81st Guild Tour around the North East. By the President, Tony Ellis
"I write this because yet another eminent ringer has commented that it is a great pity that the Ringing World does not print the report of the Clerical Guild Tours anymore. However I shall endeavour to capture the flavour of the eighty first annual Low Week Tour of the Guild of Clerical Ringers.
For the first time since 1981 we ventured into the North East of England for our annual adventure. In 1981 it had snowed heavily on the Sunday before we set out. This year even though we were in early April there was no snow but instead a murky gloom enveloping North Yorkshire and County Durham, our bus driver felt the need to apologise for the weather!
We met at Darlington where we rang at all three towers. At St. John’s we spotted the peal board when a band of clergy who were members of the Cambridge University Guild rang a peal of Kent Treble Bob Major in 1908, 100 Years ago! Not even the most elderly amongst us could remember any of the band! So this early visit would suggest a group of clergy ringers has ventured into the north east at least three times!
After Darlington we headed for our accommodation at the Blue Bell on the edge of Middlesborough. It proved an interesting place to stay with excellent support staff but with a managerial problem, something that we were to encounter in another establishment.
The dinner that was scheduled to happen at 7 did not appear until much later, a practice that set the pattern for the week. It did mean that our after dinner activities were much curtailed.
Tuesday morning saw us set out along the coast towards Saltburn via Ormesby and Marske. What surprised us all was that we were able to ring all the standard eight surprise methods and to ring them spliced together by the end of the first morning of the tour. This came as something of a “surprise” because we usually struggle to do this by the end of the week! It may have helped to have two non ordained ringers of considerable ability in our party. The lunch venue, "The Ship" at Saltburn was reached by driving through flood waters which would have defeated a car but were no match for our bus. It was an excellent lunch time looking out into a North Sea mist!. Our afternoon took us to Skelton in Cleveland and Guisborough before ending up at Stockton where we arrived early, the traffic was much lighter than had been anticipated so our driver introduced us to his “Aunty’s "pub which was yards from the tower.
Dinner was late again at the Blue Bell and what there was of it was in short supply. We had to fit in our A.G.M. but as the chairman of the meeting I was not altogether disappointed that we had less time available for the meeting because it kept discussion to a sane level and the pedants among us did not introduce irrelevancies!.
Wednesday took us through County Durham to the decent eight at Houghton Le Spring , to Sunderland and then to Lanchester where we had lunch at the King’s Head. While the food was excellent the beer left much to be desired it appeared that the young man who claimed to be the manager seemed incapable of managing a “proverbial’ in a pub! I felt sorry for his staff as I did for the staff at our base the Blue Bell! However we enjoyed ringing on the eight bells at Lanchester before tackling the stairs to the Cathedral at Durham. We were disappointed with our efforts but agreeably surprised to hear a recording of the ringing later in the afternoon. We enjoyed a good Supper at the Court Inn before visiting the other two towers in the city. For all the party with the exception of your correspondent this was the first time they had visited the city and the Cathedral to ring. On the 1981 tour there had been a breakaway group that had managed to join the local band for the Cathedral practice which was followed by a long session of apres ringing. This caused five of our number to be locked out of the Retreat House at which we were staying. The following year the then President, in the manner of Public School Headmaster, delivered a stern rebuke for the misbehaviour of the recalcitrant members. This year we were far too old to repeat the escapades of nearly forty years ago!
I wonder if anybody goes to Hartlepool unless they need to, yet I was surprised by the developments that are taking place along the shore. The benefit of exploring towers in all corners of these islands is that we find ourselves in places which we would not normally visit and in so doing make some interesting discoveries. We went there on the Thursday and rang at four towers and enjoyed them even though we needed something to shield our ears at the Art Centre! We were pleasantly surprised by the Wetherspoon’s pub that provided us with out lunchtime break!. The afternoon saw us driving through the more rural part of East Durham to Sedgefield and Stokeley where one of our members is the incumbent, After an enjoyable ring, Paul Hutchinson led Evening Prayer for us.
On Thursday evening the staff at the Blue Bell made a huge effort so that we could eat a little earlier than the time to which we had become accustomed!. It gave us time to discuss the issue of relations between ringers and clergy.
Last year a survey of our membership took place in which we tried to ascertain how well clergy and ringers related across the country. We discovered that in general, relations were reasonable but there are issues that need to be addressed some places. We recognise that there are ringers who have little knowledge of Church and have had little or no meaningful contact with clergy. There are, sadly, some clergy who are opposed to ringing and ringers and do not see the point of Church bells. As a Guild we recognise that we are in a unique position to bridge the gap between Church and ringers. At this year’s Central Council Meeting members of the Guild will be present to take part in a seminar to discuss the relationship between Church and ringers. We also need to produce a theological paper for clergy who are not ringers. It would be useful if we were to suggest some good practices for clergy in their relationship to the local band.
As a Guild for much of the last eighty years we have been a group that has enjoyed ringing together in Low Week and attempting the occasional peal but not much else. The changing patterns of ringing makes it imperative that our Guild should try to make a positive contribution in the debate that is taking place and try to heal some of the divisions that are appearing. We would welcome further thoughts on these issues and ideas how we can help in the present circumstances.
Friday morning brought an end to our tour, it is usually something of an anticlimax but the ringing at Thornaby, Rudby and Hurworth had its moments.
We were most grateful to David Grimwood who organised the tour. It is never easy organising tours especially in areas at a a distance from your home but David put together a a tour that was both interesting and enjoyable. We like to spend as much time as possible ringing and not sitting in buses or cars. It means we tend to ring all the bells in a small area rather than go cherry picking the best over a larger area. We managed to achieve that aim this year.
In 2019 we shall be based at Sidmouth so Dorset and Devon will replace Durham as our destination!”
Tony Ellis - President