This article is by Roger Savory who grew up in Badsey but now lives in America.
Badsey bells. Photo: Peter Stewart.
My first recollection of hearing Badsey bells, and stopping to listen to them, was when I was 5 years old. That was the year of the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary, and this event was celebrated on the appointed day with "organised fun and games" on Badsey Rec. This included races and games for the kids and refreshment tents for one and all. That summer afternoon I can recall walking along the path that led to "The Rec" from Badsey Fields Lane, past Sears’ greenhouses, and stopping to listen to the eight bells ringing out as part of the village celebrations for the Jubilee. Little did I think that, one day, I would be a member of the band of bell ringers at St. James church and subsequently, for a period, the tower captain.
My next, and much closer, relationship with the bells was when I was 13 years old and Winston Churchill removed the ban, which he had placed on the general ringing of church bells in 1940. During that period, from 1940 to 1943, church bells were to be rung only in the event of a German invasion. When the risk of invasion receded and the ban was lifted, the band of ringers in most places was seriously depleted, due to the young men of the 1939 bands now serving in the armed forces. So, an appeal was put out to teenagers at secondary schools, asking if any of them were interested in becoming bell ringers. The initial influx to the Badsey band of ringers which resulted from this invitation included Tony Brazier, Patrick Jones, Phil and Charlie Smith, plus Ralph Tutton from Blackminster. These boys were then "the 5th Formers" at Prince Henry’s, while 13-year old shrimps like me were not really in the running. However, in those days the bells were "rung" on Sundays only for the evening service since, on Sunday mornings, the church was in use prior to the morning service by the Sunday School. The senior Sunday School teachers in those days were Miss Ethel Sladden and Mr. Charles Binyon. And it was Mr. Binyon who, as an experienced "ringer" and a member of the Badsey band, picked out some of the bigger boys from the Sunday School class and taught them how to "chime" the church bells. "Chiming" is a somewhat less energetic (and definitely less perilous!) method of sounding the bells, compared with the "full circle ringing" used by the senior band. Thus I became one of the Sunday morning "chimers", and we chimed the bells of St.James church for 15 minutes or so before morning service each Sunday. My maternal grandmother, who never missed attending a Sunday service except for illness, told me she preferred to hear the bells chimed, as it was a much more "gentle" sound than that produced by full circle ringing.
However, this experience with Sunday morning "chiming" was not really my first encounter with the bells themselves. Several years earlier, while attending Sunday School, Mr.Binyon had asked me if I would like to help him wind up the church clock that afternoon. Of course, I quickly said, "Yes, please". So each Sunday, after lunch, I would meet Mr.Binyon at the church, just before 2 o’clock, and ascend the tower’s spiral staircase to the clock room. There we would wind up three long steel cables, with their large attached weights, onto their respective drums of the clock mechanism. This kept the clock and the clock chimes going for 3 ½ days. Then, on Wednesday evenings each week, the clock weights had to be wound up again, and this was done faithfully each week by Lionel Knight, who worked for Evesham Rural District Council, long before the advent of "Wychavon".
The clock chime mechanism operated hammers, which struck the bells to mark the quarter hours, and also the hour, with a "tune" we all know as The Westminster Chimes, along with its hour bell "Big Ben". At first I got to wind up the little weight that ran just the clock pendulum mechanism, but as I got bigger, I graduated to winding up the other two heavier weights that ran the clock chimes. One or two other lads around my age also used to come "to wind the clock". Above the clock room is the bell chamber, and sometimes Mr. Binyon would allow us to go up the last leg of the old stone spiral staircase, very much worn down by centuries of footsteps, to gain access to the bell chamber. There we could stand right next to some of these big bells. Mr. Binyon arranged it so that we got there at about 1 minute before 2 o’clock. And he would say, "Now listen carefully". And a few seconds later the clock mechanism would start to whirr down below in the clock room and the first large clock hammer lifted. Then it fell back onto the rim of its appointed bell with a resounding blow. The sound produced as each of the hammers stuck the bells right next to us was deafening and we kids jumped out of our skins! Mr.Binyon stood quietly by, smiling broadly.
As an occasional special treat on warm summer Sunday afternoons, Mr. Binyon would allow us to climb up the vertical iron ladder that led from the bell frame to a trap door in the roof of the tower. The trap door was heavy, since the roof and trap door were covered in lead. However, once we were through the trap door we were on the flat roof of the tower, where we could look through the battlements, out over the village and across the Vale to the Cotswolds. That was always such a treat.
The clock mechanism as it looks today. Photo: Peter Stewart.
After the church was restored in 1885, it was not long before the six bells then inhabiting the tower were "rehung". This involved removal of the centuries old worn out wooden frame in which the six bells were originally hung, and replacing it with a new steel frame. An excellent job was made of this rehanging in 1898 by the Loughborough bellfounding firm of John Taylor and Co. With admirable foresight, the church installed a frame designed to house eight bells, although at the time the church possessed only the six old bells, cast in Evesham in 1706 by William Clark. After their rehanging of 1898, four full "peals" of 5040 changes were rung on the six old bells. But it wasn’t long before the parish had raised the money for the two additional bells, and these were installed in their waiting "bell pits" in the new steel frame, just in time for Christmas 1902. The two new bells were cast and installed by the London firm of Mears and Stainbank from their bell foundry in Whitechapel. This then completed the octave ring, which we know today.
The first full "peal" on the eight bells was rung on December 30th, 1902, under the leadership of one of the most famous ringers in the country at that time, the Reverend F. E. Robinson, then vicar of Drayton, Berkshire. The peal was 5040 changes of Stedman Triples. To date (April 2002), 96 peals have been rung on the eight bells. With the four peals rung on the six old bells before 1902, this brings the total number of full peals rung in the tower to exactly 100. A complete list of these peals is given elsewhere in the website. The peal total can be updated at any time by logging on to website www.peals.co.uk, currently run by William Hall.
In 1944, I was allowed to "play with the big boys" and started to learn how to ring a bell "full circle" without managing to hang myself! By 1945 I was becoming quite proficient at ringing the Tenor bell as a "cover bell" – like banging the big bass drum in the village band. And before the year was out I had "banged my drum" to my first full peal of 5040 changes. This was a peal of Grandsire Triples rung at St. Peter’s church, Upton-on-Severn. By 1946 I had progress well enough to ringing the smallest of the bells, the "Treble", in my first full peal in my home tower of St. James church, Badsey. Again it was Grandsire Triples. I had by then been well and truly bitten by the ringing bug, and it was to be very much a part of my life from then on. By that time, all the 1943 learners except Tony Brazier had either dropped out of ringing or had left the village.
In 1949 I finished at Prince Henry’s Grammar School and went into the Royal Navy for two years before going on to the University of Birmingham to study Chemical Engineering. During this time in the Navy, except when at sea, I spent my spare time bell ringing whenever possible and made many new friends in Kent, Essex and Suffolk. During the first two years at University I lived at home, commuting to Birmingham daily. This enabled me to continue my bell ringing at Badsey, and in 1952 I was made Tower Captain of the Badsey band of ringers. I soon had a small but enthusiastic band of youngsters ringing at Badsey, and we also visited and rang peals in many other churches in the area. In addition to the "bell music" that had traditionally been used at Badsey, we also learned interesting new "methods" of producing the "changes", and that helped retain the interest and enthusiasm of the youngsters. I’m glad to say that some of them are still ringing today.
At the end of 1953 I moved into "digs" in Birmingham, as University studies were becoming much more intense and taking much more of my time. However, this move allowed me to spend some time ringing regularly with a group of other campanologically minded students from Birmingham University and, at the beginning of 1955, we formed the Birmingham University Society of Change Ringers, of which I was their first "Master".
But all good things come to an end, and in the summer of 1955 I graduated and left the area for Hampshire to start a new life in the oil industry. This ultimately involved extensive international travel and eventually residency in the USA. But the memories and happy days of growing up in Badsey, and of all my ringing friends, worldwide, remain strong. And I thank Badsey and, of course Mr. Binyon, for "just being there" and providing this wonderful opportunity.
Bell ringers 1956. The band rang a long peal 6000 Plain Bob Major in 3 hours 30 minutes.
Left to right: Gerald Hemmimg, Robert Hall, Colin Wingmore, Geoff Hemming, Harry Wheatley, Roger Savory, Tony Brazier, Wilf Newman.
We have fairly good records about the two new bells installed in 1902, but what do we know of the six old bells, which now form the heaviest bells in today’s octave? Perhaps the most interesting fact lies up there in the tower, in the form of an inscription cast around the upper waist of the "Tenor" bell, (the heaviest bell, with the lowest note). The inscription is in Latin, as most bell inscriptions were in those days. But the most intriguing thing about this inscription is that it contains an encrypted date. Although all the letters are what we call "upper case" (capitals), some of the letters are much larger than the others. All these large letters, with one exception, are also used as Roman Numerals, i.e.
M = 1,000; D = 500; C = 100; L = 50; X = 10; V = 5; I = 1.
