Hobby stays as Barking rings in the changes

During Ron and Joyce Petchey s 86 years in Barking, the view from St Margaret s Church bell tower has seen a fair few changes. But they know the much-loved belfry, with its eight bronze bells waiting to echo across town, will always remain the same. And

During Ron and Joyce Petchey's 86 years in Barking, the view from St Margaret's Church bell tower has seen a fair few changes.

But they know the much-loved belfry, with its eight bronze bells waiting to echo across town, will always remain the same. And they wouldn't want it any other way.

Neither remembers a time without the church bells being a big part of their lives. As youngsters their ringing signalled it was time for Sunday mass, at school lessons were given on their history and during the war their silence meant the German's had still not invaded.

But it was only as adults that Ron and Joyce decided to take hold of the ropes themselves, and learn the skilful art of bell ringing, or if you want to use its posher term, campanology.

Ron, at the age of 86, still heads up the long and windy stairs of the tower on a regular basis, to join the other bell ringers of St Margaret's for practice sessions, services and special occasions.

Joyce finds the climb a little tiring, so no longer joins in, but she certainly hasn't turned her back on her passion. Instead she's busily compiling a history of bell ringing in Barking, which appears in the monthly church magazine, The Link.

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The couple, who live in Upney Lane, told the POST how they first got involved in the 400-year-old tradition.

Ron, an ex-Thames Water chemist, recalls: "I'd had an interest in it since I was a boy - I always loved the sound of the bells. But it wasn't actually until 1955, when I was in my 30s, that I joined up. I'd seen a notice at the church asking for volunteers, so thought I'd try my hand at it. Since then I've been hooked."

It took Joyce, a retired special needs teacher, a few more years before she decided to give it a go as well.

"I started learning in my 50s, when the church needed people to ring at weddings. I carried on for a fair few years but gave up when the climb up the tower steps became too tiring - now I leave it to Ron."

Joyce began her history project last year after speaking to the current ringing master.

"Taking into account my age, he said to me one day: 'Before you go, you really should write down everything you know about bell ringing at St Margaret's." So I did. It made sense considering I'm one of the oldest ringers here."

Joyce says this is the first time a complete history of St Margaret's bell ringers, has been written, so her facts came from a variety of sources ranging from written accounts by past ringing masters to word of mouth. And of course she and her husband have many years of first hand knowledge to rely on.

Ron says he now hopes the history pages may encourage more people to join him and his fellow ringers up the tower.

"We are always recruiting, so I hope people will get in touch. It's a fantastic way to meet new and interesting people. And once you learn to ring at one church, you can ring at any church in the country."

He says it's not difficult to learn, but naturally there can be the odd hiccup along the way - as Joyce knows.

She recalls an unexpected incident 30 years ago:

"I was on a ringing trip to Dunmow and I pulled the bell so hard it banged against a safety rail and broke it, which meant I got pulled into the air. The others told me to let go, so I did and landed on the floor. I was rather surprised when it happened, but I remember laughing about it. You just have to get up and carry on."

Ron and Joyce, who have been married more than 60 years, say they have one wish they still want fulfilled:

"We'd love to have a peal rung for us, which is when they ring the bells for three hours, without any breaks or mistakes. They tried it on our ruby and diamond wedding anniversaries, but didn't quite manage it. But hopefully we'll have another occasion to celebrate, so they can give it one more go."

The POST will take a closer look at the history of St Margaret's bell tower and it's ringers in a couple of months, when Joyce's work is completed.