Early History

This article was written by David Gullick in 1980, the year of the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Guild. 

Origins – The Story of the Medical Guild
by David L. Gullick

I know of no records of apothecaries or barber surgeons hobnobbing with John Holt or Benjamin Annable, and the first known medical ringer of any eminence was Dr. Arthur Carpenter. He was a Victorian, both a composer and conductor, and a pillar of the Surrey Association.
It was however early in this century that the direct lineage of the Guild of Medical Ringers can be considered to have begun. In Edwardian times three undergraduates – Francis Stedman Poole and E. Leonard Taylor, both at Cambridge, and Percy T. Spencer-Phillips, at Oxford – were involved in ringing. Some fifty years later, all three were founder members of the GMR. A little later another of the senior members began his studies: J. Bruce Williamson. It is happy to record that, in his 98th year, P,T. Spencer-Phillips is still with us: undoubtedly the G O M of medical ringers, and one who was active in the exercise well into his eighties.
Soon after the World War of l939/45, F.S. Poole, who practised in Abbots Langley, close by the Church, took the first formative step towards a medical society. He set about collecting a band of doctors to ring a peal of Minor. I remember him telling me that he could never persuade J.B. Williamson – then practising like his father in Ventnor – to leave his beloved Isle, and come to ‘foreign parts’. Later, as we shall see, the GMR was more successful.
However, both P.T. Spencer-Phillips (Great Baddow) and E.L. Taylor (Charmouth) took part, and another senior member: A.M. Cunningham (Uareham). The two remaining places in the band were filled by younger men: yet another family doctor, J.D. Ogilvie (Ash, Kent), who conducted, and a recently qualified Oxford graduate, W.L.B. (Bill) Leese. I believe that it took a couple of attempts, but success came on 9th July 1947; the very first peal by members of the medical profession seven extents of Bob Minor – and in memory of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who had been killed in the War.
F.S. Poole was then sixty-five, and busy in a single-handed practice, so it is not surprising that after this feat he stood his medical bell, though still ringing, and a staunch attender at the Cambridge University Guild meetings and weeks. It was five years later therefore before any further developments. Then, I having learned to ring as a result of interest in the re-hanging and augmentation of the bells in Stevenage, where I was a G.P., with all the zeal and cheek of the new boy convert, I wrote to the R.W. enquiring about medical ringers.
In addition to other replies, I had a letter from Dr. Poole. With his characteristic courtesy, he refrained from telling me that my seniors had been at it for fifty years, but told me of the Abbots Langley peal, and – even more important, gave me his encouragement and a list of medical ringers known to him, from his earlier activity. These included Frewen Moor, once of Norwich, but retired to Hampshire, and W. Ralph Winterton, a consultant at The Middlesex Hospital, and an Officer of the Cumberlands.
Armed with this information, and the cloak of respectability of Poole’s support, I set out to organise a doctor peal of Major. It was quickly settled that the venue should be Great Baddow, for very good reasons. It provided 25% of the band, for P.T. Spencer-Phillips had been joined in practice and the belfry by his son Patrick – with a friend and contemporary of Patrick’s, Lewis S. Castleden, almost within earshot of Great Dunmow. Also, as is well known, the bells are a joy, and handy to ring. And – last but not least – there was a splendid pub for dinner.
After two failures, one due to that most maddening of mischances, a broken rope, we hit the jackpot; on 30th October l954, with 1024 of Bob Major. In addition to the three ‘locals’, Poole and myself (still presumptuous enough to call the bobs), the octave was completed by Bill Leese (then a senior registrar), Ralph Winterton, and our only woman member, Mary Boissard (a Cambridge pathologist) .

Those failures followed by success, can be said to have generated the GMR. The pleasant relaxation, with a full glass in hand, and a full meal within, at ‘The Army & Navy’, Chelmsford, gave rise to the feeling that social ringing had come to stay in the profession. So, after a few more letters, and six months later, an inaugural meeting was called. The 7th May 1955 was a pleasant day, for I remember we took tea in the garden. And here enter yet another of the Guild’s pairs of supporters; for it was Denys Neal Smith’s garden, and Mrs. Neal Smith whose tea we gratefully consumed. They had also made all the other arrangements, including the use of the bells at All Hallows, Twickenham, and of the vestry for our meeting. More than that, Denys, who is an FRCO as well as an FRCOG, organised a choir and played the organ for our Service. In parenthesis, I here observe that the GMR has been happily blessed by the gynaecological speciality, for two more masters of this craft were yet to come, and to give sterling support: Philip B.F. Chalk and the late (alas) Guy Roworth.
Throughout the history of the Guild, the names of those attending have been recorded in the Minutes, and in this history there is not space to list every occasion. But, on such a birthday as we now celebrate, it may be justifiable to set down the founder members, and first Officers:
Present :
F.S. Poole (President), R.E. Price (Master), Katherine Branson, L.S. Castleden, D.J. Neal Smith, P.A.H. Jonason, E.L. Taylor, W.L.B. Leese, Anne Speed, P.T. Yonge, and D.L. Gullick (Secretary).
Members absent, but with us in spirit:
P.T. and P.J. Spencer-Phillips, Frewen Moor, Mary Boissard, J. B Williamson, R.J. Brocklehurst, C.T. Brown and W.R. Winterton.
Another new name, which must here be mentioned is that of the first Master, Richard Price. At that time he was a very new doctor indeed, but undoubtedly a very experienced post-graduate ringer, due to the tuition of his parents. His father, Master of the Middlesex Association, was a notable exponent of the art of ringing; not one bell only, but, on occasion, two in the tower, whilst conducting. Sad to relate, for us, when Dick Price eventually settled in practice it was near Rotherham – where he still is – as any week’s peal columns of the R.W. clearly show, under the banner of the Yorkshire Association.

