Chester Branch

Tuesday, 06 February 2018

You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country. It is the only way.  Emmaline Pankhurst.

A large part of the present anxiety to improve the education of girls and women is also due to the conviction that the political disabilities of women will not be maintained. Millicent Fawcett.

Today is indeed a special day, marking as it does the granting of the vote in parliamentary elections – albeit not universally – to women.  I don’t know whether any special ringing is planned in our Branch.  I notice on BellBoard a couple of all-women quarters already, and I’m sure there will be more.  We could all talk long about present-day inequalities, especially in pay, and we could certainly ask whether or not Votes for Women came about through terrorism; but I must not make this a political sheet.  All I can do is join in the celebrations of the passing of the Representation of the People Act on this day 100 years ago.

It did also set me wondering about women ringers in our Branch.  They were always called ladies in the past, and in peal and quarter peal reports up until comparatively recent times always had a ‘Mrs’ or a ‘Miss’ in front of their names.  One thing I have as Guild Archivist is access to a good collection of Guild Reports and it has been interesting to go through them.  In 1918 there was not a single woman ringer in any of the eleven Branch towers in union with the Guild.  In 1928 there were 13 towers in union, but still no women.  The same situation prevailed in 1938, with just 10 towers in union.  It was, however, after the Second World War when things began to change.  In the 1948 Report there were seven Misses: Hazel and Joan Close, and Daphne Lloyd (Handbridge/Cathedral); Beryl and Sheila Hughes (Hoole); Stella Kingdon (St Mary within the Walls); B[renda] M Richards (Farndon).  1958 saw an appreciable improvement: 25 in total, mainly Misses once more, but some married women too.   There were 17 in 1968; amongst them appear an Irene, a Helen and a Betty.  I wonder who they are?  By 1978 first names were being given and there were 26 women members.  Ten years on and there are more: 40 in total.  At the Cathedral they were in the majority and at Handbridge they comprised half the band.  There were some towers, however, that were still male only, but that would not have been a deliberate policy.  Well, I hope not.  In 1998 there were just three men at the Cathedral, but nine women; and women formed half the band at Handbridge.  There were 52 in total.  There were 51 in 2008, and the members at Pulford were all female!  We still wait for the 2018 Report, but the 2017 one shows the same position as over the last 20 years or so.  In fact we are close to equal numbers: 166 in the whole Branch of whom 81 are women.   Of the 16 towers in union which still ring regularly on Sundays seven are run by women.  My analysis has been put together quickly at intervals of ten years.  Some of these might be freak years; and with any of the chosen years it might well be argued that the names in the Annual Report do not reflect who actually rings week in week out.  Still, the trend is quite clear: throughout the country generally very few ringers a hundred years ago, and in the inter-war years numbers were not high.  There was even at one time positive discrimination in some towers.  I definitely know that was the case before the war at Chester Cathedral.  A gradual increase in numbers after 1945, but the Misses are definitely in the majority, showing it was something for girls and young women – sometimes daughters of ringing fathers – but on marriage and the arrival of children these Misses tend to disappear from the tower lists.

If we look at our Branch Committee there is a definite imbalance: seven men and three women, which definitely does not reflect the overall position within the Branch.  I don’t choose my ‘cabinet’ and we don’t have all-women shortlists, but it all depends on elections; although more appropriately on who can be cajoled to take office.  Over the years, though, women have taken all the offices – Chairman (or do you want me to write ‘Chair’?), Secretary, Ringing Master, Treasurer, as well as simply serving on the Committee.

It is when we come to peals and quarters that big differences emerge, I think.  In the 2017 Report the most I can count are three women in any of the peals; and just one conductor. (Well done, Carol!)  Of course, if we look at the whole picture there are all-women bands for peals, and I see that the celebration of the 1918 Representation of the People Act has already produced some such bands for quarters – notably Stedman Cinques at Exeter Cathedral – and there will be more.

I note the wonderful achievements of young ringers recently: the youngest bands to ring peals of Royal and Maximus; but just the one girl amongst them.  Why should that be?   Now, is it the circles I’ve moved in, the places where I’ve lived and rung? But I do not think I can remember a single occasion when I’ve caught hold for a peal and looked round to see a majority of women in the band. I feel this very probably applies to quarters too.  And why so few women conductors?  How many do we see calling things at the various meetings and practices we go to?  Do you not think that is something that ought to change?  Steve Colman wrote about it in one of his thought-provoking articles in the Ringing World last year.

