Seven Decades Ringing

by Gerry Lynch last modified 27 May, 2015 05:02 PM

Eric Hitchins returns home to North Bradley from Wimborne to celebrate a very special anniversary

Seven Decades Ringing

Members of the Quarter Peal band (left to right): Peter Thorn, Patsy Thorn, Julian Ferrar, Eric Hitchins, Jim Twiney, Christine Purnell, Trish Hitchins and Bob Purnell.

Eric Hitchins has been ringing peals of bells for exactly 70 years. He remembers because the first time he rang a peal was on a very special occasion - VE Day. 

Eric started learning to ring three years before, in 1942, along with his brother Laurie and two other youngsters, Fred Slatford and Donald Lee. They were taught to ring at St Nicholas Church in North Bradley by Percy Harding, a very experienced ringer. This was at a time when bell ringing was only allowed on ‘special days’ and practices were few. When the ban on ringing was lifted in 1943, the four young ringers became members of the Salisbury Diocese Guild of Ringers.  

Eric rang his first peal to celebrate VE Day, on 8 May 1945, a day when church bells rang out across the country in full splendour for the first time in nearly six long years. The peal was treble to Grandsire Doubles, and even after three years of intermittent practice under wartime pressure, Eric was still aged only 14.  He can recall attending Church in the morning and ringing for over three hours after lunch. 

To commemorate the anniversary of his first peal, on 8 May 2015 Eric (now aged 84) rang a Quarter Peal of Grandsire Triples on the bells of St Nicholas, the church he learned to ring in all those years ago in North Bradley, with members of the Melksham band with whom he used to ring. Indeed, it wasn't only the same church, but the same bell that Eric rang in 1945: the bell is now the third, as the bells were augmented to eight with the addition of two new trebles in 1949. 

Eric and his wife Trish, who now live in Wimborne, were featured on BBC Radio Wiltshire during the VE Day 70th Anniversary celebrations and much of the Quarter Peal was recorded and replayed during the feature.

Connect with the local bellringing scene on the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers website - www.sdgr.org.uk.

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