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Est. 1637

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Weekend of Saturday 10th July, 2010
Report by David House, Photos Mark Esbester

The tradition of an annual ‘country meeting’ is a firm part of the cycle of College Youths’ ringing activity. Bill Cook’s official history of the Society records a 1732 visit to Dover, Canterbury and Calais; the famous 1733 walking visit to Oxford; and the 1785 outing to Norwich, where the College Youths first heard Stedman Cinques being rung by the Mancroft ringers, and left behind Thomas Blakemore for a few months so that he could learn to ring and conduct Stedman Caters and Cinques. This evidently worked, for the College Youths rang the first ever full peal of Stedman Cinques three years later, 6204 changes composed and conducted by Blakemore.

This year’s venue was Ipswich, whose golden age of ringing came a little later. For the first three decades of the twentieth century, the band at St Mary-le-Tower was pre-eminent in the field of 12-bell ringing, scoring the first ever peals of Cambridge Maximus (1908), Superlative Maximus (1927), Yorkshire Maximus (1929) and Pudsey Maximus (1930). The visit was at the invitation of George Pipe, a passionate supporter of the Society’s activities, whose welcome to Suffolk could be measured in pounds per square inch.

The term ‘country meeting’ sounds perhaps a little patronising to contemporary ears. At the turn of the century (nineteenth to twentieth, that is), the Bell News published peal reports under the headings ‘The Metropolis’ and ‘The Provinces’ (which doubtless met objection in Birmingham). At the College Youths’ dinner, one of the regular toasts was to the ‘Provincial Members’. At the 1887 dinner (the 250th anniversary), the respondent to this toast was William Catchpole, conductor of many of the Ipswich band’s great twelve bell performances, who assured the company that provincial members were’ as much interested in the College Youths as those who reside in the metropolis’, and went on to say ‘We have a capital ring of bells that go like tops, and whenever you like to come, you will be welcomed.’ 123 years later, that welcome still stands, though the twelve bells now hanging at St Mary-le-Tower are certainly more ‘capital’ than those upon which Catchpole rang.

In accordance with recent custom and practice, events began on Thursday and Friday, with a variety of peal attempts. It falls to the Junior Steward to organise these, receiving the names of volunteers from all corners of the Society, throwing these into a melting pot, and producing lists of bands, methods and venues which make some sort of sense. Judging by results, David Maynard did quite well, for three of the four attempts arranged for Thursday were successful, as were all six on Friday. Thursday’s towers included Bury St Edmunds Cathedral (Stedman Caters), Kersey (Bristol Major) and Henley (Cornwall). On Friday, peals were rung at Aldeburgh (8 Spliced S Major), Leiston (Pitman’s 4 Spliced S Major) and Orford (London Major) in the morning, and at Halesworth (Bristol Major), Wilby (Lessness), and Stonham Aspal (London Royal) in the afternoon. There were strong historical reasons for the visit to Stonham Aspal, for it was here in 1742 that Theodore Ecclestone – squire of neighbouring Crowfield – decided that five bells were too few to practise real change ringing on, and funded a ring of ten. In order to squeeze them in, the top of the tower was lopped off, and the stone walls replaced with thin wooden ones. Ecclestone, who had a second home in Mortlake, joined the College Youths in 1744, and became Master in 1750. His bells at Stonham Aspal are now, alas, extremely hard-going, and great credit is due to Andrew Wilby, Graham Bloom and Richard Allton for their determinedly accurate back-bell ringing when temperatures exceed 30 degrees.

The advertised meeting place for Thursday and Friday evening - a large harbourside hostelry with courtyard and barbecue – sounded idyllic, and especially convenient for those staying at the neighbouring and rather refined Salthouse Harbour Hotel. It turned out to be, however, a magnet for the colourful youth of Ipswich, intent on accessing supplies of lager and flavoured vodka in an environment of throbbing noise. Indeed, so popular was it that bouncers operated a queuing system, which did not find a great deal of favour with ringers. Many therefore found pleasant alternatives. Nigel Herriott, for example, used his very trendy smartphone to locate an idyllic, unmodernised pub serving real ale.
Trendy smartphones can also serve as alarm clocks. When Philip Saddleton mustered his band for the one Saturday morning peal attempt – Superlative on the fine eight at Debenham – he found that there were but six ringers assembled. Calls to the Herriott smartphone to enquire after the missing two went unanswered. It appears that you need to charge these devices if you wish them to serve as telephones or alarm clocks, and that in order to do this, you need to ensure that the power switch at the electrical socket is switched on, or otherwise you may wake up a full hour after the peal should have started.

