on leftWith the death of Harold Parkinson just three months short of his 103rd birthday, the Lancashire Association has lost its oldest member – pictured (on left) in conversation with the late Alwyn Taylor of Rochdale.

Harold was born in Crawshawbooth, Rossendale, in 1909, the son of an engineer, but his family soon moved to Whitworth, where he attended primary school. He went on to secondary school in Littleborough, travelling by train on the now long-dismantled line from Whitworth. He was an apt student and achieved grades which qualified him to attend grammar school in Rochdale, but he chose not to, as he felt his parents could not afford the associated costs.

Harold started ringing in 1938, at the age of 29. He had known nothing of bellringing up to that time, but after he and Jennie married they moved to a house in Stacksteads, Bacup. Jennie had always attended St Saviour’s Church, Bacup, and when St Saviour’s appealed for learners to boost its band, Harold probably had little option but to present himself. He was taught to handle a bell by Harold Emmet; but being keen to progress, he also attended practices at Christ Church, Bacup, and it was here that his change-ringing really began to develop. Although Christ Church bells had been augmented from six to eight in 1923, most ringing continued to be on the back six. They never rang Doubles: Plain Bob Minor was the main fare, but they also ventured into other plain Minor methods and Treble Bob. Harold joined the Lancashire Association in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, so at his death he had been a member for 73 years.

Harold was an engineering fitter and turner by trade, completing his apprenticeship at Petrie & McNaught in Rochdale, who made steam engines for mills and factories. As a highly skilled engineer specialising in steam engines, he was conscripted to work at the Cowlairs Locomotive Works in Springburn, Glasgow, after war broke out. While there he rang on the 32 cwt. ten at Glasgow Episcopal Cathedral whenever possible, after the wartime ringing ban was lifted: ringing there at the time was mainly Grandsire. On visits back to Rossendale, he worked as a volunteer firefighter.

After the war, work again took Harold away from home. From 1949 to 1950 he worked at High Wycombe, where he was involved in the design and construction of prototype machinery for making plastic-soled slippers, and while there he joined the band at Hughenden. This was a very competent band under the leadership of its conductor, Roland Biggs: Harold’s ringing made great progress, and he also took the opportunity to visit around 25 towers in the area. In 1950 work took him to Hucknall, Nottinghamshire: here he managed to visit some 20 towers, St Mary’s Nottingham being his most regular venue.

Throughout the times when Harold was working away, Jennie had to remain at home and bring up their two sons and two daughters. Returning to Bacup in 1951, Harold found ringing in Rossendale at a very low ebb – a great contrast with the pre-war situation. He became tower captain at St Saviour’s and also attended practices at St Bartholomew, Whitworth, until dry rot in the tower put a temporary stop to ringing there. In the early 1990s he started to travel on the bus to practices at Healey, Rochdale, and that was when I first got to know him well. He was finding it difficult to maintain a band at St Saviour, but his visits to Healey bore fruit, because when circumstances arose where the Healey band needed to find a new home, the link with Harold meant that St Saviour’s was the obvious choice. That was in 1994, and from that time Harold had the satisfaction of seeing a band maintained at St Saviour’s right up to closure of the church in September 2007, when the band moved on again, to Newchurch-in- Rossendale. During this period Harold also had the chance to try change-ringing on handbells, in which he had always been interested but with minimal opportunity, and although well into his 80s he managed to achieve touches of Bob Minor.

Harold’s engineering skills and phenomenal knowledge of the bells in the area meant he was the ideal person to keep things in good order. Even in his 90s, he could be found among the bells: not so very many years ago I assisted him in replacing a Hastings stay, and was impressed to see him drill a bolt-hole with an electric drill in exactly the right place without any measuring at all (“by rack o’th’ee”, or “reckoning of the eye”, as the old Lancashire engineers would have said). In 2005 he decided he would have to give up ringing, when at the age of 96 he felt he could no longer manage the stairs. By that time, he had clocked up 67 years’ membership of the St Saviour’s band. Even when he could no longer get up the towers, his advice on bell maintenance matters, often accompanied by neat, hand-drawn sketches marked up with his immaculate copper-plate handwriting, was always extremely helpful.

Harold was a very reliable ringer whose striking was excellent, and although not particularly interested in ringing peals he rang a total of 27, all for the Lancashire Association. Not bad for someone who, when learning at St Saviour’s, was told by a leading member of the band “You’ll never make a ringer”! His acquaintances during his ringing heyday included some of the best-known personalities on the Lancashire ringing scene, including Roger Leigh of Accrington, Norman Smith of Burnley, Ivan Kay of Oldham, Peter Crook of Bolton and Revd R. D. St John-Smith, Association President for many years. The ritual when he met up with his old friend, the late Joe Porter MBE of Bury, was always a delight: both well into their 90s, Harold would ask “Hello, Joe, how are you?”, and Joe would respond “All the better for seeing thee!”

At the time Harold retired in 1976, he was a director of the Rossendale Sewing Machine Company. As well as bellringing, he retained a great interest in engineering and industrial archaeology. He was a founder member of the Northern Mill Engines Preservation Society, and for many years a member of the Bacup Natural History Society. Throughout his life he was also a keen walker, and in his last years he enjoyed using a motorised tramper – an all- terrain scooter – to venture out into the Rossendale hills.

Sadly, Harold’s beloved Jennie died in 2009, just a few days before his 100th birthday. They had been devoted life-long companions, and it might have been expected that Harold would not be able to recover from Jennie’s death: but he did not give up. He got out and about whenever he could, and at Christmas of that year he felt he would like to see if he could still ring, so we took him to Newchurch, helped him to negotiate the uneven spiral stairs, and he rang a few rounds. At the age of 100, this was the last time he rang: he managed well, but felt he could no longer guarantee his bell control and didn’t want to create a situation of possible risk.

With the support of his family and others, Harold was able to remain living in his home in Stacksteads right up to the time of his death, and it was always a pleasure to visit for an hour or two and update him on the ringing scene. He looked forward to receiving his Lancashire Association Annual Report, and his family made sure he had a subscription to The Ringing World. The last time I went to see him, he introduced me to another visitor who had arrived – Arthur, a young chap in his late 70s who had been Harold’s engineering apprentice a lifetime ago. “I don’t think we ever had a cross word all the time we were working together, did we, Harold?”, said Arthur. “No, lad, I don’t think we did”, replied Harold.

In 2011, Harold was able to be present at the celebrations at Whitworth church to mark the 100th anniversary of the installation of the bells there. It was noted that he was actually older than the bells!

This brief chronology of Harold’s life does not paint a sufficient picture of him as a person. He was simply one of the finest men I have met. He was unfailingly courteous, calm and humorous, and right to the end he was blessed with more common sense than most of us can muster in our prime. He had specified the arrangements for his funeral at Holy Trinity Church, Stacksteads, and the number of local people, ringers and representatives of his other areas of interest present reflected the respect in which he was held. The service was conducted by Revd. Michael Holt, himself a former ringer who had first met Harold when visiting Bacup on a ringing outing; and ringing featured significantly in Revd Holt’s address. As there are no bells at Stacksteads, the bells at Newchurch were rung half-muffled before the service. Cremation took place at Burnley Crematorium.

So now we have to get used to life without Harold, who for all of us has always been there. As a ringer who had known him well remarked, “I suppose even Harold had to go sometime”, and he was fortunate to pass away peacefully in the company of his family – but we shall always miss him.


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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers