What's on this page

 Society peals - a brief history

 Introduction

 Charles Baron and Holt's Original

 Re-cast bells and Richard Miller

 The Pitstow Era - Surprise Major to Maximus

 Modern Times

 Society peal list - with links to details

 


Society peals - a brief history

Introduction

In the 1700s the ringers of Saffron Walden were known as the Walden Company of Ringers. The formal Society of Ringers seems to have been formed around 1800 when we have the earliest Articles of Agreement (see Benton p12) although we do have reference in the local press in 1753 to the "Old Society". Unfortunately, the ringers prior to the late 1800s did not keep regular records nor did they bother to perpetuate their achievements with peal boards, bar the example pictured on the main peal page and the peal board lost from Finchingfield. Our knowledge of early peals has therefore been gleaned by Nathan Pitstow, Benton and others from columns of old newspapers, the Osborne Manuscripts in the British Museum (vols. 19368 & 19369) and Richard Miller's notebooks in the ringers' archive.

Charles Baron and Holt's Original

The two earliest known peals (on the pre-Briant eight) made the news as follows (unfortunately we don't know the newspaper in question - picture of cutting):

Saffron Walden, January 2, 1754; To inform all real Lovers and Professors of the Art of Ringing, That the Society of young Ringers of this Town, on Tuesday the 25th of December last, being Christmas-Day, did ring the true Peal of Grandsire Triples, composed of 148 Bobs, with two Singles, which they effected in three Hours and twenty Minutes; and on Tuesday following, being New-Year's Day, they compleated the same in eight Minutes less than before (being the only Times the same has been rung there since there has been eight Bells), to the no small Mortification of their Antagonists (some of the Old Society), who, instead of Instruction, gave them all the Obstruction in their power. The Ringers which rung the same were Frederick Sell, Charles Baron, who called the Bobs, Richard Whitehand, John Banks, William Barrett, jun., Richard Bush, jun., John Clark, and John Salmon.

Undoubtedly the composition must have been Holt's Original (composed in one part and made up of 150 calls making it very difficult to learn), as no other peal with only two singles had then been composed. This composition was first rung and conducted by John Holt from manuscript at St. Margaret's, Westminster, on July 7th, 1751. The subject has been discussed at length and over the years in the Ringing World. Current thinking is that Holt's Original was called twice, from the treble, by a participating ringer (William Dixon) in Norwich a year earlier in 1752 and that the peals at Saffron Walden on Christmas Day 1753 and New Year's Day 1754 were the first of Holt's Original conducted from an inside bell without a script. The discovery of the records of the Saffron Walden and Norwich peals as described and discussed in the Ringing World are detailed here.

The next known peals, rung some twenty years later, were reported in the Cambridge Chronicle for July 2 1774:

On Sunday last [June 26, 1774] was Rung at Saffron Walden, a complete peal of 5040 Grandsire Trebles (sic), in 3 hours and 24 minutes ; and on Monday was rung at the same place by 4 of the Walden youths, assisted by 4 from Cambridge, a complete peal of 5040 Bob Major, in 3 hours and 22 minutes.

Re-cast bells and Richard Miller

Following the recasting of the bells in 1798, the first record of a peal on the bells is in 1799 [note source of report is unknown and that there is a discrepancy in that the stated date was a Saturday and not a Tuesday]:

On Tuesday Evening, Dec. 14, 1799 was rung in Saffron Walden Steeple, by the Company of Ringers of that place, a complete peal of 5040 Bob Major, in 3 hours and 22 mins. The striking was so excellent as not only to attract the musical ear, but enrapture the susceptible heart; the performance was by a young society of not more than a year and a half's standing, and their efforts would have done credit to veterans. The peal was rung in compliment to Mr. Thos. Cornhill [Cornwell] on the occasion of bringing his Lady to St. Aylotts [a large house between Walden and Ashdon].

The early part of the 19th century, saw the arrival of Richard Miller a farmer from Ashdon, and one of the high points of ringing at Saffron Walden. He composed and conducted an impressive series of peals between 1807 and 1828 (see story regarding peal board at Finchingfield). We then have a long gap in the peal records, although Richard Miller and the band continued to progress as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle - a performance of 1200 changes of Superlative Surprise Major being rung by the local band in December 1845.

