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What’s special about 1881?

For bell ringers in the Oxford Diocese, it marked the start of an era. On 17th January 1881, at a meeting in Oxford, the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers formally came into being. The idea of a Diocesan Guild was mooted at a meeting in Reading the previous November, and was the culmination of earlier local initiatives in several parts of the Diocese, for example in Sonning Deanery, in October 1979 the Chapter of the Rural Deanery had resolved to form the Sonning Deanery Society of Change Ringers. All Saints played a major role in making it happen, with Rev. John Frederick Eastwood (curate and tower secretary) and Albert J Hill (Tower Foreman) among the group of five clergymen and two lay ringers charged to do so. At the inaugural meeting the following year, the two Wokingham towers were joined by Arborfield, Hurst, Sonning & Wargrave as founder members, and then the following year, the Society was absorbed into the Diocesan Guild, as its Sonning Deanery Branch.

 The Guild is planning several events this year to mark the 125th anniversary, culminating with the Guild Festival in Oxford on 8th July. With January 17th 2006 being the anniversary of the actual day, quite a few quarter peals were rung across the Diocese, but an ordinary quarter peal didn’t somehow seem quite appropriate. We often ring a date touch at All Saints on New Year’s Day (though we didn’t this year) and last summer, we broke new ground by ringing a retrospective date touch of 1945 changes to mark 60 years since the end of the war in 1945. What better way then to commemorate the Guild’s foundation in 1881 than to ring 1881 changes.

 We assembled a band of ringers, but we also needed a suitable composition 1881 changes long. There are lots of compositions for quarter peals, but as far as I know, no one has ever rung a performance of 1881 changes before, so it was head down to work one out, made more complicated because 1881 is an awkward length. (Multiples of 14 or 16 are easiest, but 1881 is neither).

 The band that rang included two Guild officers and six Branch officers or former officers.

 John Harrison (January 2006)


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