ULSCR was founded just after the end of WWII with the objectives being the promotion of the art & science of change ringing in the University of London & ringing for church services.
Then & Now
By Philip Gray, based on his speech at the 60th Anniversary Dinner
Well the ULSCR has made it! 60 years is a long time to survive many ups and downs but you have seen it through.
It is an appropriate time to have a look at our Ringing Exercise as it is today and see how and where it is has changed over those 60 years. Members of the ULSCR have played many parts in this saga. From what I see, hear and read of present day students you seem to do and enjoy exactly the same things as we did 60 years back. That’s good! No change here.
The ringing of our Church bells goes on week by week and it would appear from periodic attempts at head counts by the Central Council since the 1950’s that the total number of people active as ringers in this Country has not changed a great deal. One therefore concludes that the amount that bells are heard on Sundays and other days of the week has not changed that much either.
This is an interesting deduction when you remember that the Anglican Church, which is overwhelmingly the main host of Church bells, is repeatedly reported to have declined steeply in all its activities over these 60 years. It may be therefore that ringing is the only activity in that Church that has not declined. That is something to boast about!
The age range of parish ringer recruits seems to have gone up. They are now likely to be middle age rather than teenage. Older recruits learn more slowly and need more patient individual help to achieve self confidence. Standing beside with quiet words in their ears of encouragement on how to place their bells accurately does much more to achieve that triumphant cry of ‘I can do it!’ than does shouting at them across the ringing room.
What has changed for the better is that a lot more professionalism and expertise has been brought in to help the parish ringer do his and her jobs better. We have seen, entirely within the 60 years, the advent of ringing courses, of videos and illustrated manuals, of centres of excellence and of simulators. All these have not only helped people to learn the difficult skills of ringing better but have also helped the techniques of teaching them. 60 years ago a beginner was entirely at the mercy of whether someone in the tower had the ability and patience to teach them. I personally think that we should now go further in registering professional teaching skills to help. It is customary to pay for professional coaching in the difficult skills of, say, playing a violin or playing cricket. Ringing is not easy either and is too important to be left to the mercy of inept teaching.
I find that when I now go on an outing or ringing day it is less likely that I will be struggling with bells that are difficult to master and either deafen or whisper in my ears. Today our detailed knowledge of bell and tower engineering is greater but the big difference over the years is that more money has been raised and spent on bells. It parallels the affluent society. One must also pay tribute to the many, professional and amateur, that have made major contributions to the knowledge of bell and tower movement and sound control. The extraordinary growth and size of the Ringing Roadshow is testimony to this.
The phenomenal rise in ringing overseas is something with which I have had quite a lot of involvement. 60 years ago overseas ringing was almost defunct. In Australia, when Joan and I first went there in 1951, there would have been barely a dozen towers where the bells were rung even occasionally – many rings were in very poor condition. In percentage terms the expansion in the overseas countries in the past few decades far far exceeds any measure of growth in the UK. This expansion has been aided by the growth in transport, both international and within huge countries such as Australia and North America. But that does not explain why a quintessentially English practice should suddenly blossom in countries that over 200 or more years have steadily grown away from their UK ties. From my personal observation of this over nearly all the past 60 years I can only ascribe it to the extraordinary power and fascination that ringing and hearing bells has for people from any background. Think back to when each of you were first hooked by ringing. What was it that gripped and held you? It was powerful: it calls up something from the depths of our being. I have observed this enthusiasm at work many times particularly in the remote (by English standards) country towns in Australia which have acquired rings of bells recently. Learning how to ring them to changes (call or scientific) is a real uphill battle with the next nearest tower perhaps several hundred miles away and with expert assistance only occasionally available. I have to say that often the ringing I have heard by the local band was not too good and it would not be a surprise if discouragement were rife. Far from it! Their enthusiasm and dedication individually and as a team is second to none. One finds teams bubbling with enthusiasm, even without a driving force from conquering new methods or peals. It is uplifting to see. It says something about what the sound of bells is really about.
We are a University Society and one would expect that University education will have had a major influence on the world in which we live and ring. So it has. When Denis and I were students we were in the 7% of our age group who went on to full time tertiary education. The figure now, I believe, is more like 50%. One consequence has been the accelerating rate of technical development in every walk of life from medicine through electronic communication, transportation to bell ringing. It is no great surprise that the influx of ringers with advanced technical knowledge has fostered a spread of advanced change ringing. More and more complex methods are rung on more and more bells and for longer and longer times. I have to admire the superior sustained concentration this demands. I do not know whether the advances in medical knowledge also account for the greater bladder control that some performances require.
It is still true however that the complex world of method and composition technology seems to have as much relevance to the parish ringer as do the ritual dances of party politics in the Westminster Village to most UK voters.
