8th May 1928 - 22nd May 2012

Sheila was born on May 8th, 1928, and grew up in Southampton with her parents and older sister. She was 11 when the war started and along with other boys and girls from the town was evacuated to Bournemouth to escape Nazi bombing. When she returned, she attended Southampton Grammar School where she was inspired to become a teacher. Her first appointment, after completing her teacher training, was at Queensborough in the Isle of Sheppey to which she would travel daily by train from Sittingbourne where she had lodgings.

Park Road where she lived was not far from Tunstall and it was there, on Thursday March 17th 1949, at the Church of St John the Baptist with its 8 bells and 9½cwt tenor in A flat that she “commenced ringing with S. G. Waters”. This was the first entry in her book of Ringing Records.

A month later on Easter Sunday she rang on the eights at Benenden and Salehurst, and the next day, Easter Monday, on two eights, four sixes and one ten when she attended the AGM of the Kent County Association at Linton. The last tower of the day was St Nicholas, Leeds, and her “First ten-bell tower”. On Monday April 25th 1949 she attended the practice at St Michael’s, Sittingbourne, the home of the Dobbies. It was her 14th tower and the first of many rings there.

Her first full peal was on Saturday, July 23rd 1949 at St Mary Salehurst, for the Hawkhurst and District Guild, in Sussex. She rang the treble to 5,040 Grandsire Triples with Geoffrey Waters (who had given her her first lesson just over four months before) on the 6th and his friend, Malcolm Cloke, conducting on the 7th.

Her next peal was at St Nicholas Linton, on May 6th 1950 for the KCACR. It was 5040 Stedman Triples with Louis Head, that renowned King of Stedman, conducting at his home tower. It was all arranged by Walter Dobbie, who was ringing in his 150th peal. He had chosen the method, the bells, the conductor and seven of the band, including his father, Stanley, his cousin Doris and himself. He needed one more to ring the 2nd. He asked his father for advice. His father suggested Sheila.

“Do you think she is good enough?” asked Walter, who had not been able to observe her progress owing to his evening classes. “Yes!” replied his dad. He took his father’s advice and was so impressed with her ringing that it led to them ringing together for 52 years in the “holy estate of matrimony”, not only in this country but also in Canada and the USA.

Her 3rd peal was on June 24th 1950, at St Helen Cliffe-at-Hoo when she rang the treble to 5040 Kent Treble Bob Major with William A J Knight conducting.

Her 4th was on December 26th, 1950 Boxing Day, at St Michaels, Southampton, conducted by Daniel J Matkin for the Winchester and Portsmouth Guild. He rang the 5th to 5003 Grandsire Caters with Walter on the 7th. Her 5th and last peal as Sheila M Hole was on January 20th, 1951, at St Bartholomew, Bobbing, for the induction of the new Vicar, the Revd V. J. Hall. It was 5040 Cambridge Surprise Minor with herself on the treble and her husband-to-be, Walter, conducting on the tenor.

A year or two ago Sheila reminded me how Walter took her with him to my 21st birthday party on April 21st 1951. Eleven weeks later on August 11th they became man and wife at St Michael’s Southampton, with Canon Kenneth Felstead, the Vicar of St Michael’s, conducting the service. The next day at St Michael’s, Sittingbourne, eight of us who attended the Sittingbourne weekly ringing practice rang a peal of 5024 Plain Bob Major conducted by George Naylor in celebration of their wedding.

After their wedding they set up home in Tonbridge where Walter began teaching metalwork and woodwork at two schools and became Head of Handicrafts responsible for O level engineering. Sheila, also a gifted teacher, found a school for girls where she could use her talents, and became Deputy Head.

They were soon ringing at SS Peter & Paul Tonbridge, where they were much needed. Four of the bells there were recast, and the whole eight were rehung. The first peal on the rehung bells, 5040 Grandsire Triples, was rung on May 18th, 1952 with Walter conducting and Sheila on the 2nd ringing her first peal as Sheila M. Dobbie.

For the 20 years that they were there they recruited and taught countless people to ring. In their latter years Surprise was regularly rung, but Stedman (Walter’s favourite) was never forgotten. They also introduced many to handbell ringing.

They took an active interest in the Tonbridge District of the KCACR, with Walter serving as a District Representative on the General Committee and then as District Secretary from 1960 to 1967. In all this Sheila supported him. They were always together at the AGM on Easter Mondays and at other KCACR occasions and became well known to ringers in the County.

One organisation, which Walter could not join, but which Sheila did, was the Ladies’ Guild, for which she rang two peals and became well known. Like her husband she was proficient on all numbers of bells and together they would go to London to ring with the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths, of which they were both members. From 1963 to 1974 Walter represented the SRCY on the Central Council. His practical skills were acknowledged by his election as a Trustee of the Carter Ringing Machine in 1973 and in recognition of his valuable work he was elected an Honorary Member of the Council and remained so until 1997. For 30 years from 1967 to 1996 he served on the Central Council as a Steward of the Carter Ringing Machine and was ably assisted throughout this time by Sheila. Together they gave demonstrations of the machine at the Science Museum in London and later at the Science Museum in Birmingham. Twice it was taken to their home for maintenance and while there two peals were rung, one of 3-spliced Surprise Major and the other of Bristol Maximus. The good state of the machine today is largely due to the care and attention it received from Walter assisted by Sheila during his tenure as Steward and Trustee.

Throughout their long years of service both Walter and Sheila became known to a large number of ringers not only in Kent but nationally too, as well as across the Atlantic.

