ringing master in 1977, we eventually got them on board and Harold was proud to serve as Treasurer for many years. Whenever talking about his peals he would always refer proudly to those that he and Olive had rung at Southwark Cathedral and especially those that he took part in for his own 80th and 85th birthdays. Although he had rung in the very first Southwark Cathedral Society peal – one marking the opening of the new Chapter House by Her Majesty the Queen – Harold had given up ringing at Southwark some time before we became a regular peal ringing society and so, for many years, that remained his only one. He had a great wish to ring another with the present day Society, so, a couple of years ago, we came here, to All Saints, to fulfil that wish for him when he was 93.

Harold, of course, always enjoyed any ringing connected with a Royal occasion and another involving Her Majesty the Queen was when she went up the river on her way to open the Thames barrier in 1984. The idea of a barge with jangling bells leading the procession had not been thought of at that time so we had been asked to ring at Southwark as she passed.  They rang at St Paul’s as well. They charged a hundred quid. We did it for nothing. We were ringing Stedman Caters and I was calling from the 6th (the 8th of the 12) and looking towards the front bells as the course end came up. As I did so, I noticed that Olive, who was ringing the treble, was going purple in the face and her mouth was wide open. At the same time I was aware that the 8th (the 10th of the 12) was dropping in among the other bells when it should have been dodging in 8-9. Keeping a close eye on Olive, so without looking round towards the back bells, I flapped my arm around and shouted “Monty, you’re up behind with the 7th. Monty, get behind the 7th!” Suddenly a horrified voice exclaimed “I can’t, me trousers are coming down!” I looked round and there was Monty, his trousers around his knees, he gripping them with one hand trying to prevent them from descending any further and trying to ring one-handed with the other, his bell, similarly, dropping lower and lower. Immediately I realised what was going on with Olive – she was helpless with laughter!

“Stand, stand, stand,” I shouted. “Come on Monty, get your trousers up and let’s ring some rounds while the Queen is still in earshot.”  After the ringing, Monty went over to Olive and said, “I’m sorry about that little thing, Olive.” Without hesitation Harold put a consoling arm around his shoulder and said, “That’s quite all right Monty, Olive was too--far--away to-take--measurements.”

It is to Harold’s great love of peal-ringing that I return, as I close. I referred a few moments ago to some of those who were encouraged by Harold and Olive in their early years and whose first peals Harold had called. One of those was, David, David Dearnley, and he in these last years turned the tables, so to speak, by arranging for Harold most of those 85 peals that he enjoyed so much after his 90th birthday, peals that gave him that new lease of life and enabled him to set goals, stay active for so long and enjoy that final heyday.

When the peal attempt marking the end of Westminster Abbey’s 900th anniversary celebrations was unsuccessful, a national newspaper headline declared, “At the end of 900 years, the bells didn’t quite make it.”

We are naturally just a little sad that Harold didn’t quite make the 100 peals he had set himself to ring after the age of 90. But we can’t be too sad, can we, at a life full of strength, success, enthusiasm and happiness that we have all, in our own different ways, had the pleasure of sharing with our old friend, Harold – the gallant captain.


Harold Rogers – An appreciation

On February 18th the Inveraray regulars met for a peal and it was not until the start of proceedings that I heard of the passing of Harold. Some moments then, for me and all the band to recall and remember Harold and his long association with All Saints Bell Tower. Appropriate that with these thoughts we rang a fine peal of Yorkshire and dedicated our performance to Harold who had a special affection for these bells and their setting alongside Loch Fyne. Harold was an early visitor here once the restoration got underway in the early 1970s, giving of his time then in the jobs that needed doing and later in providing and maintaining the display boards of the tower exhibition. He rarely missed an Inveraray Ringing Festival over thirty-eight years, usually staying at the George Hotel, a familiar face with the locals and with Tom Evans, of the funfair on the Green, whom he would seek out to have a chat. From 1974 to 1986 Harold and Olive organised a peal attempt each summer at the Bell Tower and in this series eleven were rung for the London County Association. In total Harold rang thirteen on the bells, all with Olive, except one of Minor, and circled the ten to peals: his last was the 100th on the bells in May 1992. We have lost a true friend of Inveraray, his presence amongst us was always enlivening and supportive. Thanks for all you have done here Harold and may you rest in peace.


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