Here is the inscription: -
MVTAVIT : VIGIL ANS : IN : SEX : NOS : CVRA : ROBERTI : HILL : IOI :
VIC : GVL : CLARK : EFFICIT : ARTE : SVA : ANO
If we ignore the capital letter "R" in the name Robert, and add up the other big letters which are acting as Roman Numerals, we get: -
One M = 1,000
/ (There are no D’s) / Four C’s = 400 / Five L’s =
One X = 10 / Seven V’s = 35, and Eleven I’s = 11, giving a Total of 1706, i.e.
the year in which the bell and its five sisters were cast.
The Latin inscription has been translated and reads as follows: -
"The watchful care of Robert Hill, Vicar, changed us into six. William Clark effected this by his own skill".
From this it is clear that, until 1706, there had been 5 bells of unknown age housed in the church tower. But, as we see from this inscription, they were melted down and recast to form the six heaviest bells of the ring of eight we have today. The 1706 bell founder involved was William Clark of Evesham, a partner in the Evesham bell foundry of Clark and Bushell, who together cast several other rings of bells in the area.
There is, I understand, in one of the old Badsey church accounts, the record of a sum of money being paid for "Tayking Ye Great Bell to Evesham and Bringing Her Home Again". So perhaps all was not well with the original casting and some "adjustments" had to be made. We’ll never know for sure. But the curious among us can look up in the church accounts just what that little trip to Evesham cost!
In local 19th Century ringing reports and records, Badsey’s Tenor bell was reputed to weigh approximately 17 cwt, and maybe that’s the weight that William Clark got paid for. However, it was also quite common for the plain journal bearings used in bell hanging in that era to eventually deteriorate and become badly worn. The symmetry of the bell hanging also got "out of true", and consequently the bells no longer turned as easily as they should. This made the bells (and particularly the tenor) "feel" and "go" a lot heavier than they really were. That was certainly the case at Badsey and by the late 1940’s they were a far from easy ring to handle. What we do know about the weight of the tenor is that, in 1950, all eight bells were removed from the tower and taken to John Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough for overhaul. At that time the "cannons", which are like thick bell metal hoops cast on the crown of each bell to provide a means of attaching the bell to its wooden headstock, were removed from each of the Badsey bells. This was done to facilitate the application of more modern bell hanging techniques. After the "cannons" had been removed, the tenor bell was weighed before sending the bells back to the tower for reinstallation. The tenor bell, now minus its cannons, weighed in at 15cwt 4 lbs. We can estimate that the "cannons" from a bell that size accounted for about one cwt of metal. So the tenor bell’s original weight, as cast by Clark in 1706, was probably about 16 cwt. This bell produces a strike note approximately in the key of F.
An abbreviated summary of all the "full peals" of not less that 5000 changes which have been rung on the bells of St. James Church, Badsey up to mid-2002 are listed elsewhere in the website.
The influence of Mr. Binyon on my life-long love of bells and bell ringing has already been mentioned. But his influence went way beyond that. The prime example that springs to mind is his enthusiasm for passing on his knowledge of things that kids in that era did not normally come up against at school. And this he did each week when we met with him to wind up the church clock each Sunday afternoon. I can recall sitting with him in the church porch one sunny Sunday afternoon, when he pulled out a small magnifying glass and a piece of paper, and focused the image of the sun on the paper into a moderately large circle of light. Of course, we kids knew the trick of burning holes in the paper if you focused the bright area down to a tiny spot. But that was not Mr., Binyon’s intent. Rather, he showed us the dark areas on the image, which, he explained, were very active sunspots, telling us of their interference effects on radio transmissions. On other occasions, he taught me to recognize stars and constellations, and what one might see in the night skies of the southern hemisphere. Little did I think then that one day I would indeed look into the night sky of the antipodes, while on an Australian bell ringing trip, and see the Southern Cross instead of the Great Bear.
He taught me to recognize different classic architectural styles and gave me an insight into the marvels displayed in so many of our English churches and cathedrals. If you go into Badsey Church, you will probably find a framed drawing, which he made of a wall plan of the church, showing each architectural period in a different colour. He was a good pen and ink artist and drew many excellent pictures of Badsey church from different aspects and of other interesting buildings. His drawings inspired my interest in drawing, resulting one day on my producing the drawings for the screen, which now forms the ringer’s gallery in the tower.
On one occasion, he asked my parents’ permission to take me on a "field trip". This involved the pair of us getting on our bikes out and riding through Broadway and Winchcomb and on to Gloucester. There we had lunch in a restaurant and then explored the magnificent cathedral. That afternoon Mr. Binyon gave me a practical lesson in church architecture from Norman to Early Perpendicular, finally visiting the tomb of King Edward II. Then after tea, we put our bikes in the guards’ van of the train back to Broadway. A memorable day, still vivid in my memory nearly 60 years on.
