Extracted from a Guild Annual Report in the Beeston Library.

A short History of the Chester Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers,
from its commencement to the present time, 1887-1912

On June 28, 1871, the Curate of Radley, Berks., was walking along the road from Abingdon on his way to the Village of Drayton, where the Bishop of Oxford (Dr. Mackarness) was about to dedicate a new Peal of Bells. He was picked up by a clergyman, then a stranger to him, who was driving to attend the same service. The Curate in question was the present Archdeacon of Chester, and the other was the Rev. F.E. Robinson, who by a strange coincidence was to become Vicar of the Parish of Drayton some ten years later. The acquaintance thus begun, ripened into a warm friendship, and the two were associated together in various kinds of Diocesan work. Mr. Robinson from quite early days was an ardent ringer, and had pitched his tent at Appleton, famous for its Bells, and for its being the home of the Whites, well known in the Ringing World as Bell-hangers etc. At the Oxford Diocesan Conference in 1881, he brought forward a resolution, which was carried, recommending the formation of a Diocesan Guild of Church Bell-Ringers, and his friend became a member of the Council of the Guild which was immediately established, and at once became most flourishing and useful. It was therefore not unnatural that when Mr. Barber came to the Diocese of Chester, as Archdeacon, he should seek to introduce a similar institution. Accordingly, at the Diocesan Conference, on October 26, 1887, he moved the following resolution, “That it is desirable to form a Diocesan Guild of Church Bell-Ringers." This was seconded by Mr. Hatt-Cook, still our faithful friend, and carried unanimously.

No time was lost, for to give effect to this resolution a meeting was held in Chester on November 12, 1887, at which were present the Clergy or Ringers, or both, from 31 Towers. The constitution, objects and Rules of the Oxford Guild were considered, and ultimately adopted as those of the new organization. Apparently it was decided to proceed with the formation of Branches throughout the Diocese, and this work must have been energetically carried out, for in the early part of 1888, the Hon. Secretary reported the formation of five Branches with thirty-six Towers in union. In the following year he announced that Branches had been formally started in the Chester, Crewe, Holmes Chapel, and Northwich districts, making nine in all, with 45 Towers and 376 Ringing and 61 Honorary Members. The Master was very active in this work, for his presence is recorded at the meetings at which the Macclesfield, Wirral* and Chester Branches were formed.

There has been but little change in the Branches as thus formed. The Holmes Chapel Branch early ceased to exist, and apparently no steps have since been taken to restart it. The Runcorn Branch also came to an end after a short existence, but has lately been reformed, and is now in healthy activity.

As the life of the Guild unfolded itself under its constitution and rules, movements arose from time to time in the direction of modifica¬tion and change in the latter.

For several years it was found impossible to elect a suitable person for the position of Master, who possessed the required qualification. This was modified in 1891, and the Ven. Archdeacon Barber was voted to the position. It is a powerful testimony to the satisfactory manner in which he has since acted as Master, that no competitor for the office has since appeared, or apparently even been desired. An appreciation of his unfailing practical interest and beneficent influence in the Guild, found expression in the presentation to him of a silver salver at the Annual Festival in 1912. The Branch representation on the Executive was soon found to be partial. An agitation for alteration began and lasted until 1899. Till then the Guild required only six Honorary and six Ringing members to represent the Branches, besides the two members elected by each of the Branches itself. One Honorary and one ringing member from each Branch is now required.

In 1892 it was decided “with a view to rendering more efficient service to the Guild” to request each Branch to send its Secretary as one of its representatives.

In and since 1909 the practice of allowing each Branch to nominate, at the Annual Festival, one of its Ringing members to the Guild's representative on the Executive has obtained. These alterations are apparently giving satisfaction and the Executive is doing good work.

A revision of the Rules was made in 1895 and 1901, and the whole were remodelled in 1908 on the basis of the Model Code issued by the Central Council of Change-Ringers.

Very early steps were taken to encourage improvement in the Belfry and Bells. A card indicating union with the Guild, and containing a short Belfry office, was issued, and a suggested set of Belfry Rules for the guidance of the clergy when desired, was drawn, up.

