The 124th Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 25 February 2012
The Banqueting Suite, Birmingham Council House
The 124th Henry Johnson Commemorative Dinner was held once again in the magnificent surroundings of Birmingham’s Council House on the now traditional last Saturday in February. 104 members, family and friends of the St Martin’s Guild enjoyed a splendid meal which was edging towards fine dining standard. The chairman for the evening was Phil Barnes, one time a resident of Birmingham and now a member of St Paul’s Cathedral band. Having welcomed everyone he invited Fr Jeremy Dussek, vicar of Moseley, to say Grace, which Jeremy had specially composed and which drew deserved applause. It is worth recording.
Hark to the chimes, come bow your heads
O Lord we thank thee for all this spread,
For wine and food and all our bells
That Henry’s spirit may in us dwell,
So let us celebrate and dine and bring
A feast and fortune that’ll support our ring,
Of praise to Christ and no more of steel
With a voice of love, may God bless this meal.
Looking round the room during the meal I was impressed by the number of St Paul’s Guild members present. One of the two teams, Birmingham or St Paul’s, has won the 12 – bell competition every year for the past 9 years (though one team has won it on many more occasions than the other!). Perhaps, I mused, they felt that a little mingling with the Brummies might rub off on their performance in the forthcoming 12 bell eliminator at Kidderminster where the two bands will be head to head. Or, more probably, their presence was just due to Eleanor weaving her magic!
Following the Loyal Toast, Phil spoke of the sad loss of Rod Pipe, now almost 12 months ago and likened his contribution to ringing today to that of Henry Johnson’s back in the late 1800’s. He read some lines written by Arthur Heywood in memory of HJ of which the following is an extract:
Gone that great knowledge, gone the master-mind,
The able guide who, the long practised skill
Of artful hand, quick ear, and watchful eye,
Led to the victory of accomplishment
The bands that ranged beneath his leadership,
All honour to his name, whose memory stands
Inscribed with one short word that sums within
Its scope the whole of human virtues :- Truth.
True to himself, to others, to his art,
True in each work to which he laid his hand
True heart! A bright example to us all
Of what a ringer should be. Yet than this
More we have lost, for we have lost a friend.”
The toast was drunk in silence to absent friends.
This was followed by a 10 minute comfort break after which we settled down to the main speeches. In proposing the toast to Henry Johnson, Phil reminded us of HJ’s ringing abilities and achievements and described him as ‘a grand old Victorian gentleman’ who was much respected locally and nationally. Phil had spotted, though, that the photo of HJ on the College Youth’s website was in fact that of Henry’s son, Henry Johnson jnr, a matter he felt that needed correcting. The toast was coupled with the health of the Church with Phil remarking about the problems currently being experienced outside St Paul’s Cathedral. His advice was to be strong, stick to the principles and he felt sure it would then come right in the end.
Revd Canon Janet Chapman, Canon Liturgist of Birmingham Cathedral replied saying how proud she was to be associated with bellringing in the city and had noted with some satisfaction that the Cathedral bells had continued to ring during last August’s riots. She told an amusing story about recruitment interviews where in answer to such questions as ‘Are you a team player; what’s your timing like; are you physically fit; can you perform in public; can you concentrate for long periods; do you mind working in dreary upper rooms; can you work for long periods without a comfort break’, the answer ‘Yes, I’m a bellringer’ is accurate and truthful. But she didn’t say whether it would get you the job!
The handbell ringing followed – two leads of Orion, chosen as it was exactly 30 years to almost the minute, since the first peal in the method, here at the Cathedral, would have been coming round. The handbell band was Paul Mounsey, Michael Wilby, John Warboys, David Hull, Steve Jones and Chris Kippin and was executed almost faultlessly. From my vantage point it was fascinating to note the difference in styles between Chris and Steve. Chris, head down (yes, on handbells too) with little movement from hand to back; Steve, tall and upright with a full semi-circular swing for each stroke. And Paul clearly enjoyed the 234567890ET1 change, thrusting his whole body into putting the treble in 12th place. Brilliant!