I must say in conclusion, though, that some of the best ringers I have known have been women; and I have also come across wonderful female tower captains.  There will be one such person to whom I shall be ever indebted: Lucy Shepherd of Dunstable Priory.  She ran an excellent tower, and as a conductor she was just getting into her stride before a premature death took her from us.  There she was, in charge of calling the 41 Surprise Minor methods with five men around her: totally in control and for the three peals she called of ‘the 41’ there was never a doubt.  Yes, there are very good women ringers around – in recent years women have been Masters of the College Youths and the Cumberlands – and we are not short of talented women in the CDG.  We have indeed come a long way since 1918.

Now that my Chester Branch Newsletter seems to be having prominent billing on the Guild website I was interested to have a comment last time; perhaps there will be more about women ringers after this one.  We’ll see.


The comment on my January Newsletter concerned – quite rightly – my failure to mention training of new ringers.  A meeting was held recently at Paul Hunter’s house and there are positive moves afoot to reverse the trend in Chester towers – and I suspect it is a similar picture elsewhere – that is all too plain to see.  Numbers are not growing rapidly, ringers are getting older (and probably not always wiser) and if nothing is done silent towers will inevitably result.  The gender balance question will then be irrelevant.  We know we have to advertise and we have to train – and not just in dribs and drabs.  There are also now two functioning simulators and another which should be easily capable of operating.  And we have a dumbbell at the Cathedral.  We have Steve Farmer at Tilston doing wonders and proving to be a tremendous asset to us in things to do with simulators.  I should say that two things need to be done quickly: (i) Tarvin needs to have a fully functioning simulator as soon as possible; (ii) a session on the use of simulators needs to be organized at a convenient location (Tarvin would be my preference), and that would be open to anybody in the Branch.  I don’t mind doing the organizing, but I don’t feel at all competent to talk on the use of simulators.  I am tempted to invite Chris Hughes, if he could be free.  We have this resource – spread over four sites – in the Branch and it is surely important to take it seriously.  As I’ve said before, it’s very easy to treat these things as toys, and play about on the edges.  They can obviously be useful for silent practices lasting many hours, but – in the right hands – they do have great teaching potential, especially in developing listening skills.

While I’m talking about training let me mention the £1000 given to the Guild by Ecclesiastical Insurance.  No decision has been made what to do with it, and each Branch will be invited soon to come up with ideas.  I’ll jump the gun and get in with my own suggestion:-

  • Divide the Guild Territory (just for training purposes, not permanently!) into a Western Half  and an Eastern Half.
  • Set up two Centres of Excellence, one in Chester and one in Macclesfield.
  • Excellence is already being pursued in both places in ringing on higher numbers (Well done Macclesfield Blues for winning the NW 12-Bell Striking Competition – a narrow victory over Chester Devas).  And I know wonderful work has gone on teaching ringing in Macclesfield.  Chester is now poised to follow.
  • Set up – it will cost far more than the £1000! – Teaching Centres in both centres with, say, six dumbbells, aimed principally at recruits in the appropriate halves.  That’s not an immediate priority, but I firmly believe it should happen in the not too distant future.
  • The money from EI can be used for advertising – proper advertising, aimed at a wider constituency than the normal ones (but we’ll always welcome recruits from within the church community, won’t we?).  Not exclusively young people, but there has to be potential with groups of people aged, say, 12 – 18.
  • Establish Ringing Schools (on the Birmingham model?) in the two centres and charge people to learn.  They need a proper syllabus and they need to be confident that we know where we want to take them.
  • If we charge, though, we’ve got to have good teachers.  They’d be committed, available for several hours a week, and ART trained.

That’s my suggestion, but I don’t suppose for a minute anybody will take it seriously.  It’s the teacher in me, of course, that wants to set up schools of ringing.  If we are to do anything about the appeal to train 1400 new ringers I do not believe we can simply leave it up to individual towers (although some of our towers have an exemplary teaching record), or even the five branches.

Anyhow, if any of you are moved to post a comment on the website we might open up an interesting debate.

