1925 - 2012

The generation that has known Mary over the last 50 years or so knows her as a mainstay of Sibbertoft (Northants) – both of the village and especially of St Helen’s Church. Many would be surprised to learn that she was a native of Northern Ireland, who – because of family circumstances – was eventually brought up in England, being encouraged to develop an English accent. Again, because of circumstances, she ended up training to be a herdswoman at the agricultural college in Sutton Bonnington, where she met Jim Burton, who worked on the local large estate. He and Mary were offered the tenancy of a farm owned by the same family in Sibbertoft – on condition that they were married! They were married at Sutton Bonnington Church in 1949. Their children, Peter, Barbara, Tom and James followed. In these recent years they (and their spouses) have been a tower of strength to both their parents – especially during Mary’s final year or so.

After a few “false starts,” Mary eventually began to learn to handle a bell at Sibbertoft in the late 1970s, and soon came into contact with Janet and Geoff Armitage, who had begun to teach a team of ringers on the Great Oxendon – Lubenham axis. Thus began a long and close friendship, wherein Mary became a sort of extended family member, being known to the Armitage children as “Auntie Mary.” Indeed, it was Mary who looked after 3-year-old Helen during the extended birth period of her brother Paul. The Armitages were honoured when Mary agreed to be a Godmother for Paul – a duty which she fulfilled most conscientiously; she and Paul becoming very close. Needless to say, Mary was also devastated when Paul was killed by an errant taxi driver in the same year that she and Jim celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. So it came about that she also rang for her Godson’s Wedding and Funeral in that same year.

Having also attended practices elsewhere, Mary was asked to ring the treble to her first peal – Plain Bob Doubles at Lubenham (then 5) on 25th June 1987, in which she was one of four first-pealers, with Geoff Armitage as conductor. By then, she was already a pensioner, which shows that it is never too late to start ringing! For her, this was the achievement of a long-held ambition, and she said after the peal: “Now I can die happily!” She only rang in one other peal: the treble to St Simon’s and Plain Bob Doubles at Marston Trussell the following year, again conducted by Geoff. Mary continued to aim for goals, one of which was the achievement of ringing a quarter peal of Kent Treble Bob Minor (on the treble), which she did at Spratton, under the conductorship of David Westerman, in the early 1990s. Another aim was to become confident in ringing Stedman Doubles, which why on most Fridays she joined the Yelvertoft practice – to which she also brought, and so encouraged, Kelvin Broad (of Welford) when he started to ring. For the last 25 years, she was one of the Churchwardens, and during this time she spear-headed the project of retuning and rehanging the Sibbertoft bells, which was completed in 1998. With advancing blindness, the last time she rang was a token ring at the marriage of daughter, Barbara, and Godfrey in November 2010. Indeed, in her last months she declared that having to give up ringing was the thing she missed most.

Mary’s death ends 62 years of the marriage of her and Jim, both Golden and Diamond Wedding Anniversaries being commemorated by quarter peals on Sibbertoft bells, conducted by David Westerman, who also conducted a quarter after Mary’s Funeral Service, the one prior to it being called by Geoff Armitage. Both quarter peals contained Stedman Doubles, Mary’s favourite method. Whilst unable to participate, Mary was pleased that Kelvin Broad (who also stood in both funeral quarters) was able to maintain the fortnightly practices and occasional Service ringing at Sibbertoft. Mary died on Easter Monday, 9th April 2012, and needless to say, St Helen’s Church was over-filled for her funeral on 18th April, with many local and visiting ringers in attendance. Apart from the two quarter peals, all who wished to ring in tribute to her had the opportunity to do so. May she rest in peace and rise in Glory.


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