As the funds of the Guild have permitted, grants, not exceeeding £5 in any single case, have been made from time to time on application “for the augmentation or complete restoration of Bells in Towers in union." A total sum of £55 has been voted for this object. Eleven Towers have benefitted. The Bells of one of these have been augmented from 5 to 6, of 5 others from 6 to 8, and of two others from 8 to 10.

Instruction in Change-ringing has been provided for from the first, by the appointment of competent Ringers as instructors ; but excepting one case, the Guild has not accepted responsibility for any portion of the cost of instruction. Such responsibility has been borne by the Branch concerned, which has been permitted to retain for this and other purposes a portion of the annual subscription of each of its Honorary Members. The appointment of instructors was early entrusted to the Branches themselves.

The practice of the art of Change-ringing is certainly calculated to create and maintain an interest the Ringers duties in the Belfry. It is a true instinct which leads any ringing organization to adopt as one of its objects the cultivation of the art. Not infrequently it is found, on the one hand, that where efforts are made to promote this object the Ringers are regular in their attendance at the Belfry, and on the other, that the performance of even the bare duties leaves much to be desired where such efforts are not made.

The ways or methods of practising the art are exhaustless. This boundless scope for ringing activity is a strong attraction to the true Ringer, and his ambition is to ring the requisite number of changes¬ which constitutes a peal, in as many ways or methods as he can. When the Guild was founded the knowledge of Change-ringing was confined to a few localities in the Diocese, and peals in any large number, or in any appreciable number of methods, had not been rung. The consideration of the almost general spread of some measure of the knowledge of the art, and of the number of peals rung in a steadily increasing number of ways, or methods shows the efforts of the organization in these directions. Naturally, our lowest record in peals is in our first year, when only one was rung - the first under the auspices of the Guild, at Mottram, in 1888 - and our highest is that of 1910, viz., 64. The fluctuation in the yearly totals is very noticeable, and comes charged with much significance in the mind which is disposed to reflect upon it. The progress in method ringing is traceable in the Tables at the end of our last Annual Report, and the performances of more than ordinary length are also there recorded.

No provision appears to have been made at the first for regularly informing the Members of the position and progress of the Guild, beyond a statement, almost exclusively with reference to its financial affairs, at the Annual Festival.

Occasionally a list of Members was ordered to he printed and circulated. The first of such lists was printed and distributed at the expense of Mr. H. A. Heywood. A printed copy of the proceedings at the Annual Meeting at Northwich in 1891 and at Neston in 1905, was issued by the Master at his own cost. In and about 1894 a series of resolutions on the question of a Report was passed, and perhaps, as a result, the first Quinquennial Report was issued in 1896. There is no resolution on record directly authorizing a Quinquennial general Report of the Guild to be prepared and issued, unless that passed in 1894 ordering “full returns of all peals form the formation of the Guild to June 30, 1894” was intended to be so regarded.

During the next Quinquennial period ending in 1900 the feeling that such a report was not sufficient to maintain a satisfactory interest in the work of the Guild, and act as a bond of union between the members, seems to have been gathering in strength. For with the issue of the Second Report in 1901, a proposition “That shall no longer be Quinquennial but yearly,” was submitted at the Annual Meeting of that year and was only lost by five votes. The agitation, however, was continued and was so far successful as to secure in 1903, the presentation at each Annual Meeting a summary report of the Guild Performances for the preceeding twelve months. A further advance was made after the distribution of the third Quinquennial Report in 1906 when “a brief Report of Members and Performances” for that year was ordered to be printed and issued to the Members. When this was done at the Annual Meeting in Macclesfield in 1907, the motion “That the time has now come to issue and Annual Report” was carried and still remains in force. The inclusion of Composition of Peals rung by the Guild was ordered in 1912. The Report appears to be exercising a beneficial influence amongst the Members.

