Joining Norfolk’s ringing family

Anne Tansley Thomas

The following is written by Anne Tansley Thomas, who is learning to ring with four other Ringing Remembers learners at St Giles and St George Colegate in Norwich. 

The Ringing Remembers learners: myself, Judy, Linda, Django and Pauline

My personal motivation for taking up bell ringing is mixed. I rang briefly as a teenager in a rural village church, mainly as an excuse to hang out with boys late at night. Moving to Norwich I was already being drawn back in by the enthusiasm of the ringers at St Peter Mancroft – I will eventually be learning at St Peter Mancroft, known for being where the first recorded true peal was rung, when work is complete on the exciting new Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre and the tower reopens.

Ringing Remembers popped up on my Twitter feed and gave me the final push I needed. The call was out for new bell ringers to honour those that were lost in World War One and I felt compelled to do my bit. I attended a taster session on 24 Feb and, in the febrile atmosphere of a crowded ringing chamber, signed up on the dotted line.

Nervously turning up for my first lesson on 12 March at St Giles, Norwich, I was hugely relieved to recognise some of the other learners from that initial taster day. We are a mixed bag of ages, ranging from our 20s to our 70s – and all sizes, from Linda who needs to stand on a box to ring, to the tall and elegant Pauline who has fantastically long, and rather strong, arms.

Getting to know the other raw recruits and why they have taken up ringing has been a joy. Linda, for example had always thought the sound of church bells an essential part of our heritage, and for Judy bell ringing was something she had always wanted to learn. Pauline had originally wanted to learn hand bells but then came across Ringing Remembers and saw this as an opportunity to learn something new in the company of younger people. And Django? Well, he was passing and just walked into the tower.

We are all progressing in small steps – or big steps in the case of Linda as she climbs on to her box to ring. As we are still in the early stages, learning is fast-paced and we gain new skills at every single lesson. There’s a huge amount of excitement and celebration about every single achievement, however small; the first time we’ve put the hand stroke and back stroke together, the first time we take coils and the first time we set the bell at will.

Django miraculously bathed in light as he and I are awarded our Level One certificates by our teacher Catherine – standing next to the Ringing Remembers poster

Of course there are a few downsides and frustrations too, such as learning something one week to completely mess it up the next and seeing others master a skill that you’re finding impossible yourself. And a few of us aren’t keen on all the stairs up to the ringing chamber at St Giles– 53 in total according to Linda who has counted them. I think her mathematical approach bodes well for when we start learning methods!

These downsides, though, are nothing compared to the great riches we’ve already experienced. We’re enjoying the feel of the rope, having fun, being with other people. The strongest things that come across when talking to all the other new recruits is their admiration of, and gratitude for, the never-ending patience of our amazing teachers and their enjoyment of the camaraderie of the ringing chamber. It very much feels like being part of one large family.

Our Tower Selfie showing learners and teachers: Tony, Pauline (hiding behind the sally), Catherine, Judy, Django, Linda, Steve and me.

Although none of us recruits were motivated by a personal connection to a ringer lost in the war, Ringing Remembers is very much at the forefront of our minds.

This wonderful initiative has motivated Judy to delve back into her history in Northamptonshire to see if she can unearth any bell ringers in her family. Pauline’s grandfather was in the First World War and her father in the second so her bell ringing acknowledges their contribution. As for Linda, she has researched her family history for over 20 years, found a few criminals including a murderer, sheep rustlers and petty thieves transported to the other side of the world, and connections to the crowned heads of Europe but not a single bell ringer!

Private Frederick Cross – photo believed to be taken in 1917

Although none of the towers that we’re learning in lost ringers during the war we’ve been delving further and finding out about other Norwich ringers. Frederick Cross is one of these.

Fred was born in Lakenham, one of Herbert and Mary Ann’s three children. Before the war broke out he was working as a clerk but also enjoyed lots of activities outside work. As well as being scoutmaster of the 17th Norwich Scouts, Fred was a bell ringer at St John Sepulchre.

He enlisted into the army in Norwich, fought with the York and Lancaster Regiment 7th Batallion and died aged 28 on 27 May 2018. Fred is commemorated at Acheux British Cemetery in France.

Rather poignantly, a memorial peal of Kent TB Major was rung for Fred at St John de Sepulchre Norwich on 11 October 1920 and was conducted by his brother, George, who was Master of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths for the period 1935 to 1947, and again from 1949 until 1953.

Notice of the memorial peal of Kent TB Major rung for F. J. Cross and W. Hempnall at St John de Sepulchre, Norwich on 11.11.1920. Printed in the Ringing World on 26.11.1920, P.576

Sadly St John Sepulchre no longer has its bells and the church is now redundant. However, the back 6 of these bells were transferred to Erpingham in 1987, along with the Peal Board, which shows a Peal rung by Fred and his brother George in 1911. A memorial quarter peal has been arranged for Fred at Erpingham on the centenary of his death, on the bells that he and his brother used to ring together.

As Ringing Remembers recruits we’re a bunch of strangers of different ages, from different backgrounds all thrown together to learn a traditional art and help honour the 1,400 bell ringers lost during the First World War.

One of the things we’ve discovered on our learning journey so far is that bell ringing often runs in families and that the wider community of bell ringers in Norwich and Norfolk itself feels very much like one large family.

Thanks to the warm welcome and generosity of the bell ringing community, Ringing Remembers has introduced us into this family – and we can’t think of a more fitting tribute to those very brave individuals who paid the ultimate price for us all.

The Ringing Remembers campaign is recruiting 1,400 new bell ringers in memory of the 1,400 who lost their lives in World War One. All new recruits will have once in a life time opportunity to ring on Armistice Day (11 November) this year to mark 100 years since the end of the war. Find out more about the campaign and signup by visiting our Ringing Remembers project page.

Posted 24 May 2018