In 1971 they moved from Tonbridge to “The Brambles”. It was a large bungalow with a large loft, a large garage and a large garden in the charming Kentish village of West Peckham, next to Mereworth. Here they entered fully into the life of the village with Walter serving as Churchwarden from 1983 to 2002 and Sheila as PCC Treasurer (until she managed to hand over that responsibility after Walter’s death) as well as being an active member of the Women’s Institute. West Peckham and Mereworth are closely linked, with the Rector of Mereworth also ministering to the people of West Peckham. Walter and Sheila were soon members of the Mereworth band and eventually Walter became Tower Captain.

In 1973 they started “The West Peckham Handbell Ringers” with Sheila as Conductor and Musical Director and Walter, assisted by Sheila as caster, tuner and maker of all the handbells, except for the original 13. The group consisted of 12 adults, mainly from West Peckham, and 111 bells covering five chromatic octaves. Before starting on this enterprise, Walter spent some time at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry – and then converted a part of his garage into his own bell foundry.

With all her musical, ringing and teaching skills Sheila came into her own as Conductor. She wrote out the music for all the members and patiently taught them to ring. “Practice is very much a team effort” she said (in a local paper in 1985) and a new tune takes several hours to perfect. It is usually a few months before we are ready to perform it”. Their repertoire was surprisingly wide. At one practice the session started with Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz, continued with Ralph MacTell’s Streets of London, skirted a complex Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach, and then took in work by John Philip Souza!

Requests for recitals came mainly from Women’s Institutes, Church Groups and other organisations. A recital in St Saviour’s Church Hall, Westgate-on-Sea, after the Harvest Supper one autumn is still fondly remembered.

On three occasions, Walter and Sheila appeared on TV with the “West Peckham Handbell Ringers”. It was on “Coast to Coast” and showed Walter with Sheila casting and tuning bells and then the whole band in action giving a recital. Walter’s nephew, Andrew, has it all on a DVD. It is very moving.

In the year 2000 the three bells of St Dunstan’s Parish Church, West Peckham, were rehung for full-circle ringing as West Peckham’s Millennium Project. It was funded by the people of the Village with help from the Kent County Association and inspired, one is sure, by two much loved ringing parishioners. At both their funerals the bells were rung half- muffled by the many ringers who joined their families, friends and fellow-parishioners in thanking God for them and commending them to His love and care.

After Walter’s death in September 2003 Sheila was able to move from “The Brambles” but remain in the village thanks to friends at a large farm near the Church, who converted a former stable block into a couple of attractive cottages. So Sheila was able to spend her final years in this life in “Stable Cottage” by the green opposite St Dunstan’s Church in the village that had been her home for over 40 years. She continued with her exquisite lace making, using many beautiful bobbins that had been turned for her on his own lathe by Walter.

On May 8th, 2008, she celebrated her 80th birthday in the village. It was a happy occasion. After that she began to have health problems. A year or so ago she was no longer able to climb the stairs to the ringing chamber at Mereworth, but she could still drive her car. Very wisely she only drove in daylight for short distances along roads with which she was familiar. Seven years ago, however, after my wife had had a hip replacement at Tunbridge Wells, she kindly drove her all the way home to Ramsgate because her car was more suitable than ours. She also let me stay at “The Brambles” to make visiting easier.

After that we used to visit her about twice a year and enjoy a meal with her at a local inn. We were looking forward to another visit this summer when Marie would have recovered from her present operation, but it was not to be.

On her birthday there was no reply from her on her telephone. She had had a fall at her home. Mercifully her neighbours found her and she was soon in hospital. She was talking about her beloved Walter when they found her. On May 22nd she was reunited with him “Called home to rest at last”.

St Dunstan’s Church was filled with her family and friends for her funeral on June 6th. A good number of ringers were there including the Chairman of the KCACR, two past Chairmen and a Vice President. The service was conducted by the former Rector, the Rev Noel McConachie, who retired a year ago, assisted by his successor, the Rev Pat Dickin.

It was a joyful service, with traditional prayers that Sheila loved, and hearty singing, especially of the Bell-Ringers’ Hymn. In his address Father Noel spoke eloquently of both Sheila and Walter and of his friendship with

them. Tributes were paid by Sheila’s nephew, Steve Wylie, and by Sue Darbyshire of the Women’s Institute, who introduced a special recital on handbells by nine members of “The West Peckham W I Handbell Ringers” in honour of and in thanksgiving for their much loved Conductor and Teacher.

This led appropriately into the singing of the Ringers’ Hymn. After the concluding prayers and commendations, Sheila’s body was carried out of the Church into the Churchyard to the sound of the bells that she had helped to restore. She was buried with Walter – “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection”.

Afterwards, refreshments were enjoyed in the Village Hall, and a quarter peal of Grandsire Doubles was rung at St Lawrence’s Church, Mereworth in Sheila’s honour.


PS – I am grateful to David Manger for “persuading” me to write this obituary for Sheila, to her nephew, Steve Wylie, who put me right about her early years. Also to Walter’s sister, Barbara Spragge, who sent me cuttings from The Ringing World and local newspapers; to her son Andrew, who showed me his DVD of the TV broadcasts on “Coast to Coast” and to both of them for letting me see and borrow Sheila and Walter’s peal books which they found at Stable Cottage and which they now have at their home in Sittingbourne, together with other peal books of members of the Dobbie family.

I am also grateful to Barry Evans of the Mereworth band for his help in typing this manuscript and I am delighted that he is going to try to take over as conductor of the West Peckham WI Handbell Ringers so that the tradition started by Sheila and Walter will continue.

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