Mr. Binyon was also a chess enthusiast and he taught me how to play. But I wasn’t very good at the game. However, a few years later he found out that my Dad played a good game of chess, and from then on Mr. Binyon was a regular visitor at our house for their weekly game of chess (and supper, of course!).
These are just a few of the memories of Mr. Binyon as seen from the eyes of a youngster. He was truly a learned gentle man, always willing to pass on some of his great breadth of knowledge to whoever wanted to listen. A shy man in many ways, but a tower of strength in others. Whether it was country nature walks, astronomy, architecture, or history, he always gave us something of value. I recall one Sunday summer afternoon, on a walk along Badsey Lane, talking of the various Ages in history, like the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, when he said to me, "You know, I think they will call this "The Travel Age". I don’t think he was far wrong!
When I was 7 years old, my parents moved house from Brewer’s Lane to the "Little Cottage" across the High Street from the church. At that point, I was allowed to join the church choir. The vicar at the time was Canon Allsebrook, who drove a blue Morris Eight saloon car --- like Jehu, I must add! He always presided over the choir practice each week and ruled us little boys with a rod of iron! It was a 12-boy choir (when everyone attended) and we sat in the (then) new boys’ choir stalls, situated in front of the men’s choir stalls. We sat six boys each side, facing one another. If you can imagine six mischievous boys sitting looking at six other equally mischievous boys in a situation where angelic straight faces were called for, you can probably imagine how difficult is was to suppress the giggles and laughter that inevitably came to taunt us during the service, and particularly during the sermon! When giggling did break out, Canon Allsebrook was on us like a ton of bricks, spinning round to face us, with an exclamation of "Boys, your behaviour is abominable!!!" --- and the tittering immediately subsided.
The "Head Choirboy" always sat in the choir stall immediately in front of the Vicar’s stall, and facing the pulpit. Eventually, as voices broke and I "moved through the ranks", the day came when I got to be "Head Choirboy". My "second in command", David Brazier, sat opposite me with his back to the pulpit. He possessed that wonderful gift given to some of us, namely that of the ability to visibly waggle ones ears! Needless to say, his "performances" were the cause of numerous outbreaks of giggling during sermons, each time incurring the wrath of Canon Allsebrook from the pulpit.
The church at that time had not yet been wired for electricity, and was illuminated by oil lamps and candles. Well can I remember, as the keen new bell-ringing novice who was always anxious to be there first, having to light the first lamp on winter nights. This involved feeling ones way in the pitch-black darkness of the church to the oil lamp nearest the tower, standing on the nearest pew and trying to light the wick in a lamp I could hardly reach.
For additional light that was needed by the parson to read the service and to preach his sermon, the Vicar’s stall and the pulpit were each provided with two candles, one on each side of their respective lecterns. One Sunday evening, Canon Allsebrook was in the pulpit and had reached a critical point in his sermon, which apparently required his waving both arms in the air. From my vantage point in the choir stalls, I watched this dramatic performance. And to my fascinated gaze came the sight of the left hand sleeve of Canon Allsebrook’s white surplice getting nearer and nearer to the candle on that side of his lectern.
With mouth agog, I watched the inevitable happen. Contact was made and the surplice started to burn! Those in the congregation able to see this event were dumbstruck as they watched their beloved Canon start to go up in flames. No one moved. Then, in a small voice that must have been reminiscent of Oliver Twist asking for ‘More’, I said, "Please Sir, your surplice is on fire!"
"What? What?" shouted Canon Allsebrook, having never before been interrupted in a sermon in his entire career, --- and by a mere choirboy! So I repeated my urgent message. And he stared beating at the flames, now leaping up his left side.
The spell was broken! Members of the congregation came to life and started to leap into action, to come to the rescue of their beloved Vicar! Mr. Binyon rose from his front pew seat. George Moisey, the Sexton, came running from his seat at the back of the church and mounted the pulpit steps. George King came panting in, a good third. The choirboys were talking loudly (and some grinning broadly) as they watched this stellar, once-in-a-lifetime performance by "the old man".
When the service eventually ended and we all trooped back into the vestry, the Vicar thanked me for calling out my warning so promptly. It was a close run thing, but a happy ending to the epic of "the almost incinerated incumbent".
Roger Savory, Chatham N.J.
Hear the bells: a toll and a repeated scale.
See also St James Guild of Bellringers