It is still true, nevertheless, that any time that a bell sound comes from a church tower it is, as it always has been, a connection between church and all people. The ‘subtle’ distinctions between ringing for a service, a wedding or a peal do not register strongly with our customers. They all know where the sound comes from when they hear it.
One of the highlights of my time as a ringer was in an inner London parish where I assisted in an augmentation – from no bell to one – in a turret. This is now chimed briefly before every daily service. Soon after the augmentation our local newsagent, an Indian, told me how much he and his family (non-Christians) now appreciated being brought into the parish church’s life by that bell. Those who lived within that parish come from every possible race, creed, sect and nation. The bell played a part in creating a bond between people as has the spread of overseas ringing I have mentioned. That, more than anything, has given me a big kick to being a ringer.
Philip Gray, November 2005
The Early Years
In 1944, at the summer training camp of the University of London Senior Training Corps, I met Vernon Benning for the first time – I think we were both trying to scrounge some extra supper from the cookhouse where Vernon was on fatigue duty that evening. We quickly established that he was at Kings and I at Imperial, both churchmen and both ringers.
Vernon introduced me to the Universities Association founded in 1942 to provide an organisation to which all universities could affiliate – Oxford University and Cambridge University had their own Society and Guild respectively established in the late 19th Century. Trouble arose when a peal for the UACR, conducted by me, was rung on 30 June 1945 which included in the band an External Student of London University. This was initially not acceptable since at Oxford and Cambridge only resident students existed. However, the matter was resolved at a general meeting of the UACR held during the Summer tour centred on Norwich in August 1945. It was pointed out that the University of London Act 1926 contained a comprehensive definition of the status of member of the University, which included External Students, and this definition was accepted. (During the week in Norwich VJ Day was announced and everyone joined in spontaneous and enthusiastic celebrations that evening).
As our ringing contacts became more extensive and frequent, we established that there was quite a number of ringers who were, or had been, at London University. Indeed, we discovered that some attempt had been made around 1937/8 to start a ringing society associated with the University but without success. In October 1945 Vernon Benning, Philip Gray, Paul Williamson, Ted Challis and I met at Imperial College and adopted a constitution for the University of London Society of Change Ringers. I was the first Master, Philip Gray the Secretary, and we invited Dr James C E Simpson – a very well known and respected ringer, and lecturer in the University at Kings from 1935 to 1939 – to be the first President. Of the founding members, Vernon Benning died in July 2004 but at the time of writing (May 2006) the other four are still alive. Vernon played a big part in ringing and teaching learners in the early years and was Master 1947-8.
Copies of the earliest reports were lodged (as was then thought to be required by law) at the British Museum Library. I have confirmed that they are still kept by the British Library, but since they are in store in West Yorkshire consulting them might require some effort and patience.
At the very beginning, the Society had its base at S Gabriel’s, Warwick Square, Pimlico, organised by Philip Gray who discovered that an ex Scoutmaster from his youth had become Vicar there. The bells had not been rung since before the War, and Philip and I spent an exhausting afternoon clearing out what felt like tons of pigeon manure and nesting material from the bell chamber and cleaning the ringing chamber. The ropes were rotten at the top so, because we couldn’t afford new proper bell ropes, I obtained a large amount of hemp rope from a chandler in Dockland that my father knew, and we spent another afternoon splicing the bottom ends of the existing ropes, which were good enough for up to about 10 feet from the sallies, on to the new rope. Since the total draught was long and the hemp rope was initially very elastic we had some rather exciting times ringing!
We taught learners with silenced bells on Thursday evenings, and practised with open bells on Mondays. Regular Sunday ringing was not possible because most of us were attached to other local towers, but we did sometimes ring quarter peals for special occasions. The arrangement lasted for a couple of years or so, but eventually we were asked to leave because the level of complaints from residents in the area became too high – the church was completely surrounded by houses and we had no means of sound reduction.
We then led a somewhat nomadic existence for a while – ringing on the 8 bells at S Mary’s Lambeth (by the gates to Lambeth Palace) and for quite a period at S Stephen, Belsize Park, Hampstead with 10 bells though we mostly rang the back eight or the front six.
Our headquarters became S Olave, Hart Street as the result of my writing in October 1954 to Bert Hughes at the Whitechapel Foundry to ask if he knew of any church restored after war damage, and with restored bells, who did not have a regular band and who would be prepared to give us a home. By that time I had become a College Youth and fairly regularly attended their practices at Cornhill, Southwark and S Paul’s. Harold Pitstow, who was in charge at Westminster Abbey and tower captain at Banstead where I lived and learnt to ring, was a close friend of Bert who was also a friend of The Rev A Powell Miller who at that time was Rector of S Olave’s. I had hoped when I wrote that Bert might suggest S Olave’s and I was very happy when in fact he did so and made the necessary introductions. S Olave’s has been a wonderful base and successive Rectors have been helpful and hospitable hosts and congenial company at the Society’s annual dinners.