The Pitstow Era - Surprise Major to Maximus

Richard Miller died in 1862 and the quality of ringing in Saffron Walden declined until the late 1870s with the arrival of the Frederick and Nathan Pitstow, the ringing of a peal in 1879 (with the help of three visitors - peal details (including a poem by JF Penning written to celebrate the success)), the formation in 1879 of the Essex Association of Change Ringers and the re-forming of the Society in 1881. From this point, the society kept detailed records of all its ringing activities, the minute books doubling up as scrapbooks.

Peal boards at base of tower

The peals of the 1880s required the help of visitors but by 1891 the Society was once again capable of ringing peals by a local band as commemorated on stone peal boards around the walls of the ground floor of the tower.

Interestingly the minutes for 1891/2 state that the following peals were rung:

  • May 29 1891; The Company rang a muffled peal for the late Benjamin J Thurford previous to the Sunday morning service.
  • January 20 1892; The Company rang a muffled peal preceding the memorial service for the late Duke of Clarence who was buried the same afternoon in St George's Chapel.
  • January 21 1892; The Company rang a muffled peal for the late James Miller, a former member of the Society whose last appearance in the belfry was on November 9th 1891 when he rang for the election of Mayor.

None of these "peals" are listed elsewhere nor are there any further details so they must be in serious question - especially since there would be no time to ring a peal prior to morning service. However the writers of the minutes always seem exact in their use of terms for peal, touch, date touch etc. The most likely explanation is that perhaps the word "peal" was used more loosely when used in conjunction with "muffled".

During the years 1893-8, the minutes chart the progress of the band as the Society scales the heights of Surprise Major, ringing touches, then quarter peals and finally peals of Superlative (1893, first in Essex), Cambridge (1894, first in Eastern Counties) and London Surprise Major (1899, first in Essex). London proved to be by far the most challenging with, in 1898, two failed attempts at Sawbridgeworth (photograph with words "Disconsolate Band, April 11 1898, 2hrs. 10min." emblazed on the brief-case in front of the band), an attempt in June at Bishops Stortford (lost after 2 hours) and two attempts in Saffron Walden in late 1898 (one being "stopped by strangers attempting to get into the belfry"). 

Following the successful peal of London, "several letters were received congratulating them, including one from Rev. Robinson and Rev. Maitland Kelly and other ringing friends". The Society had reached another high point.

From the early 1900s the minutes become more sketchy and there is a 5-year gap in them between 1905-10. Peals were rung for important events - Queen Victoria's funeral and the marriage of the Vicar but beyond that very little. However the band was bringing on new ringers and there were a number of first peals during the period 1912-14.

Understandably there was no peal ringing in Saffron Walden during the war years, but from 1919 the band looked to a new challenge of Stedman Cinques achieving the staging post of Stedman Caters (first 10 bell peal) at the end of the year and again early in 1920. Two Attempts at Cinques failed in 1920 and 1921 (after 3 hrs 30mins and 3 hrs 40mins respectively - poem by JF Penning) and it was to be another 15 years before this was successfully rung.

It is clear that members of the Society were also ringing handbells. Bell News of 3 Dec 1915, reports that "On Friday evening, November 26th, at the residence of Mr AE Pitstow, on handbells, a quarter-peal of Grandsire Triples and 336 Bob Major. FJ Pitstow, 1-2; AE Pitstow, 3-4; F Pitstow (conductor), 5-6; F Dench, 7-8. First quarter-peal in Saffron Walden, and by all the band."

The minutes state that a handbell peal was rung in Saffron Walden in Feb 1923 (peal detail - this was the first of seven), but for an unstated reason Len Pitstow requested that the peal not be recorded in the minutes.

The first peal of Royal on the bells was rung in 1923 and recorded in the minutes but this was unfortunately found to be false some months later, such that the peal of Kent Treble Bob Royal rung in 1925 thus became the first Royal. Both attempts required the help of one or two visitors.

The peal of Stedman Triples, rung in 1928 for the funeral of Frederick Pitstow, the band's Master and conductor of the majority of their peals for nearly 30 years, marked the end of an era. The deaths of Charles Freeman and Arthur James followed in mid-1932 - the peal of 1932 being rung in memory of Arthur James on the day of his funeral.

The first peal on the 12 was finally achieved with a peal, in 1936, of Stedman Cinques. While the peal board claims this as a Society peal there is no record of Messrs Cole, Duffield and Pye as being members. An attempt by the Society to emulate the peal of London of 1899 in 1937 "failed after two and a half hours of beautiful striking". The need for outside help in the ringing of peals then becomes the norm. London Major was  rung three times in the next couple of years - but all with one or two visiting ringers.

