The 135th Henry Johnson Commemoration Dinner ~ Saturday 25 February 2023
Burlington Hotel, Birmingham
So glad I went along…
I’m ashamed to say that it’s some 25 years since I attended a St Martin’s Guild, Henry Johnson dinner and even then, I didn’t stay for the whole event. I was dispatched in a taxi halfway through because my husband was babysitting my niece, who was screaming with teething pain. I had to go home to comfort them both! So, it was with some excitement that I donned my glad rags to meet up with the booted and suited guests, sparkly dresses, bow ties and dinner jackets at the Burlington on the evening of the fourth Saturday in February, for the 135th Henry Johnson Commemorative Dinner, chaired by Julia Cater. An unbroken series of dinners since 1889.
There were 82 assembled ringers, guests and friends and when we first arrived it seemed they were all crammed into the fairly small bar. But, there was time to squeeze through, grab a drink and catch up with ringers form other towers and even collar Simon Linford for more details of Bell Sunday. (Hope he didn’t think he was getting a night off!) We then went through to dinner and were seated with others from towers local to us. Julia was joined at the top table by Eleanor Linford, our very proud new Guild Master, complete with chain of office.
After dinner there was, as usual, handbell ringing. To someone who doesn’t ring two in hand, watching handbell ringing never disappoints and it’s always fascinating. A huge shout out goes to Casey McLellan who had only recently come to the art and yet held her own ringing Cambridge Royal alongside Jimmy Yeoman, Oliver Bates (conductor), Michael Wilby and James Ramsbottom. Thank you to them all.
Rachel Mahoney proposed a toast to the health of the guests and visitors. Some were invited guest of Julia our chair. Some took me down memory lane. The Lichfield contingent included ringers from Abbotts Bromley and Mavesyn Ridware. I’d rung at Lichfield as a teenager and sometimes having rung at the Cathedral for evensong, we’d dash over to one of these towers to ring there too. And whilst not visitors, Rachel welcomed Maurice and Margaret Edwards, both life members, who had travelled back to be with us. I’d known them when I was a learner at Solihull and they would come to support our band. So, it was lovely to catch up with them again.
Simon Linford proposed a toast to the continuing prosperity of the St Martin’s Guild. Whilst he assured us that he had no CCCBR Presidents stump speech, he was both entertaining and appreciative of all that St Martin’s Guild has achieved. Both referring to the well respected Birmingham School of Bell Ringing and its many volunteers and the programme of workshops and the familiar emails telling us ‘the fun starts at…’ The theme here though of course, being that we have built an environment for excellence with experienced ringers ‘sending the elevator back down’ to encourage and develop the skills of others. We have much to be proud of in and around Birmingham.
David Hull spoke about the long time he had known Julia. There was lots of laughter as he recounted stories from their past and their friendship was very apparent, even if Julia barely noticed David when they first met! The jokes came thick and fast to the point where the audience started to see cause for laughter even where it wasn’t intended! On a serious note though, we were very grateful to Julia for chairing the dinner. Her ringing achievements are well known. As a role model for women in ringing, she is inspirational and so much appreciated, not least for her pioneering ringing of large bells. Thank you to Julia for keeping the flow of the evening but also taking time to visit each of the tables. We remembered together her lockdown training session for the Guild when she came to our zoom screens to talk us through ‘How to ring big bells’. (Well worth a watch and, still available on the Guild website).
Oh, and the food? Well that was great too and we were all very well looked after. A big thank you goes to Clare McArdle who pulled the event together for us. At the end of the evening 5 of us shared a taxi home and chatted appreciatively about the evening we’d had together as our kamikaze taxi driver headed south to get us home!