In the very early years we rang a lot of call changes (very good for our striking), Grandsire Triples, Stedman Triples and Bob Major. The repertoire widened as we gained more members and experience, and, for example, on the Yorkshire tour centred on Ilkley in 1948 we scored good peals of London Surprise Major and Little Bob Royal and rang a good half course of Cambridge Major on the back eight at York Minster with Bill Simpson on the tenor (he was in fact one of the highest rated heavy bell ringers in the country at that time).
When the ULSCR was founded in 1945, Dr J C E Simpson agreed to become the first President on condition that it should be for a reasonable but limited time – he was adamant that the Society must be the institution, not any of the officers. In the event, his untimely death in 1952 at the age of 43 coincided with the time he had in mind as the limit of his period in office. The principle he laid down concerning periods in office has been adhered to throughout the Society’s history.
There is no doubt that the support that he gave to the Society, and his spirited defence of university ringing, which had come under strong criticism in 1945 and 1946 for alleged concentration on new methods rather than good striking, were of very great value. He was a very busy man, and time and distance did not allow him to spend as much time as he, and the Society, would have wished. In 1948, however, Bill managed to join us for the summer tour in Yorkshire. During that week of happy memories many members met him for the first time, and his wholehearted participation in, and obvious enjoyment of, all the concomitant activities of such a tour endeared him to everyone. Bill’s masterly handling of the 60 cwt tenor at York Minster, turned in to a half course of Cambridge on the back eight, will not be readily forgotten by those who witnessed it. He conducted two of the three peals he rang in for the Society, and one of these was the first peal of London Surprise rung by any university society.
The custom of organising Whitsun and Summer tours was established early and those in the first few years are listed below:
|1949||Oxford incl Glos and Warks|
|1950||Hants incl IoW||Hunts and Cambs (camp)|
|1951||St Leonards||Kings Lynn|
|1953||Watford, Herts||Kempsey, Worcs|
|1957||Petersfield, Hants||Norfolk Broads|
|1958||High Wycombe||Shipham, Somerset|
|1959||Hitchin||Northumberland & Durham|
|1960||Brasted, Kent||Birmingham (Warks and Worcs)|
|1961||Guildford, Surrey||Cheshire & North Wales|
|1962||Kent||Cambridge (Selwyn College)|
After ten years of existence the members of the ULSCR reckoned that the Society was sufficiently well established to be affiliated to the Central Council. Application was therefore made and affiliation was approved at the Council’s meeting at Leicester on 22 May 1956. I was admitted as the first representative of the ULSCR at that meeting.
Denis Layton, May 2006
Even older UL History…
“Tony Smith sent me this stuff a while back — it might usefully go on the website. Cheers, Roger”. – an email from Roger Bailey to Jacqueline Bale, 13th November 2011
LONDON UNIVERSITY STUDENTS’ INVITATION
On Saturday, February 24th, the two districts of the London County Association met at All Hallows’, Lombard Street, at the invitation of the London University Students. Soon after 3 o’clock the ten bells (tenor 19½ cwt.), said to have been removed from the ancient Church of St. Dionis, Gracechurch Street, were set going to the tune of Grandsire Caters, under the direction of the Southern District secretary, who afterwards handed over the reins of office to Mr. J. Waugh, Northern District Master. Touches in various methods were rung during the afternoon, including Cambridge Royal and London Surprise Major, also rounds for some of the students. By now a large company had assembled, the overflow of a somewhat small belfry distributing itself upon the roof and viewing the backs of adjacent buildings.
Within the church the writer found some fine carving, said to be by Grinling Gibbons, and in a case an ancient Bible and two other volumes, described and dated as follows: “A.D. 1613. These 2 Volumes Erasmus’ Paraphrase of the New Testament and this Bible were rescued from the old Church of St. Bene’t, Gracechurch, where they were chained to desks for public perusal. That Church was destroyed in the great fire A.D. 1666.”
The party, numbering about 35, at 5 o’clock betook themselves to St. Dionis’ Hall, Lime Street, owned by All Hallows’ (they seem to have a lot of other people’s things, by the way), where tea had been prepared, and a happy party was ministered to by some of the students in a very cosy and beautiful room. The inner man having been satisfied, the Southern District secretary announced that there was no business to transact, but he would take that opportunity of moving a hearty vote of thanks to the Rector (the Rev. Canon Tatlow, D.D.) for the use of the bells and the room, and to Messrs. Cuthbertson and Dodd, of the London University, for their help in arranging tea and having the bells ready.