The Branch in January

I am sure we got off to a good start.  Helen, as ever, is working very hard and those of us who attended – helpers and learners alike – enjoyed it.  The idea of taking a day and having a pub lunch in the middle is excellent.  Don’t forget the next one is on Saturday 3rd March.  We start off at Backford – always a good place for any kind of training.  The afternoon is still in the planning stage, but Helen will be sending out a notice.

I thought Ben’s first Ringing Master’s Practice at Handbridge was excellent.   If that is setting the standard for the year we have many good things to look forward to.  There might be some doubt about the date of the next one, but Ben will also send a notice.

I should not really have gone to the Advanced Practice at Malpas, and I wasn’t the only one going down with whatever that nasty virus was.  But I’m glad I went, because good work was clearly being done – as always.  I enjoyed the 8-Spliced too!  Simon will let you know about the next one, especially if there are to be any changes.  It should, however, be at Christleton on Thursday 22nd February.

Branch Quarterly: Saturday 17th February, Handbridge, 14.30

You’ve had the notice, and Richard has even been working into the small hours producing an agenda.  It’s mainly ringing, of course, but we do have a few things to discuss.  And a first for me and Richard: an election!  Do we have a secret ballot?  Do we have to create a booth and provide pencils?  You all know I sent out the qualities needed for the Chester Branch representative on the BRF Sub-committee.  It is still not too late for nominations, but I can promise you there will be an election – preceded by hustings.  All very exciting.  I’m not sure we can run to providing transport for the infirm and aged, however.

Parking is not what it was now that major work is being carried out behind Handbridge Church.  You can park the other side of the river and walk over, although you’ll have to pay.  You could find somewhere in Handbridge.  Or you can use public transport.

I did mention social events in the last Newsletter, and it will also be an agenda item at Handbridge.  Your suggestions, please!  Plans are definitely coming out of you Committee, though.


This should be a regular item, but sometimes I miss things.  And don’t forget, please, to inform me of anything you believe deserves a mention.

Firstly I need to congratulate Ben for arranging no fewer than three quarter peals over quite a narrow band of time on Sunday 21st January.  I, as others were, was confined to barracks, and that gave Ben more work to do finding replacements.  The mother and son team of Sallie Jameson and Alex Sinnott rose magnificently to the occasion.  Sallie rang Bob Doubles inside for the first time, and Alex rang his first quarter.  Well done to them both, and well done to Noreen Nickson for ringing her quarter of Grandsire Doubles.

The BellBoard links are:


While I’m in a congratulatory mood I must also remember the eight intrepid ringers who rang in the dark at Old St Mary’s.  That was another quarter I had to miss: Mrs A was keeping me in.  By all accounts a very well-struck quarter of Original Triples was rung illuminated only by the light from mobile phones.  It was on Friday 19th January.  You must have a look at the photograph:

Remembering Two Former Chester Ringers

If you look at the second of the two links above – the Grandsire Doubles – you will see it was rung in memory of Daphne Lloyd, of Bermuda, but formerly of Chester.  I was very pleased her niece, Kathryn, rang in the quarter.  You have, I hope, looked at Daphne’s peal book on the Guild website.  I have written something about her life in the accompanying article.  There will also be an obituary in the Ringing World and in the Annual Report.

I make mention in the article of Gordon Corby; and he also features in the peal book.  Sadly Gordon too died very recently.  He was living in West Yorkshire and had not rung for some time.  Again, there will be a Ringing World obituary, but I do not know about the Annual Report.  I shall put it in the next Newsletter, however, if we miss the deadline for the report.

Gordon, along with Brian Harris, learned to ring at Hoole and was active there in the 1940s and 1950s.  A dwindling group of ringers now remember him from those days.  He rang many peals and was at one time very well known in Chester ringing circles.


I have not forgotten the quiz questions from last month, and I do promise to give full answers; but not in this Newsletter.  I realize that I need some diagrams to answer some of the questions properly, and that needs preparation.  The 1918 Act has taken over this production, and I’ll come back to the questions next month.

Just in case another topic for comments should open up, I might ask you to think of answers to these questions:

  • If you had the opportunity to name a new method what would it be?  And why?
  • What is the silliest name for a method you know?


That’s it!  But I’m now relaxed about length, because I know these Newsletters do not have to be printed.



Thursday, 08 February 2018

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