William H Male
During the 20 years I’ve been a ringer at St Mary’s Warwick, our little model of the tower has stood quietly, between the Tenor and the treble, looking unremarkable, and in truth unloved. The most interest ever shown is during the Heritage Open Weekends and when the BBC come to visit. Wes, the BBC presenter, always wants me to mention our model tower and how its small bells are rung. I think he knows the public are more interested in the unusual rather than the regular. It is also popular with visiting bands. One of the last groups to visit, from Beeston, were quite fascinated with it. The younger ringers among them were quite eager to play the bells.
It was the comment on Facebook on Sunday morning, which made me think of it again. Peter Bennett posted:
Seeing these single person performances on Bellboard reminds me of the late William H Male. I first met Bill when I was a teenager learning to ring in the late 1950’s, when he was the Tower Captain at St Mary’s Warwick. Indeed, he called my 2nd peal, which was Grandsire Triples at Mickleton, when he rang the tenor, and thereby completed the circle to calling Holts Original. Bill had constructed a model tower, about 400 mm square and 800 mm high in which he had fixed 10 small bells (whether handbells or house bells I know not) which he sounded using a small keyboard set into one side at the bottom, connected to the bells by a system of levers. He rang a touch of Grandsire Caters at a Guild Dinner and afterwards I chatted to him and I called a touch of Grandsire Triples whilst we conversed! I believe he rang several peals of G7 in that tower.
This is such a unique achievement, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about William and his tower, which I understand he called a Carillon. Bill, (as he was known) came from a ringing family. His father, Thomas, rang as did his Grandfather also William. It could be that the Male family came from Hatton, originally, where the Rev. H. C Courtney cultivated an active band of change ringers – early for the area- after the bells were recast in 1885. William the elder, is reported as having rung a touch there in 1887. Also, he rang a peal of Bob Minor, on the treble, at Hatton on 25th September 1920, with Thomas ringing the tenor.
Bill obviously learnt to ring at an early age. The Ringing World of July 5th 1935, states that:
Nine-year-old Billy Male of Warwick, was put through several 120’s of Doubles and showed great promise at a meeting at Whitnash. Later he showed his skill by ringing the tenor in masterly style.
In the Warwick Courier, of the same year, it is reported Mr William Male, his son Mr Thomas Male and his nine-year-old Grandson, Master William Male, rang the Jubilee bells of St Mary’s Warwick.
Whether it was Thomas Male, Bill’s dad, who built the model tower or Bill himself, is uncertain. It stands about 3 feet high and has ten bells, hung dead and linked to a keyboard. The bells are tuned shop bells, probably by James Barwell.
On the walls of the Carillon, there are 3 peal boards recording the peals Bill rang, alone, on the bells. The first was on July 15th 1951, when he would have been about 25 years old. It was Holt’s original peal of Grandsire Triples in 2 hours 53 minutes. He rang it without manuscript or any other guide. It was also witnessed by Thomas, his dad.
The peal boards record 7 more peals of Grandsire triples, including another of Holt’s Original. There is reported to be a peal book recording these peals. There is a little black notebook, still in St Mary’s ringing chamber, where Bill recorded his compositions, that was still used in the 1990’s. The touches were slightly longer than normally rung for Sunday service. Bill was tower captain at St Mary’s for a number of years.
On Pealbase, it is recorded Bill rang 51 peals between 1948 and 1975, This does not include the 8 recorded on the Peal Boards in the Carillon. Of the 51, of which he conducted 29, – 46 were for the Guild and 5 for the Worcestershire Association. His first was at Southam in 1948 – Grandsire Triples. His first as conductor was at Sherbourne in 1949 – Grandsire Doubles. 18 of his peals were of Grandsire Triples and he called 15 of these – almost certainly Holt’s Original each time. Amongst these peals were the first at Warwick St Nicholas after recasting and rehanging (in 1957.) Bill rang and conducted, 4 handbell peals, ringing 1-2-3-4. Three were with his father and the other with our Geoff (Randall). Not quite up with Simon Melen’s achievement but pretty impressive for the early 1950s. Geoff’s was in 1964.
Thomas Male rang 13 peals for the Guild – the first being in 1909 at Claverdon (his first of Minor and also the first peal on the bells – Guild peal number 9) and the second being at Warwick St Mary (his first on ten) in 1910. One peal stands out – a peal of ex-servicemen at Stoke, Coventry where he is listed as Private Thomas Male, Royal Warwickshires.
Bill Male lived with his sister at 21, The Butts, just down from John and Peggy Thornton. In the late 1960s spine problems led to a curtailment of Bill’s ringing activities. He re-joined the band at St Mary's, in about 1974, which at the time was quite distinct from the St Nicholas' band. Bob Cater records Bill then rang five quarters with himself and/or Gail (one of them usually had to babysit) in the few months up to September 1974. He also called a peal of Holt's Original at Salford Priors on 31 May 1975, in which Bob rang. Bill also helped with the ringing at Leamington Spa. He stopped ringing for Sunday services during the early 1980s.
Like Phil Faulks after him, it is recalled Bill would listen to St Mary’s bells ringing on Sunday and could tell what was being rung and where the calls were with ease.
Bill was an extremely private person, who lived with his older sister all his life. He could not cope in the slightest way with debate or friendly argument. He avoided even the smallest hint of conflict. I wonder how he would fit in with us today!!!!!
He was however, a very talented person recording piano, violin and clarinet trios, playing all the instruments himself, having taught himself to play.
Bob Cater recalls they went into Bill's house only once and very briefly for him to show them his Carillon. He performed on it for them and Peter Bennett mentions Bill performed on it at a Coventry Guild Dinner. Peter called a touch of Grandsire Triples which Bill rang. This is not recorded in the Guild History.
One story of Bill, which has been repeated from many sources, he would walk to practice whistling Grandsire or Stedman Triples. He would stop when he reached the tower steps, and then after ringing, take up the whistling, at exactly the right change, when he left the tower.
What a memory. It does put into perspective some of these single person performances recorded on Bellboard. I wonder if BB had existed in the 1950’s; would Bill have recorded them, or if he was too modest? B
ill died in 1991 and the Warwick Band rang a quarter peal in his memory, ringing Grandsire Caters using one of his own compositions.
Here are two views of Bill’s Carillon. The front of the tower can be removed, although it can be rung with the front attached. All the keys still work, but I think he would find it a little dusty.
These are pictures of the Peal Boards in the Carillon.
A photo of Bill holding the 9th rope at St Mary’s.
With thanks to Peter Bennett, Simon Rogers, Chris Mew, Mike Chester, David Leafe, Bob Cater and Chris Pickford.