And then we have the first peal of Maximus on the bells (some 25 years after their augmentation to 12) - Cambridge rung in 1939 - once again with some outside help. The peal of Stedman Cinques, rung for Frederick J Pitstow's wedding a couple of months later also required the help of visitors.

We then have a very long gap in the Society's peal records - initially due to the silence of the war years and then the loss of key ringers, Ernest and Frederick J Pitstow both dying in the late 40s. The last peal rung during this period, and for many a long year to come, by an all Society band would appear to be that of Grandsire Triples in 1932 for Arthur James' funeral.

Modern times

Forty-eight years were to pass before the Society once again could muster a band to ring a peal; fittingly, a sponsored peal for the restoration of the church spire - Bob Triples rung at Ashdon (band photograph). Since the re-start of ringing following the restoration, in late 1980, the Society has in general, restricted itself to one peal attempt a year - for Great Ringing Day - and is once again ringing peals of Surprise.

Society peals list - with links to details

The above mentioned peals and all the peals known as being rung for the Company / Society are listed below, in chronological order - click on the peal number for details of each peal. For a picture (where available) of the peal board, click on the method name. [Determining what is and is not a Society peal has in some cases proved difficult. When in doubt, the membership list that Stacey produced as a result of combing the Society accounts has been used.]

Besides the peals rung for the Society, the minutes occasionally detail peals rung with the help of outsiders or friends. Where the majority of the ringers were Society members they are listed (with details) on the associated peals page

Peals rung by Saffron Walden Society of Change Ringers

Peal No.

Date

Place

Method(s)
1

25-Dec-1753

Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
2 1-Jan-1754 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
3  26-Jun-1774 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
4 27-Jun-1774 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Major
5 14-Dec-1799 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Major
6  6-Jan-1807 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Major
7  4-Jun-1815 Saffron Walden, Essex Oxford Treble Bob Major
8 4-Feb-1817 Saffron Walden, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
9 30-May-1825 Finchingfield, Essex Oxford Treble Bob Major
10 21-Feb-1826 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
11 29-Jan-1828 Saffron Walden, Essex Oxford Treble Bob Major
12 18-Aug-1886 Braughing, Hertfordshire Kent Treble Bob Major
13 1-Sep-1890 Radwinter, Essex Kent Treble Bob Major
14 21-Oct-1891 Saffron Walden, Essex Kent Treble Bob Major
15 25-Oct-1891 Radwinter, Essex Stedman Triples
16 26-Nov-1891 Saffron Walden, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
17 18-Apr-1892 Saffron Walden, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
18 1-Oct-1892 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Triples
19 27-Feb-1893 Saffron Walden, Essex Superlative Surprise Major
20 21-Oct-1893 Thaxted, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
21 24-Mar-1894  Radwinter, Essex Superlative Surprise Major
22 28-Mar-1894 Saffron Walden, Essex Superlative Surprise Major
23 23-Jun-1894 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Major
24 28-Nov-1896 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Triples
25 15-Jan-1898 Radwinter, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
26 5-Mar-1898 Radwinter, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
27 27-Dec-1898 Sawston, Cambridgeshire Cambridge Surprise Major
28 10-Jan-1899 Saffron Walden, Essex London Surprise Major
29 21-Dec-1900 Saffron Walden, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
30 2-Feb-1901 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Triples
31 4-Jul-1905 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Triples
32 20-Feb-1912 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Major
33 31-Dec-1912 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Major
34 24-Nov-1913 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Major
35 24-Mar-1914 Saffron Walden, Essex Double Norwich Court Bob Major
36 26-Dec-1919 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Caters
37 25-May-1920 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Caters
38 17-Nov-1927 Saffron Walden, Essex Stedman Caters
39 25-May-1932 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
40 17-May-1980 Ashdon, Essex Plain Bob Triples
41 29-Jul-1981 Ashdon, Essex Plain Bob Triples
42 26-Jun-1982 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Caters
43 25-Feb-1995 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Caters
44 24-Jun-2000 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Royal
45 28-Jun-2003 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Triples
46 26-Jun-2004 Saffron Walden, Essex Grandsire Caters
47 25-Jun-2005 Saffron Walden, Essex Plain Bob Royal
48 23-Jun-2007 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Royal
49 21-Jun-2008 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Major
50 25-Jun-2011 Saffron Walden, Essex Cambridge Surprise Royal
51 30-Jun-2012 Saffron Walden, Essex Yorkshire Surprise Royal

 

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