The 125th Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 23 February 2013
The Banqueting Suite, Birmingham Council House
As a very new – if not brand new – member of the St Martin’s Guild and almost as equally new to ringing, I was astonished to be asked to write about such an historical and important occasion in the Guild. I already felt like Cinderella being invited to the ball, but then I realized that there were a lot more analogies to be drawn than just this one so I hope you will indulge me for a short while and read on . . .
Speaking of Cinderellas – I could see a number as I looked around … and none more so than in the transformation of the Chairman – the tower captain at St Peter’s Church, Harborne, and Secretary of the St. Martin’s Guild – Clare McArdle. The Cinderella link seems quite appropriate: From:– the extremely hard working Secretary overseeing the workings of the Guild, from the promotion of ringing at all levels and all ages, and from the week in, week out, running of the Harborne Tower with its two weekly practises and many more individual lessons – all happening in the background: To:– the person standing there – transformed! and on whom all eyes rested.
With easy manner and customary humour she welcomed everyone to the ball – or rather – Dinner – and the waiters came pouring in to serve us lamb in the magnificent setting of the Banqueting Suite, found in the equally magnificent palace-like building belonging to the City of Birmingham.
So far so delicious. But what of handsome princes, sumptuous music and pumpkins? Close your eyes and picture the scene:
A flurry of beautiful people stepping up to speak good things of the Guild, the history of ringing and the example of many members past and present (I think all the guests enjoyed the recalling by Christine Andrew of the early experience that new ringers may have had at St Martin’s Church itself: if they didn’t keep place then the more experienced around them would ring with one hand and belabour the poor unfortunate ringer with the other! I saw Clare making notes at this point so I’d better watch out).
Even the Dean of Birmingham Cathedral – The Very Revd. Catherine Ogle – could be like the prince’s parent hovering in the background thanking the ringers present and urging the Guild to keep on ringing and follow the example of St. Polycarp (celebrated that day) a very early martyr in the Christian Church who was captured by his faith to the last and found that it kept him going . . a bit like ringing . .
~ The most handsome contestant was undoubtedly young Ewan Hull, aged 10 years, who was contender for the record of the youngest person ever to ring a peal for the Guild – of Cambridge Royal – and had achieved it that very day.
~ The most surprising one was to be found in Steve Horton who was to be seen in immaculate evening dress – many of us having never seen him out of shorts and bare-footed sandals – even in snow (and, perhaps, were expecting dress-shorts by way of a change). He gave an excellent account of Clare’s many achievements to date and all that she has done for the Guild.
What of sumptuous music?
The most fabulous rendition on hand bells of Stedman Triples given by four extremely talented ringers – a beautifully fluid performance with a well-deserved applause to follow. Looking up I could see eighteen bells smiling down upon them from the chandelier above …
And so to the final thoughts. Toasting the Queen and Henry Johnson; the urging on by John Fielden in response to Christine Andrew’s speech about the Guild, to higher and better things, with praise and encouragement for current achievements; old friends meeting up; much happy catching up; tiaras suddenly appearing in support of Clare from the Harborne tower members; and thanks to Stephanie Warboys for the tremendous organization of the 125th Henry Johnson Dinner.
Oh, and – in the final words of the Chairman: ‘Carriages at 11.30, pumpkins at midnight’.
Additional images of the dinner can be found on the HJ Facebook page