Obituaries

John Stuart Hopwood

1948 - 2012

Reflections

John hailed from Totton, Hampshire and was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Southampton. We first met when he came to Birmingham University in the autumn of 1967.

John joined our local band at Harborne, where I was ringing master, and rang with us regularly, probably because we had a very lively social scene in the “The Bell”. 1967 was also the year the University ringers began practising regularly on Wednesday nights at Edgbaston and John was a very loyal supporter of the BUSCR ringing a number of peals with them both on tower bells and in hand. My first peal with John wasn’t until 1969 when Alan Ainsworth persuaded him to join us for an attempt for Stedman Triples at Bilston, thereafter he rang regularly with the St Martin’s Guild as well.

We became good friends when I returned to Birmingham University in 1968 and we spent many hours on the university’s English Electric Leo computer teaching ourselves Fortran IV: with a RAM of only 26K it was light years from computing today!

John graduated in 1970 with a BSc in Minerals Engineering and decided to carry on for his PhD. In July 1971 he married Dorothy Kirkbride at St Peter’s Harborne and I had the honour of being his best man.

My wife Joyce and I enjoyed a number of joint holidays with them on the canals and by the sea: never far from a hostelry! Our son Stuart was born in 1973 and John was one of his godfathers at the christening at Harborne.

At the end of December 1974 John and Dorothy immigrated to South Africa for John to take up an appointment at De Beers Research Laboratories in Johannesburg. John’s expertise on X-ray fluorescence techniques in diamond recovery was clearly high in demand locally!

Their glowing reports of life in Africa soon persuaded Joyce, Stuart and me to join them at a time when life in the UK was becoming increasingly diffi cult (for those old enough to remember). They had even managed to build and purchase a brand new house; something they were unlikely to have been able to do in the UK. So in April 1976 we joined them eventually building a house ourselves in the same neighbourhood.

John and I set about contacting all the ex-pat ringers in South Africa with a view to forming a local ringing society with perhaps a peal of bells one day. In January 1977 the Transvaal Society of Church Bell Ringers was formed (RW3431, p.68) with John and Dorothy fellow founder members, and a group of about twenty ringers met regularly at each others’ homes for handbell ringing and BBQs. In June that year a group of us travelled to Salisbury (now Harare) Cathedral in Rhodesia by car to ring a peal for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. We scored Plain Bob Royal, the fi rst peal on 10 bells in Africa (RW3455, p.610/624), and just a few weeks later travelled to Grahamstown, without the armed convoy this time, where we hoped to do something similar. Unfortunately the eight old Warner bells were virtually unringable and we were only able to ring the front six with some difficulty (RW3466, p.840), and a peal attempt was out of the question.

In 1978 John was transferred to Premier Mine at Cullinan, near Pretoria, to put his skills to work in the fi eld. This is where the famous Cullinan Diamond was discovered; the largest ever found, and now part of the crown jewels.

A subsequent transfer to the new Orapa Mine in Botswana came along in 1980 and John served two contract periods in the “bush” before returning to the UK in 1984 to join his family in Liverpool. In February 1985 John returned to Johannesburg for a holiday and rang three peals with us on the new eight at St George’s Parktown. These included the first of Bristol and Johannesburg Surprise Major in Africa.

Although John claimed one of these as his 250th “Pealbase” now indicates he had already achieved this earlier in the year in the UK.

We stayed in contact via letters and Christmas cards but didn’t see each other again until July 1992 when John, Dorothy, Daniel and Christopher joined us in Birmingham for our silver wedding celebrations. Last year I was able to supply John with a copy of the video made that evening and he told me it brought back many happy memories.

John and his second wife Janet were due to join us in Cape Town for our son Stuart’s wedding in April 2004 but had to cancel at the last minute because of the tragic death of his son Daniel from cancer. However, we did cross paths again in October that year on a holiday week on Lundy Island when we indulged in a great deal of beer drinking and “catching up” while celebrating our respective birthdays (my 60th, his 56th).

Most people would have found John quiet and reserved but once you got to know him he could be the life and soul of the party. He enjoyed good music, had dabbled with amateur dramatics and could talk on a broad range of subjects. He was very kind and generous and would always be fi rst to the bar buying his round. Despite his apparent reserve he was much more adventurous than me and had no qualms about taking a job in Johannesburg. He loved the African bush and after moving to Botswana spent a great deal of his spare time in his 4x4 exploring.

John rang 517 peals over a 44 year period, his first being at Edgbaston for the BUSCR in 1967. We rang 81 together most of which were before we moved to South Africa. By today’s standards this total is relatively small but I believe it refl ects John’s balanced view of ringing in his life: he has always put a great deal of his time into practice nights and to teaching others.

We stayed in email contact for the remainder of 2011 sharing our various aches and pains until emails became too much for him. John will be sadly missed by so many, especially his family, close friends and fellow ringers.

STEVE BARTON

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers