Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Death of Walter Large, 1st November 1946

I asked a question in the 'From the Archives' item last time about where Walter Large went after he left the area in 1911 (as noted in the Minute for Oct 26th 1911). I received an email from Brian Harris of Swindon (our ex-Pat from Bretforton) saying he couldn't answer that directly, but that Walter clearly returned to the area some time later, as he eventually died at his home in Stretton-on-Fosse on 1st November 1946. Brian very helpfully sent a copy of Walter's obituary that appeared in The Ringing World. As this year is the 65th anniversary, it is worth reproducing the obituary here in full:-

Mr Walter Large

The death occurred on November 1st at Stretton-on-Fosse, near Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos., of Walter Large, at the age of 88. He was a co-founder of the Four Shires Guild and also was a link with some of the early founders of the Oxford Guild with whom he rang peals, notably Joe Field, J. W. Washbrook, the Rev F. E. Robinson and F. E. Ward.

He was born and learnt to ring at Sherborne, Glos. (6 bells), moving to Burford, Oxon, about 1880, where soon he rang his first peal of Grandsire Triples, no mean achievement in those days. Becoming acquainted with John Monk, of Witney, he frequently walked the seven miles each way from Burford and Witney, and called several peals of Triples.

Later he was appointed instructor to the Oxford Guild, and taught bands at Leafield, and also at Shipton-under-Wychwood after the latter's bells had been augmented to eight. In spite of all the walking these activities entailed, he never complained, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

About 1902 he went to live at Todenham, and it was while here that Walter Large and the then Vicar of Todenham together formed the Four Shires Guild (Oxford, Gloucester, Worcester and Warwick) to cater for all the isolated towers. The Guild flourished considerably. Meetings were regularly held and certificates awarded for rising and falling, resulting in much improved striking. During this period at Todenham he was not only teaching and conducting there, but also at Moreton-in-Marsh, where there were eight bells but previously no ringers. He got together a band and afterwards called their first peal of Grandsire Triples. To Walter Large, also, the ringers at Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water owed the success of their first peal.

Settling finally at Stretton-on-Fosse, where there are no bells, he continued to take active interest in ringing and ringers in Cotswold towns and villages until age prevented him doing so. Since the outbreak of the recent war he had done little or no ringing, following the art he loved so much through the medium of 'The Ringing World'. This he could, to the last, read without the aid of glasses. It has not yet been ascertained how many peals he rang, but his invaluable work in the encouragement and training of raw recruits to the Exercise will long be remembered throughout the Cotswold country. To carry on the torch he taught his three sons Edward (Birmingham), George (Newport, Mon) and Arthur (Stretton-on-Fosse), as well as C. Locke (Chipping Campden), his stepson. The third generation of this ringing family is represented by G. E. Large of Claines, Worcs., who is Walter Large's grandson. He also leaves a widow and four daughters, and by trade he was a master mason.

It clearly didn't take Walter Large long to get into his stride, as a peal of Grandsire Doubles was rung at Todenham in 1904 (two years after he settled there) conducted by him. The peal board records it was rung for the Oxford Guild. Another board records another for the Oxford Guild dated 1907, also conducted by Large. Both these peals pre-date the formation of the FSG in 1909.

Large was obviously a very capable and experienced ringer. He could happily have continued ringing peals for the Oxford Guild if he'd wished, but forming a local guild for the 'isolated towers' (to quote the Obituary above) of the North Cotswolds area had a great deal of sense. Perhaps, too, Large was attracted to running his own show in his own area, rather than be remote from the ODG and either having to travel to ODG events or ODG members having to travel to him. Whatever the reason, the North Cotswolds area benefited hugely from this decision. There is no doubt Large had the drive to pursue this aim, which he did with 'infectious enthusiasm' (to quote the Obituary again).

It is interesting to consider the ringing scene in this area at the turn of the 20th century. Ringing associations were then mostly still in their infancy, so promoting the formation of the FSG was nothing unusual. The county or diocesan associations were generally in place, but smaller, local or church-based organisations had or were being formed.

The situation with the Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire associations was very varied. The 'hubs' of these associations were adequately covered, but this is unsurprising, given that more ringers existed in these parts and transport to and from the outlying areas was restrictive.

The Gloucester & Bristol Association had for some years experienced large organisational difficulties following an ecclesiastical decision to separate the Gloucester and Bristol Dioceses into two independently managed units (one Bishop had previously overseen both). That Association's solution to its crisis, to follow the Oxford Guild's example and form branches, did not occur until 1909. However, no branches covering the North Cotswolds occurred until 1912, when the Stow Branch was formed, and then 1919, when the Cheltenham Branch (which included the Campden Deanery) was formed. (The Stow Branch and the Campden Deanery area became the North Cotswold Branch in 1969.)

The Worcestershire & Districts Association, although formed in 1882, had none of its present Branches until 1911. The Warwickshire Guild of Change Ringers (later the Coventry Diocesan Guild) was still very much a fledgling organisation, having been formed late in 1907; and their focus was very much towards Birmingham, which at that time was in Warwickshire.

As intimated above, it was only the Oxford Diocesan Guild that seems then to have had some semblance of order, stability and management, particularly with covering its outlying areas. This is borne out by the fact that Large rang in a number of peals for the ODG when he was at Burford.

The county/diocesan associations were therefore in place, 'just' in some cases, but their effectiveness in the North Cotswolds - in what might be described as the 'scrag-ends' of their areas - was minimal at best and zero the more likely. On that basis Large found an area that was united because of the lack of 'county' division, ie nothing effective was in place.

It is therefore unsurprising that a member of the ODG took ringing in the North Cotswolds in hand. It may not be unreasonable to say that only someone of his ilk, born and bred on the periphery of the North Cotswolds and therefore speaking 'the language' of the area to inspire and lead local ringers, together with much local ringing experience, could have undertaken this task as successfully as he did. Without him the FSG is unlikely ever to have been formed. We owe much to Walter Large.

FSG officers rang a superbly-struck quarter peal of a method Walter Large called so often, to mark the 65th anniversary of his death (see photo of the band).


The band that rang the Q at Todenham on 1st Nov

Todenham, Glos, 1st Nov 2011, 1260 Grandsire Doubles:
1. Mike Fairfax (Accounts Examiner)
2. Michael Haynes (Committee Member)
3. Keith Murphy (Committee & CC Rep)
4. John Nicholls (President)
5. Chris Povey (C) (Committee & CC Rep)
6. Stuart Cummings (Committee Member)

(It was rather eerie, but something of a privilege, to be ringing the same bell Walter Large rang and from which he conducted many times, as indicated by the peal boards hanging in the tower. CP)