The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

William Burkin

A Tribute to the Past Master of 1894-7, read at the Commemoration of the Centenary of his death at Nutfield on 9th October, 2004.

Prepared by Jim Phillips, Librarian. Read by Colin Newman, Master.

William Burkin was born on 13th August 1861 and was taught to ring at Nutfield by his father John Burkin, a well known local ringer. William Burkin made rapid progress and by the age of 12 could prick out Grandsire Doubles. When aged 15, he could ring 720s in various methods. He practised at Bletchingly and Reigate on 8 and his first peal was on the third at Mitcham on Monday 18th April 1881, Grandsire Triples. His first peal as conductor was at Crawley on November 16th 1882 where he called Holts ten part.

He took part in over 100 peals of which he conducted 28. His most notable peal was at St Paul's Cathedral on the 24th November 1894 when he rang the third to Kent Treble Bob Maximus, this being the first of Maximus on the bells. This peal is recorded on a peal tablet in the ringing room of St Paul's.

Other notable performances were 10080 Kent Treble Bob Major at Ashtead on the 26th December 1894 in 5 hours 51 minutes which he conducted, and 6550 Stedman Caters at Fulham on the 24th October 1896 conducted by W E Garrard.

William Burkin and his father were elected to the College Youths in 1880.

At the Society's meeting on November 20th 1894 F G Newman proposed that William Burkin be elected Master for the ensuing year. Others proposed Messrs W D Smith and Butler but on a show of hands William Burkin was elected Master without having previously served as a steward. Mr Burkin took his position as Master and said he would endeavour to do the best he could for the Society and to the best of his ability uphold the honour of the chair. (there was spontaneous applause)

On June 4th 1895 Mr Cooter proposed that Mr F G Newman be expelled from the Society for using improper language in a building at which the Society was engaged on the 25th May. Mr Newton proposed an amendment that the Master reprimands Mr Newman as sufficient punishment. A full report of this appeared just four days later in the Bell News which suggested that ‘would it not be wise to take greater care when in electing persons as members, they (the CY's) only admitted those whose common talk at least was known to be free from objection’. At the following July meeting Mr Burkin delivered a public reprimand to Mr Newman in front of the assembled members.

In 1895 William Burkin was again elected Master.

On 19th November 1896 William Burkin was again elected Master against Messrs Oxborrow and Prime who had also been proposed. F G Newman was elected Junior Steward.

At the following meeting held on December 1st 1896 business proceeded normally and at the end William Burkin gave notice of the next meeting at St Magnus, whereon the Junior Steward Mr F G Newman began to move a proposition which could not be accepted as it was after 11 o'clock. Mr Newman then made a violent attack on the Master in the Chair and the meeting closed.

Four days later a full report appeared in the Bell News of December 5th 1896 under the heading ‘A disgraceful scene’. A correspondent writes ‘On Tuesday last at the headquarters of The Ancient Society Of College Youths, a proposition was made by a certain member. The Master Mr W Burkin stated that as it was past the time no further proposition or notice of motion could be accepted and advised the member to put his motion in writing and hand it in the usual way upon the next business night. Without the least warning the member (F G Newman, the Junior Steward) in question aimed a terrific blow across the table at the Masters head, which fortunately missed the mark but was received on the shoulder. The meeting was abruptly closed amidst great confusion, several members rushing to the Master's assistance to prevent further mischief. As may be imagined the desk, inkstand, books etc were scattered. It now remains to be seen what the respectable members of the Ancient Society of College Youths think of such behaviour as the member in question holds office, to which he was recently elected.’

At the Society's meeting on January 12th 1897 Mr F G Newman was expelled from the Society for objectionably and disorderly conduct on several occasions at Society meetings.

A portrait of William Burkin appeared in the Bell News of 25th December 1897 together with an article which describes William Burkin as “Being happily possessed of a quiet unobtrusive shrewdness, he carried out the duties of that office in a most business like manner, at periods when firmness and qualifications for the conduct of that business were essential and he retired from the office with the genuine good wishes of his fellow members.”

William Burkin was all his life connected with Nutfield Parish Church serving as a member of the belfry, choir and verger. William Burkin died on February 13th 1904 aged 42 leaving a young widow and infant child. A muffled peal of Grandsire Caters was rung to his memory at Reigate.

There is a poignant letter, dated February 23rd 1904, in the College Youths library from his widow Mary Burkin writing from Rose Cottage, Nutfield which reads:

Thank you so much for your kind letter of sympathy in this my sad bereavement. Would you please convey my grateful thanks to all ringing members or friends of my dear husband, it is such a great comfort to know how highly he is spoken of by everyone and I sincerely thank the two gentleman who were present at my dear husband's funeral for their kind respect shown towards him.

Those who knew him personally will know what a great loss I have sustained, he was so fond of the dear Church Bells, never tired of telling me about all his happy ringing days and friends.

I cannot seem to realise that God has taken him away forever it seems so awful, he was a good and honourable man. I have lost one of the best of husbands and my sweet little child a good father. But the Lord is my helper and comforter and I am trying to bear my great affliction bravely for the sake of the dear departed who always had such faith in his God.

With many thanks for your kind comforting letter

Yours truly

Mary Burkin