I had a jolt recently when I was researching some information for Willersey as 'Tower of the Quarter' - I looked inside St Peter's Church for the first time and found an utter gem. It wasn't so much that I found St Peter's an utter gem - there are many gems around our area - but what hit me most was that although I first rang there almost 50 years ago and have done so many times since, it took a reason somewhat unconnected with ringing to get me to open the main door to see the undoubted glories inside. Without that reason there is a big possibility I might never have seen the interior of one of our local churches. What a dreadful reflection on a local ringer. As ringers we are inclined to head for the tower entrance door, get into the Ringing Room, ring, and get out, without giving the interior of the church more than a glance if the tower entrance is inside. If outside, well… no chance. I know it works like this, because I've been guilty of such practices, too. The 'Tower of the Quarter' features hopefully encourage us to look around in the churches in which we ring - "to stand and stare" as the poet William Henry Davies (aka 'The Super Tramp') wrote in his famous poem 'What is this life if full of care, etc' - as we might never see such wonderful things. How can we call ourselves locals if we fail to look at them? The problem we have in this country is there's so much history; it oozes out from every nook and cranny. Somebody once said to me Americans come to this country to see our history. Here they are regularly confronted by a bucketful of history in front of them; another bucketful is next door; and just round the corner there are umpteen more bucketsful - quite overpowering if the infrastructure in one's home country is less than 300 years old. Being surrounded by huge lumps of history is something we take for granted, because we grew up with them. However, we can so easily ignore our historical treats through indifference. Please go inside our churches and take a look around. Should you not, take note of the last line of Davies' poem: 'A poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare'.
You will see ("Tie up your shoes and ring the bells!") that we have an international contributor this time. Julia Heyns tells of her experiences in the Vale and in London with English ringing. She is clearly someone who is used to reporting on things, as she noticed and recorded so many aspects that we, being used to all this ringing stuff, probably miss - just like the history business in the previous paragraph. We probably operate in a 'bubble', and it's people like Julia who are able to tell us how important our art is in the culture of this country.
The Guild AGM is upon us once more. Please don't be put off by the seemingly long Agenda. It looks long, but it's likely to be short on time, as there is (at this point of writing anyway) nothing contentious on the horizon to my knowledge. Yes, there are a few elections to hold, but these will take only a few minutes. 'OK', you'll say, 'what's the point in me coming then?' The AGM gives all members a chance to have a word with the Committee about any aspect of the Guild's operation, whether it's good or bad. Comments at AGMs normally refer to aspects that need improvement: rarely about things done well. Yes, the Committee will happily take comments regarding improvements, but should anybody be moved to express satisfaction (or even beyond that) about how the Guild operates, then there will be much joy. As Peter Quinn says in his Report (p.4), the Committee do work hard. It would be nice to know whether this work satisfies the majority as much as whether it doesn't!
I've been repairing broken ropes again. I am saddened at how badly ropes are looked after in some cases, as these are expensive items, and they don't come 'off the shelf' either. All are hand made, so a long delay between ordering and receiving is the norm. We seem to be losing 'the Steeplekeeper' in towers, the person who regularly goes upstairs to look around and checks everything is OK - and more to the point pick up defects as they start to occur. Hilary Bolton mentions the work John does in keeping things up to scratch (and Badsey bells are always 'well turned out'). So why are steeplekeepers seemingly disappearing? Is it because a lot of items in belfries are now long-lasting and low maintenance. For example: ball bearings, which require no work (in fact the advice is to leave well alone) as against plain bearings, which require regular oiling; and wheels and bells with more effective fixings to headstocks. However, stays are the same as always (Hilary mentions cracks starting to occur), and of course ropes. If bells are checked less frequently, the tell-tale signs of wear aren't picked up. Flax ropes are made from a natural material, so all sorts of nasties can affect them. And they are expensive!
Our sympathies - certainly mine - go out to Sophia Lewis-Skeath, who has been suffering with some very painful back problems recently. I know just what it's like, having been through such an experience on a few occasions, including one at the Bell Tower on a Sunday morning after helping to pull up some of the back bells!
Stop Press: a report of the Ringing Tour around Ludlow has been included at the almost-12th hour! It was good.
Chris Povey, (Caretaker) Editor
(The views expressed in this Newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Four Shires Guild or its Committee. The Guild endorses no products or manufacturers advertised within the Newsletter — but would not allow such advertisements where the goods or services are knowingly questionable.)