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Thousandth Peal …

Posted on 16 December 2011 No Comments yet

Thatcham Bellringers this evening (16 December 2011) recorded their thousandth peal – a remarkable achievement for a dedicated band of ringers. Bill Butler was interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire and there are reports on the BBC and Newbury Weekly News websites in anticipation … those of us who were privileged to be there had a small celebration afterwards.

Bill Butler, a stalwart of the tower, who has been ringing in Thatcham for over 50 years, told us afterwards that his philosophy had always been that services in the church began in the ringing chamber when the bells were rung.

Team Rector Revd Mark Bennet thanked the bellringers for the contribution they made to the life of the church by ringing for sunday services, special occasions and weddings. He went on to draw a parallel between the events 2000 years ago which had put the apparently unremarkable town of Bethlehem on the map – after all the birth of a baby was not in itself major news – it was who the baby was and what he did which made the difference. And here in Thatcham we have got so used to the sound of the bells, normally in the background with all the Tower soundproofing in place – yet with the louvres open a joyful and inviting sound. How many have noticed the variety of methods or the skill and dedication of the ringers?

If you live in Thatcham, listen out for the bells – and if you want fully to appreciate the skill, join in to learn this remarkable art for yourself.

Thatcham is in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continuously inhabited place in the British Isles. Our remarkable bellringers will keep us on the map for a few more years, and St Mary’s Church will stand as a reminder that the Christmas Story did not end with Jesus, but continues in those who open themselves to receive his love and who shape their lives to share that love with others.


On the evening of December 16, 2011, three women and seven men ascended the tower and rang a peal of 5040 changes of Cambridge Surprise Royal in the time of two hours and fifty minutes. That has been done before, and in many places, what enters this peal into the record books is the fact that it was the thousandth peal to be rung on the bells, and that has only been achieved by four other towers since the first peal was rung in 1718.

It was a very experienced band, including some of the most prolific peal ringers in the country, all current or former Thatcham regulars. To avoid difficulties in choosing it, it was decided to select the ringers who had rung most peals on the Thatcham bells. There were seventeen who had rung over a hundred, of which two had passed on and two were no longer peal ringing. Bobbie May, who had rung 238 peals at Thatcham, was invited to take part but is temporarily not ringing peals, so the band stood as follows:  (Totals as recorded on 17/12/2011):

Name                                      Peals at Thatcham Total Peals

Treble  Brian Bladon (Swindon)                     208                              4691

2          William Butler (Thatcham)                 800                              3450

3          Beryl R Norris (Farnborough)            177                              1770

4          Michael K Till (Winchester Cath)      520                                920

5          Timothy G Pett (Abingdon)               306                              3177

6          Helen J Piper (Kingsclere)                  175                              1650

7          Diana M Bridle (Midgham)                153                              1359

8          J Alan Ainsworth (Amersham)          173                              4092

9          Colin M Turner (Milton)                   455                              5725

Tenor  Peter Bridle (Midgham)                      665                              4405

The conductor, William Butler, has rung at Thatcham since 1961, and was tower captain  from 1962 to 2000. He composed the composition of Cambridge Surprise Royal rung for this peal especially for Colin Turner’s tour of Africa in 1993, and it was first rung in a peal at Harare Cathedral in which three of this band rang. (It was recorded as the first peal of Surprise Royal to be rung on the continent of Africa).

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