Saturday’s main programme began with open ringing on the eight at St Margaret’s, Ipswich, carefully managed by the Junior Steward. Following a convivial lunchtime gathering, a move was made to St Mary-le-Tower, where touches of cinques and maximus were rung under the direction of the Master.

The short formal business meeting was held in the nave of the church, attended by some 80 members from across East Anglia and wider afield. George Pipe, in welcoming the Society to Ipswich, spoke of previous meetings in Ipswich, and of the many Suffolk figures who had played roles in the Society’s history. In the course of the meeting, tributes were paid to the memory of Ted Colley, who had been a member for 57 years. As it happened, there were members present who know him from a number of periods in his ringing life – from Birmingham, Hampshire and Lincolnshire – and the tributes were warm and affectionate, even extending to forgiving him for sometimes having a loose grasp of the blue line.
A move was then made to the St Lawrence Centre, formerly the parish church of St Lawrence. Following the closure of the church in the early 1970s, it fell into disrepair, and its ring of five 15th century bells fell silent. The J D Wetherspoon chain gained planning permission to convert it in 2000, but eventually abandoned the project upon realising that the restoration cost would exceed £1m. Happily, Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council eventually agreed to restore the building for use as an arts and community centre, which opened in 2008, and the restoration of the bells was completed in September 2009. So here we had the oldest ringing society ringing on the oldest ring of bells in the kingdom, four cast in 1450 and the fifth in 1480, and thought to have been heard by Thomas Wolsey, who was born and brought up nearby.

The St Lawrence Centre was the venue not only for an hour’s ringing on these ancient and distinctly tuneful bells, but also for the drinks reception and supper which followed. An appropriately light summer menu, an adequate supply of good wine and ale, and a single short and eloquent speech by the Master ensured that a convivial evening was passed, concluding with the presentation of a gift to George Pipe in recognition of his splendid organisation. Two hundred miles away in Cleobury Mortimer, our sister society was concluding its own country meeting with a barn dance. No such modern innovation for the Ancient Society, whose after dinner entertainment consisted of watching Rod Pipe ring Grandsire Doubles, the glazed ringing gallery offering an excellent view to the diners and drinkers in the nave below. Those who spilled onto the pavement to listen to the bells from outside were treated to views of the colourful street life of Ipswich. The immediate past master was carefully protected from this and shepherded onto the last train back to London.

By common consent, this was a memorable country meeting. We enjoyed some of Suffolk’s finest scenery and church architecture; we were reminded of the contributions made by East Anglians to the history of ringing and to the development our own society; and there was adequate time to relax and enjoy the fellowship which characterises the society.

Leiston - venue for a peal of Pitman's 4. St Margaret's, Ipswich. The Junior Steward (David Maynard) in front of St Mary-le-Tower.
David Maynard and Rod Pipe in the ringing room of St Mary-le-Tower. Members gather for the business meeting at St Lawrence's. The top table at the business meeting.
George Pipe welcomes the Society to Ipswich. George Pipe in front of St Lawrence's. The ringing room at St Lawrence's.
More views of the ringing environment. The tower of St Lawrence's.
Gathering before the dinner. The dinner at St Lawrence's. The Senior Steward (Phil Goodyer) with fellow Australian, Laith Reynolds.
The Master's table, surrounded by a bevy of beauties. The dinner. The Master (Martin Cansdale) says a few words at the Dinner.
The Master presented a 'thank you' to George Pipe for organising the weekend. Junior Steward (David Maynard), Master (Martin Cansdale), George Pipe, Senior Steward (Phil Goodyer) and Secretary (John Hughes-D'Aeth). A gathering outside the Centre.
Michael Uphill sizing himself up against Andrew Bradford. Andrew Bradford, Peter Valuks and David Maynard. The evening proved all a bit too much for one Past Master...
Post dinner drinking. Martin Cansdale poses with Stephanie Warboys ... ... while her husband John poses with Gwen Rogers.
Eleanor Linford and Cecilia Pipe. David Maynard, Ed Hughes-D'Aeth, Becky Sugden, David Hull, Eleanor Linford (behind Ian Hill) and Cecilia Pipe.  

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