The 131st Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 23 February 2019
The Banqueting Suite, Birmingham Council House
The 131st Annual Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner was held on Saturday 23rd February 2019 with Alan Regin MBE acting as the Chairman. This year the dinner returned to the Banqueting Suite in Birmingham’s impressive Victorian Council House in Victoria Square, much to the relief of those attending. Around 100 ringers were present, both local and distant St Martin’s Guild members plus many supporters and friends from around the country, many of whom regard the evening and indeed the whole weekend as one of the key events in the national ringing calendar.
Unlike some dinners where the speeches are somewhat of an afterthought, to be endured rather than enjoyed, the tradition at the Henry Johnson is rather the reverse where the speeches, from well-known ringing personalities are an interesting and entertaining part of the evening.
As is traditional, the proceedings opened with the Chairman proposing a toast to the memory of the late Henry Johnson reminding those present of something about the history of Henry Johnson himself. Born in Lichfield in 1809 he was drawn to Birmingham like so many of his generation as the Industrial Revolution took hold. He learned to ring at Aston and rang his first peal there in 1830. He went on to have a great influence on the development of ringing in Birmingham and more widely. He was a respected composer and many of his compositions were published in “Bell News” which served to establish his fame as a ringer nationwide. He was held in such high regard that the first dinner was organised in his memory by Sir A P Hayward one of the founders of the Central Council.
The welcome to guests and visitors was proposed by Jack Page, surely one of the next generation of great ringers if not one already – he is even a member of BUSCR! Jack found it somewhat difficult to distinguish between members and guests now that the St Martin’s Guild has removed its residence qualification for membership and thrown itself open to likeminded ringers everywhere. In an amusing speech he managed to make everyone welcome whilst revealing that he had almost disqualified himself by forgetting to pay his subs before being reminded by certain “guild heavies”
The response was given by Ian Campbell on behalf of the guests. He recalled his first visit to Birmingham to ring two peals in 1968 and he complemented the Guild on its bells, its ringers, the welcome that it extended to all and the local and national friendships that were cherished by ringers as a result. Ian paid particular tribute to the work being carried out by the Birmingham School of Bellringing led by Clare McArdle and made the extremely generous donation of a set of handbells to the School for use in their work. This set had come into his possession wrapped in newspaper dated 1933 as a gift from the family of a former East Riding ringer.
The bells were then rung to a fantastic touch of Bristol Maximus by Henry Pipe, Alfie Pipe, David Pipe, Jack Page, Michael Wilby, and Alistair Cherry, probably the first time they had been rung to Maximus. Further musical entertainment was provided by James Ramsbottom with Chris Kippin on keyboard in a variety of WW1 songs, reflecting the overall theme of the evening.
Alan Regin then reflected on the work that he had carried out maintaining and updating the Rolls of Honour of ringers who lost their lives in WW1 and read out the names and brief biographies of the former members of the Guild recorded as making the ultimate sacrifice. The rendition of The Last Post on handbells was particularly poignant.
Linda Garton proposed the continued prosperity of the St Martin’s Guild in a witty speech where the main action took place in Heaven where there seemed to be a surprising amount of ringing taking place and where God was found musing on how he could be more like Simon Linford. Finally the Guild Master, Simon himself responded by paying tribute to this year’s Chairman for his achievements in ringing over the years, his peals at home and abroad and in particular the great service he had rendered to the Exercise in the painstaking work to research and update the records of those ringers lost in the First World War.