Obituaries

Margaret (Robin) Woolley

Margaret (Robin) Woolley died on 5th February 2012, aged 88, after a short illness.

Known to most ringers as Robin, she was born Margaret Telford in St Helen’s in Lancashire. Her early years were spent in Widnes, and when she was six her father retired and the family moved to Keswick in the Lake District. She developed early a great love of books, and also enjoyed hill and mountain walking and cycling immense distances.

There were no ringers in the family, but as a schoolgirl she was enthralled by Dorothy Sayers’s detective story about bells, The NineTailors. She sought out the ringers at Crosthwaite Church and asked to learn bell-ringing and was taught to ring by Tyson Hogarth. This shaped the course of her life.

She went to Oxford where she read Classics, firewatched for bombers that never came and rang handbells until the ban on church bells was lifted in 1943, and then rang those too. There were so many Margarets in her college (including the future Margaret Thatcher) that she needed a nickname and so came to be known as Robin. She took a teaching post in Spalding, and in 1945 she went on a combined Oxford and Cambridge ringing tour based in Canterbury. There, she met Chris Woolley who was some years older than her and a ringer of distinction. They were married at Crosthwaite in 1948 on a very wet but very happy day, during which Robin, rather unusually for a bride, made a speech at the reception. They moved to Bushey where Chris already taught at the Royal Masonic Junior School.

When her daughters Sara and Amanda were at primary school she went back to teaching, but when her husband retired in 1970 she retired too, and that was the start of what she said recently were twenty really happy years. Chris and Robin went to Australia and New Zealand made many lasting friends through ringing there, as well as travelling and ringing throughout this country. It was a pleasure to them that Sara and her husband Russ and grandsons Peter and Matthew lived near them.

After Robin was widowed in 1991, she kept up with family and friends, travelling alone to Australia and New Zealand, returning to Keswick frequently and staying often with Amanda in London, where she continued for several years, as she had done with Chris, to ring at St Clement Danes in the Strand each month.

She was an active member of St Peter’s, Bushey Heath and St James, Bushey. From the time she was widowed she became involved with the 43ers association and attended most of their annual outings for the last twenty years.

Recently she was delighted to become a great-grandmother to Benjamin, born last August to Peter and his wife Anna, and to Lauren, born in December to Matthew and his wife Sarah.

Robin rang 84 peals, 52 on handbells. Her first peal was Plain Bob Major on handbells on 27th November 1942 for the Oxford University Society. John Spice had taught her to ring handbells ‘by the places’, first learning the cross section places, and then the places in each section in turn. She rang 21 peals for the OUS and 21 for the Hertford County Association. Her first tower bell peal was her twelfth peal, stated to be the first of Major for the OUS on tower bells. She rang peals in a number of counties, following her career moves, mainly for Kent County Association, Oxford Diocesan Guild and Lincoln Guild.

Robin was primarily a handbell ringer, although she rang up to Stedman Cinques on tower bells. Perhaps the peak of her achievements was with the top handbell band of the time, led by Harold Cashmore, with whom she rang up to 8-Spliced Surprise Major, and peals of London and Bristol Major. They were the only band in the country at the time ringing peals at this level. The band then went on to ring 16-Spliced Surprise Major, a record which stood for many years. Robin was having a family, and so could not take part.

She rang with many of the leading ringers of the time apart from her husband, including John Spice, E. A. Barnett, John Freeman, John Worth, Nolan Golden and Walter Judge, to mention but a few, and latterly John Mayne, and Roger and Kath Baldwin. She was the first woman to ring a peal of Bristol on handbells.

Rigorously honest and decent, kind, thoughtful and unshowy, she was surrounded all her life by books and newspapers. With her immense knowledge and wit, she was a lovely companion, right up until the end. Her daughters are very grateful to all those who rang peals and quarter peals in her memory and who rang handbells and tower bells at her funeral. Her final interment will take place shortly at St John’s, Keswick.

AMANDA WOOLLEY and SARA COWARD

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers