Writing the article on the Centenary Peal at Longstanton made me think about the changes that have occurred during my time as a ringer. Although a lot of it is based around peals a lot of the principles apply to ringing (and in some ways life) in general.
My first peal in 1962 was rung, unusually for the time, on a Saturday morning. At that time most people still worked on Saturday mornings. Perhaps this is why the established format for ringing meetings continues to the present day.
Peals then were invariably arranged on a one to one face to face basis. If it was necessary to send a confirmation of the attempt prior to the date it was invariably done by sending a postcard as it was then cheaper than sending a letter. Very few people had a home telephone. Amazing enough this system seemed to work with the people turning up at the right time even though one nameless person failed to turn up on one occasion as he was in a state of advance inebriation when asked! Fewer people had cars and travelling often involved using public transport and travelling by train was easier in the pre Beeching era.
In 1960 the only two truly resident members of the Ely Diocesan Association who could call a peal of Surprise Major were Mac Ginn and Bill Ridgman. Although paying a resident subscription (as he still does) Derek Sibson was not a 100% resident and neither was Peter Border who used to visit his parents in Trumpington. The peals were mainly of Cambridge or Superlative with Yorkshire or Lincolnshire being rung from time to time. London was a rarity and Bristol or Spliced was almost a complete no go go! Then it was an achievement if Surprise Major was rung at a District Meeting.
The Longstanton article alluded to the number of attempts required to ring the first peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major for the Association. My second peal of Surprise Major was one of Aldenham and this too needed several attempts. Nowadays any reasonably competent band should be able to ring a peal of it without any difficulty.
The first peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus was rung by a non-resident band at Great St Mary’s, Cambridge in 1959. At that time peals were often rung for the host Association.
I suppose the thing which brought an improvement in the Surprise Major ringing was the introduction of the Tuesday evening Surprise practices at Trumpington. This enabled more people to ring it on a regular basis. The arrival in Cambridge of Ken Hesketh in 1963 helped raise the bar further and peals of Surprise Major were rung more frequently with a wider variety of methods and even the odd Surprise Royal practice was held. Ken called the first peal of Yorkshire Surprise Royal for the Association at Soham in 1968.
After the augmentation of Meldreth to 8 in 1968 this tower became a venue for Friday night peals, a practice that has continued to the present day.
There are now more opportunities for people to advance with a number of competent conductors. Whether people are more reliable is a matter of conjecture. Better communications does make it easier to withdraw at short notice. However as far as I’m concerned life went on well for many years before the introduction of mobile phones, e-mail and the internet. I just wonder what changes the next 50 years will bring.
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