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Pealboard restoration

A pealboard ‘does what it says on the tin’ – it’s a board on which the details of a peal are written – a peal being a continuous ringing performance that typically lasts around three hours. There are shorter performances, but they don’t have the same status. The peal is the ‘gold standard’, and has been since the first peals 300 years ago.

There is a complete record of all known peals on the Felstead website (named after the originator Canon KWH Felstead). In the 18th & 19th centuries peals were published in local newspapers but all peals are now published in The Ringing World. They have also been recorded in the peal books of ringing societies and individual towers.

As well as these documentary records, some peals are recorded on pealboards that hang in bell towers. Some have simple lettering but some are richly illustrated. Not all towers have pealboards. Some have just a few, recording momentous peals, while some have their walls covered with them.

At All Saints we have seven pealboards. Two modern ones (the 1990 peal for the church’s 800th anniversary and the 2005 first peal on the restored bells) and a small composite board recording four performances on various anniversaries related to the Rev. FE Robinson.

Of the four old pealboards, three record peals rung for the Rector’s birthday, in 1907, 1910 and 1921. Canon Bertram Long was Rector here from 1904 to 1933 and had a close relationship with the ringers. A total of nine peals are believed to have been rung for his birthday. The other pealboard records the peal rung on the day of FE Robinson’s funeral in February 1910 – just two weeks after one of the Rector’s birthday peals.

The two 1910 pealboards were originally unveiled at a ceremony attended by ringers from far and wide, with two ringing clergy who duly succeeded Robinson as Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild. The address was on ‘the meaning of pealboards, as records of work in God’s church, as well as human achievement’ – we don’t have a copy.

Some years ago we became concerned about the condition of the two 1910 pealboards. The varnish on the ’Rector’s birthday’ one was badly crazed with much of the black lettering missing, and the gilded lettering on the Robinson funeral board was faded and cracked. All four boards were dirty, presumably from a century of candle smoke and general grime.

After consulting professional restorers, we selected a restorer based in Tilehurst to undertake careful cleaning and retouching of the boards during the summer. They now look far better and should be in good shape for future generations. The ringers paid the cost (just under £1,000).

For more information, see: allsaintswokinghambells.org.uk/ASTower/RingingRoom/PealBoards 

John Harrison (September 2017) 

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