The Annual gathering of the Members for the purpose of electing officers and transacting other business has proved popular and helpful in promoting unity and progressive ideas and in stimulating and sustaining interest. It would appear that the question of the best day on which to hold the Meeting was somewhat an anxious one at the first ; for it came up for discussion on three separate in 1888. For twenty years the original arrangement was followed and the meetings have invariably been well attended. the day, however, was not convenient for many of the Members, and from time to time efforts were made to bring about an alteration. It was not until 1908 that any change was made. On that and the following year, the Meeting was held on a Saturday. Since then as a result of further consideration the matter has resolved itself into the practice of holding the meeting alternately on the August bank Holiday and a suitable Saturday near that day. So far the change has proved satisfactory.

Service in Church with an Address, generally by a well known Clergyman Ringer, has always been a prominent feature of these gatherings, and at that held in 1912 a special form of Service for Ringers compiled by the Master and sanctioned by the Bishop for general use in the Guild, was used for the first time. The practice has obtained in all the Branches of holding Meetings at varying intervals for the promotion of the social well being and ringing proficiency of their respective Members, and has been of very great value.

The Guild has been affiliated with the Central Council of Change-Ringers from the time that that body was first formed. A new council is elected triennially and the same Representatives of the Guild serve for this period. Originally two Members were nominated and elected for the office at an Annual Festival : but a change, whereby two Branches at a time are respectiovelu allowed to nominate two of their Members, was made in 1898. Of late the Representatives have been required to submit at each Annual Festival a report of the proceedings of the Council's last meeting. the practice has been helpful in making known the latest movements and ideas at work among the experts of the Exercise, and so widening our interest in the Art generally.

We have always been fortunate in having amongst our Officers and supporters gentlemen of position and influence. The late Duke of Westminster and his successor have given the support of their name as Patrons. The Bishop of the Diocese has stimulated effort by the continued interest he has shown, and by the active part lie has taken in several of the Annual Festivals. The Dean of Chester, the two Archdeacons and most of the Clergy in whose Churches there are rings of bells subscribe to the funds, and several well known and influential laymen have in various ways given valuable help. Of those who took office when the Guild was started Mr. H. A. Heywood and Mr. Hatt-Cook are still on the active list. The former became General Secretary in 1888 and continued in office until 1894, resuming it again in 1906 for two years. He was preceded by the Rev. Canon Greenall who had taken up the work pro. tem. only, and had been instrumental in giving the Guild an excellent start on its career ; and was succeeded by the Rev. Richard Greenall who passed away in harness after11 years' painstaking work. All through their connection with the Guild Canon Holme, Canon Miller, Mr Tinsley, Mr. Bushell, and Mr. Bolton contributed much towards its extension and usefulness. Amongst the Ringers the names of Gordon of Stockport, Bethell and Moulton of Chester, Holding of Crewe Spence of Grappenhall, Walmsley and Matthews of Macclesfield and Dillon of Wirral Branches are prominent in the records of the Guilds' activities.

From the present point of advantage can be traced as we look back, the struggles and efforts of these Fathers and Pillars to give expression to the impulses of the unfolding life of the organization. Through failures and successes, through uncertainty and bold enterprise they have pushed their way and brought to us an heritage which claims our interest and gratitude. There is necessarily something in it which is of a temporary character, and this ill pass away ; but much will remain. It is this which is of value and which the present generation of Members is inheriting from its predecessor. "Others have laboured and we are entering into their labours" not only to profit by and enjoy them but to pass them on to others which are to come. The hope is natural that their passage from one to another may find them not only unimpaired but enriched by the contribution to them of the fuller life and experiences of each generation.

The Guild is certainly alive. From its life has come, and is coming, energy which is exerting a healthy influence over its members. As music with its harmonies of sounds, and painting with its blend of colours can refine, elevate, and enrapture the mind and Spirit of man, and so help in the formation of a pure and noble character, so Change-ringing, associated, as in our case, with the House of God, an exact Science with its stern unrelenting demands for patient application, accuracy, human fellowship, mutual respect and forbearance, and with its boundless scope of possible activity, can help in the cultivation of a character noble in reverence, in brotherly love, in reliability and in hope. Of an Art which in its requirements tends to produce such qualities as these, and of a Guild or Association which exists to advance such an Art, all can say, " Let them live.”

* The recently discovered first Minute book of the Wirral Branch records its first meeting as having taken place on the 10th December 1887 - earlier than previously believed.