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Longevity in the bell tower

Bellringing is a healthy activity, and it’s not uncommon for ringers to remain active into their 90s. Membership records of Wokingham ringers go back to 1880 and show many ringers serving for 30, 40 or more than 50 years.

William James Brooks (Bill) rang for 50 years in Wokingham. He was born in 1889 and learnt to ring in Kent, where he was a gardener at Hever Castle, and then moved to Wokingham in his twenties. He served in France during the War and was invalided out with shrapnel wounds that made him walk with a limp. He lived at 13 Langborough Road and was a gardener at Southlands (now demolished) in Gypsy Lane. In 1921, aged 32, he was elected Foreman of the ringers at All Saints following the death of Sam Paice, and remained in post until he died in 1963. Bill was a competent ringer and a quiet, genteel man, well liked by those who knew him. Over the years he served the church in many roles including sidesman, PCC member, church warden, and Entertainments Committee secretary, and served local ringers as Vice Chairman and as representative to the Oxford Diocesan Guild.

Bill Brooks in 1923 Bill Brooks in 1952

Bill Brooks in 1923 (L) and 1952 (R)

Walter John Pearce (Wally) rang for 60 years in Wokingham. He came from a Wokingham family and learnt to ring in his teens, and became a member in 1925. He played a leading role in post-war ringing at All Saints, as deputy Foreman from 1945-63, and as Foreman from 1964-79. He was more outgoing and forceful than Bill, but he could be intimidating. He was a plumber by trade, and for many years he was also Sexton and Verger, living in one of the cottages next to the church. He later lived in Waterloo Road, and spent his final years in sheltered housing opposite the church where he had rung for for most of his life. He died in August 1984.

Walter Pearce

Walter Pearce, ringing at Wokingham

George Wigmore rang for almost 74 years in total, but only 45 of them were in Wokingham. He was born in Fulham in 1889 and learnt to ring when he was 11. He joined the band at All Saints in 1929 when he was 40, and rang regularly until Christmas 1973, dying the following September. He was a hire car chauffeur with Herrings (and later Brimblecombe), at one time becoming the preferred driver of Hon. Mrs Corfield, a former Wokingham Mayor. He lived in Peach Street and in his final years moved to Sale Garden Cottages.

Eddie Whittingham (L) and George Wigmore (R)

Eddie Whittingham was Wokingham’s longest serving ringer, and he had a most unusual end. He was born in 1883 and learnt to ring as a teenager just after the bells were augmented from six to eight in 1903. He was a carpenter by trade, and saw active service during the 1914-18 war. He was unexceptional as a ringer, and rang only the most basic of methods, but he had staying power, and rang literally to the end of his life, which was on the evening of Monday 20th May 1968. Here is what the Rector wrote about him in his July Parish letter:

‘It is not given to many people to be a regular Church bellringer for more than sixty years, but this was the record of Mr. Edward John Whittingham who passed from this life in the latter part of May.’

‘Some years ago Mr. Whittingham decided that he had reached an age when he must give up ringing. I remember making a presentation to him on behalf of his fellow ringers. Soon after this, as an early stage of our plans for the restoration of the Church, the bells were taken away to Whitechapel for repair and re-tuning. They were then brought back and rehung in a more modern manner on ball bearings.’

‘One day Mr. Whittingham tried one of the bells again and found that he could manage it with ease. From then on he resumed his customary place in the belfry and so continued until the actual moment of his death for he passed from this life actually in the ringing chamber at a normal Monday evening practice. It is a wonderful record.’

The Rector was mistaken about the bells, which were never removed but rehung on ball bearings while still in the tower. More significantly he was wrong about Eddie’s name, which was not Edward. He was baptised Edgar John, on 17th June 1883, but for most of his life he was known as Eddie. When he died, six years after his wife, no one seems to have known his real name, and the powers-that-be must have considered ‘Eddie’ unsuitable for a burial record, and they assumed (wrongly) that his name was Edward, which is how he was mis-named on his tombstone.

Eddie Whittingham's gravestone

The gravestone of Edgar Whittingham – misnamed in death

John Harrison, September 2016


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