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Gilbert Thurlow

Gilbert ThurlowRev AGG Thurlow (Gilbert) must come a close second to FE Robinson  in terms of fame achieved in ringing outside Wokingham. He was born in Felixstowe in 1911, and as a student he rang with the Cambridge University Guild . He studied at Cuddesdon Theological College and served his curacy at All Saints from 1934-39. He was a far more experienced and widely travelled ringer than any of the locals at the time, and during his short time here he made a positive contribution in the tower, as well as performing his other clerical duties. Ringing at All Saints during the 1930s was not at its most active and Gilbert's influence seems to have stirred things up. He organised a couple of peals here, both of which were Major (8 working bells), whereas for twenty years, all peals with local ringers had been Triples (7 working bells). The first was Kent Treble Bob Major, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Rector’s ordination and Gilbert’s own ordination the previous month. The second was Double Norwich Court Bob Major. Only three of the ringers were local: Bill Brooks (the Foreman), Bill Paice (son of a previous Foreman, who learnt here) and Gilbert. The rest were outsiders.

Gilbert was probably also responsible for instituting a minute book to record tower AGMs. The oldest surviving minute book dates from the first AGM that he attended, and a connection between the two things seems likely. Gilbert was well liked in the parish, as were the slide lectures that he gave of his travels. So popular were they that when he returned to give a lecture shortly after leaving Wokingham, he had an audience of 300 people.

His subsequent clerical career included being Precentor at Norwich Cathedral, Vicar of Great Yarmouth, and Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, where he had a hand in the restoration of the bells. In the ringing community, he rose to the highest office, serving as President of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers from 1963-1969. He retired to Chichester, and died in 1991. Although he never returned to live in Wokingham, a few years before he died, he had the pleasure of welcoming All Saints ringers to Chichester Cathedral when they came to ring there during All Saints choir’s ‘cathedral week’ in 1986.

This letter about a ringing outing in 1939 that Gilbert wrote to The Ringing World rings very true to those who remember him: 

“The Sunday morning ringing snipped from St Laurence, Reading, prompts me to send a photo  I recently excavated. It appears to show that band’s annual outing on 29 May 1939, when we rang at Buckingham, Aynhoe, Adderbury, Southam and Bourton-on-the-Water. Which doorway forms the background, please? As to names, at the moment I only recall Tom Hibbert, Master, in centre, Bill his son with back to the door, me between them, and Vera Robinson, F.E.’s daughter, left end.

“The start was enlivened by an incident best described in a letter I wrote to the Town Clerk of Reading that evening. “At 7.20 this morning I visited Reading coach park convenience. To my consternation finding it locked and needing to use it before an all-day coach outing, I opened it with one of Wokingham Church keys I always carry. The attendant arrived, inquired what I was doing and received the obvious reply. I insisted on his searching the place with me to see all was in order and proceeded on my way”. I heard no more.

Later a flexible connection of the coach engine cooling system burst; the talent among the passengers was immediately displayed by the organising of a chain of water carriers from a nearby pond and the ersatz repair of the pipe.


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