Mr. Cuthbertson briefly responded, and, handbells being produced, some more or less startling ringing was performed at first, but as time went on a band was found who could and did “keep their seats.” A return was afterwards made to the tower for about an hour, and all was silent again about 8 o’clock, there only remaining a certain amount of what another secretary describes as “chin chin” to do to complete a most successful and enjoyable meeting.
The Ringing World, March 9th, 1934, page 157
Will the lady who went home from the meeting at All Hallows, Lombard Street, on Saturday, with one of her own gloves and with or without a grey suede one; please communicate with Mrs. R. F. Deal, 10, Kimberley Avenue, East Ham, E.6, who pleads guilty to having taken away one of the wrong pair by mistake.
The Ringing World, March 2nd, 1934, page 136
There were some absent-minded people at the meeting at All Hallows, Lombard Street, London, on Saturday week. We have already reported the “collection” of odd gloves; now we are asked to say that a lady’s scarf was left in the belfry. The claimant should communicate with Mr. Dodd, 2, Winchendon Road, S.W.6.
The Ringing World, March 9th, 1934, page 152
Letter: A LONDON UNIVERSITY SOCIETY?
It is not possible to measure what the art of change ringing owes to the Universities. For well over fifty years the Cambridge University Guild and the Oxford University Society have been training grounds from which have come many of our most influential ringers – to carry the art into their parishes and dioceses, as parsons; to devote their energies and intellects to the many problems, the solution of which has added so largely to our store of knowledge and our interest in the art. Indeed, many of the most important of our ringing organisations owe their formation to men who graduated into ringing through these two seats of learning, and the prosperity of the Exercise as well as much of the advance of the art itself has been built up by those whose first real interest in ringing was awakened while at University.
Hitherto, however, it is only Oxford and Cambridge that have had their University ringing societies, but why should not the younger University of London have a similar organisation? We are prompted to ask this question from the report that a meeting of the London County Association, held at All Hallows’, Lombard Street, a city church, where the bells are seldom rung, appears to have been made the success it was through the instrumentality of certain University students. Here, in these young men, seems to be the nucleus of what might well develop into an important and useful organisation, which in time might play as valuable a part in maintaining the influence of the Exercise and advancing knowledge of the art as either of the other two Universities.
It may be true that at present, at any rate, conditions are not quite the same in London as in Oxford or Cambridge, but with the experience of the older societies to go upon a scheme to establish a London University Society, with similar objects as those in the sister Universities, does not seem beyond the realms of realisation.
These societies, as we have said, are essentially training grounds, to interest and instruct students of the right type in the art of ringing, to encourage them to go out not merely as ringers but as “missionaries,” to spread the practice of change ringing, and as “explorers” to open up, if possible, new avenues of advance. A London University Society would start with certain material advantages. There are within reach plenty of bells which ought to be available for practice, and ample help would, we feel sure, be forthcoming. It is possible that London University might eventually offer a larger field for recruiting even than Oxford or Cambridge, and such a society would be, in any event, an extremely valuable adjunct to the cause of change ringing. Cannot something be done to set a scheme on foot?
The Ringing World, March 9th, 1934, page 145
Response: A LONDON UNIVERSITY SOCIETY?
To the Editor.
Dear Sir,- I am very interested in the suggestion made in a recent issue of “The Ringing World,” concerning the formation of a London University Society. Should the proposition actually materialise, I, for one, would offer my humble services.
D. G. BROWN.
The Homestead, West Wickham, Kent.
The Ringing World, March 23rd, 1934, page 182
THE LONDON UNIVERSITY SOCIETY
POINTS FROM NEW ORGANISATION’S RULES
The new London University Society of Change Ringers, which has received permission from the university authorities to use this title, will, it is hoped, take its place in the Exercise with those other University Guilds associated with Cambridge and Oxford.
The rules provide that the officers of the society shall consist of a president, vice-presidents, chaplain, secretary and treasurer, who with three other members will constitute the committee. The annual subscription is to be 2s. 6d. for ordinary members in residence, and a life membership subscription of 5s. for those who have completed their term. Members of the society are to become members of the London County Association and North Southwark Guild, if qualified in accordance with the rules of the Guild. The 5s. life membership subscription of this Guild is payable through the treasurer of the University Society and is due on election.
The annual meeting is to be held in May.
The rules also provide for a fortnightly practice at All Hallows’, Lombard Street, alternating with the London County Association practice at St. Clement Danes.
At the moment, however, the tower of All Hallows’ is closed, owing to the condition of the fabric, and it is unlikely that any further ringing will be possible on the bells for a long time to come.
The Ringing World, April 3rd, 1936, page 227