Phil then introduced Janet Horton, whom he clearly knew well, describing her as ‘formidable in all respects’ and invited her to propose the health of the visitors and guests. In a very welcoming speech, she said she had arrived in Birmingham in 1981 having studied in London but never having rung at St Paul’s. She warmly welcomed the St Paul’s ringers, many of whom had passed through Birmingham at some stage in their ringing careers. She made special mention of recently married Martin and Becky and thanked our loyal visitors, David and Alison, Andrew and Joanne and Chris and Heather. She specially thanked the many non-ringing partners and also the considerable support from Moseley, where the new bells will be installed soon. Finally she welcomed Maurice and Margaret to their first Dinner as non-residents, having recently moved to Ash, near Aldershot after over 45 years in Birmingham.
Alan Ainsworth was then introduced by Phil as a ‘heavy-weight in bellringing’ and asked him to respond and propose the toast to the St Martin’s Guild. Alan’s interesting reminiscences about his time in Birmingham from 1963 to ’69 were well received. He had been encouraged by the warm welcome offered by George Fearn, whose advice to him in ringing was to ‘keep your backstrokes clear’! He had noted, though that he was only invited to ring the tenor when none of the trio of Border, Barron or Anderson were present. I particularly liked his story of Peter conducting Cambridge Major at Erdington. In mid peal, Peter inadvertently swapped the composition from Heywood’s to Washbrook’s but decided to ring on to the end of the peal without telling anyone. At home, when trying to check the truth, he was unable to do so, because he’d forgotten where he’d made the swap so he had to confess the sorry story to the band the following day! Alan felt that one reason for the success of the St Martin’s Guild is due to there being many towers in a compact area, remarking that there are more towers in the Guild than in the whole of the Durham and Newcastle Association where he learned to ring.
Alan then proposed the toast to the St Martin’s Guild after which Phil invited Eleanor Linford to respond, commenting that Eleanor is following the tradition set by Andrew Stubbs by being a Birmingham resident but a member of the band at St Paul’s Cathedral. She is also a member of the St Martin’s band and is thus, he said, a member of the most famous band and also the best but he left it to us to decide which was which.
Eleanor felt that 6 years wasn’t really long enough to feel part of the Birmingham Establishment but in spite of her allegiance to other parts of the country (on important matters such as football) she enjoys much of what goes on in Birmingham (cuisine and beer) and in the Guild (training schemes, the Youth contest, the enthusiastic Officers, the talent ). In honouring Phil for his role as Chairman, she noted that Phil had been around in Birmingham at the time of the installation of the 16 and was in the first peal on the 16 in 1993. Having returned to Kent, not only did Phil join the St Paul’s band but also installed a ring of 12 in his back garden and he and Liz gained a reputation for hosting spectacular parties. She presented them with the latest addition to the St Martin’s Guild wares – 2 mugs!
In response, Phil thanked Birmingham for the honour of inviting him to be Chairman and for giving him ‘fame and fortune’. The friendliness of the Birmingham ringers, the welcome given by Richard Jones, the ringing, the drinking and the great honour of ringing with Rod Pipe were all wonderful memories for him. Next year, he reminded everyone, it would be the 125th Dinner when the Chair will deservedly be taken by Clare McArdle, who has done, and is still doing, so much for the Guild. We all look forward to that.
Stef Warboys’ organisation on this first occasion as Dinner Secretary was faultless so the standard is set for a great dinner next year. With the formalities over, the evening then moved on to the informal stage with everyone enjoying the socialising, the banter and of course the beer. I’m only sorry I missed the opportunity to take a picture of the threesome David Dearnley, Alan Ainsworth and Paul Mounsey who by that date had rung a total of 12,336 peals between them – and counting. Unbelievable!