The 'Grand Old Man', a Life Member of the Guild and a ringer for 85 years, is no longer with us.
What does one say about Rob Harvey? He was so well known by the majority of us. That he was ringing around these parts before any of the rest of us took a rope is undisputable: 85 years on the end of a rope is impressive. Yes, Ron Gilkes exceeds that slightly in life span, but he wouldn't have taken hold of a rope until later. Rob has been part of the ringing scene effectively forever. Now he's no longer with us. It will be strange for a time - but he certainly won't be forgotten.
I last saw Rob at the Guild's AGM at Whichford last year. He didn't look well then. He was in a wheelchair and I think he had great difficulty in keeping up with people and what was going on. His eyesight had all-but failed him. I'm very sure this always-active person wasn't enjoying being in this state at all.
I'd met Rob a number of years ago. He had a very great liking for Taylor bells. Those from other founders were OK, particularly the modern ones that are in-tune with themselves, but Taylor bells were his delight. He used to come over to Evesham for some of the practices, I guess to enjoy those bells. He must have delighted in having Hook Norton's bells so close, too - a truly glorious 20cwt complete ring of 8 from Taylors. He says he transported the bell frame side castings from the local station to the church when the work was done in 1949.
Rob had a very musical ear and good singing voice, which, I guess, allowed him to hear all the various tones a bell emits when struck. I remember asking Rob if he'd like to ring some Grandsire Caters when he was at Evesham for a practice and a little to my surprise he said ‘Yes’. He had grown up on 6 bells and may have had had some 8-bell experience, but 10? He got through it quite well, but I noticed he wasn't looking for the bells, but was ringing on the beat and listening. What ability! Oh that many more had such!
Rob is of course responsible for Whichford's augmentation from 6 to 8 in 1998. I understand he'd harboured a desire for some time to see an 8 in the tower. He asked Taylors to come in and tell him what was needed (the bells had been rehung by Taylors in 1904). Jed Flatters came to inspect and said to Rob he thought the frame was designed so that two pits could be added without difficulty. On checking, it was found to be the case and all the dimensions for the new pits were there on Taylors’ drawings. They didn't bother to attend site again to check the dimensions - and yes, of course, they were correct! As we know the augmentation did take place, with Rob donating the new treble.
It became a tradition to ring a quarter peal ofGrandsire Triples for Rob's birthday. He would invariably ring ‘his’ bell, the treble. This went on for some years. As Rob got older, a slight reluctance to ring crept in, only because he did not want to fail the band by having to stop. On the occasion of his 92nd birthday I offered to be the reserve, so that if Rob felt he'd had enough I would take over his bell. The quarter started well, with Rob doing the bizz. It continued, with me looking at Rob to detect any signs of fatigue. But no, Rob looked comfortable and showed no signs of stopping. I sat longer and still nothing. Then that was it: ‘That's all’. Rob had happily rung the quarter. It was his last, but what a way to finish.
Rob's 96th birthday and 85 years a ringer was celebrated in slightly different style to the normal Grandsire Triples. Members of the Coventry DA rang a peal of Whichford Surprise Major. Not many people can say they've had a peal of the "home method" rung for their birthday!
As might be expected, his funeral was very well attended. Luckily, there were seats reserved for the ringers, as his Will requested that a half-muffled quarter peal of Grandsire Triples be rung by Guild members at the time his coffin was lowered into the ground. Peter Kenealy put the band together and it is a pleasure to say the quarter peal was successful. It was not without incident, though. About a third of the way through the tower door opened and in stepped a lady and two gentlemen; they'd clearly been at the funeral. They stood in the doorway for a short while and then advanced, the lady with a camera in her hand. Naturally the ringers’ eyes were watching the visitors, to see what they were going to do, and the ringing started to suffer. I think we were all waiting for the visitors to move into the circle and try to have a conversation with a ringer. Then they turned and went away. Mick Austin told us later he'd said to the lady (as he was the closest to her), ‘Would you please go’. Thank you, Mick, for saving the quarter. We were very surprised to find a little present for each ringer afterwards. I enjoyed mine with a toast to Rob every time I took a tot!
Speakers at his funeral told us about Rob as a farmer. Apparently he was known to take a gamble on many things. He may have had a few failures in this way - that's life - but he clearly had many successes. The opportunity arose to buy the farm that became his home to the end. He was told he wouldn't be able to repay the loan within the time limit, but he bought it nonetheless and then worked tirelessly to pay off the loan, which he did within 3 years. There was a lovely story about the local Hunt. Rob allowed them over his ground, but on one occasion asked them not to ride over a wet area in a wheat field. Unfortunately his request was not heeded and the Hunt trampled through the wet patch, ruining the wheat. On seeing this Rob immediately saddled up his horse and took it to trample through the gardens of Hunt officers! There were the inevitable cries of ‘Look at the damage you’ve done to my garden’, to which Rob replied, ’It's not as much as the damage to my wheat.’ There was a lot more respect for Rob after that!
Rob was buried in a coffin that had been made some years back from one or two trees that had been felled on his land. The coffin had lain in one of his barns awaiting the day it was required. He certainly would be feeling comfortable inside it, knowing it was Whichford-grown timber, and that he was to be buried in Whichford churchyard after a Service in Whichford Church with Whichford bells ringing. What a wonderful way to live and what a wonderful way to go. He will be remembered for a very long time.
Here are the quarter peal details of the ringing as Rob was laid to rest:
PS: these are just my memories of Rob. There will be many members who have far more memories of him than me. Please submit them for publication in the next Newsletter. I'm sure there are some funny ones - there has to be from such a character.
Additional ringing undertaken in memory of Rob.