The main activity to be undertaken, after the resolution of that day in May “to establish a society to be known as The Guild of Medical Ringers”, was to find a simple constitution. For this, with minor variations, we borrowed and plagiarised the Rules of the Clerical Guild. These Rules were adopted at the first anniversary meeting at Abbots Langley, in May 1946· At that time membership was open only to doctors and to senior medical students, but this exclusiveness was quickly abandoned. The 1957 AGM introduced Associate membership, open to ringers in allied professions, and to the close relatives of members. Amongst the very first Associates to be elected was Veronica Dupré, another of the Guild’s most staunch attenders. No meeting can really be said to be complete unless she has rung Stedman in hand, concealed behind her habitual smoke screen. To jump ahead for a moment, it was as much a delight to everyone else as to Veronica that when the Rules were altered in 1978 – she was the first Associate to become a member – with the power to brandish her vote, as well as a pair of handbells.

Our pattern of twice yearly meetings was soon established: May, somewhere in the country, and November in London. The first of the latter was in November 1957, and the Church visited was that in which Sam Pepys used to look for pretty faces: St. Olave, Hart Street. It was a minor hiccup in the early days which led to the London meeting becoming the AGM, rather than the birthday gathering in May. For two years running – 1962 and 1963~ – there was insufficient promise of support in May, and the meetings were cancelled. But, since then nothing so worrying has recurred; we meet twice a year – traditionally on the third Saturdays – without fail.
Once or twice there have been supernumerary meetings. In both 1958 and 1959, Christopher Brown invited the GMR to a weekend at Wareham in July – which were great successes. In July 1965 we went for the day to South Hampshire, where Frewen and Mrs. Moor similarly ‘laid on’ a happy day. The only overseas visit was that of 1968, when, during “J.B.’s” presidency the Guild met on the Isle of Wight, in May.

The membership – like that of most bodies – is stronger on paper than in attendance. Some members are too far away, notably our two Australian members, Monica Martin and Pam Brock, and others may no longer be active in ringing – or alternatively, so active in their locality that the GMR must take second place. Nevertheless, with the sole exceptions of those early ‘sixties, we always have enough to get a fair ring, and enjoy a good evening.
No history of the GMR would be complete without reference to its two Honorary members: the late Jack Phillips and John Lott. Over many years these two distinguished metropolitan members of the ASCY have given the Guild the inestimable benefit of their friendship – and invaluable practical help and advice. They seemed either to have access, or knew how to get it, to every belfry of note in the City and environs. But Jack, in his lifetime, and John were just as regular in attendance when we took the springtime country air and beer, as they were in the dark November evenings in ‘The Smoke’
Now, for some of the facts:

F.S. Poole (1955/57); P.T. Spencer-Phillips (1957/T9); W.R. Winterton (1959/63); C.G. Roworth (196~67); J.B. Williamson (1967/70); D.J. Neal Smith (1970/75); P.A.F. Chalk (1974/78); D.L. Gullick (1978/-).
Masters :
R.E. Price (1955/60); D.J. Neal Smith (1960/67); P.A.F. Chalk (1967/70); D.G. Hollis (1970/74); Jean M. Weddell (1974/78); A.G. Tyers (1978/-)
D.L. Gullick (1955/76); D.P.B. Miles (1976/79); Frances M.Cranfield (1979/–)
Vice- Presidents:
D.L. Gullick (1977/78); Jean M. Weddell (1979/-).
18.6.55 5040 Minor (3 methods) at Great Easton; cond. D.L. Gullick; F.S. Poole’s last peal, and D.J. Neal Smith’s first.
4.3.61 5056 P.B. Major at Stamford Hill; cond. P.A.F. Chalk

12.12.64 5040 Minor (3 methods) at Langleybury; cond. P.A.F. Chalk. In Memoriam F.S. Poole
28.7.73 5056 P.B. Major at Benington; cond. (first) D.G. Hollis
20.11.76 5056 P.B. Major at Barnes; cond. P,A.F. Chalk For the 21st Anniversary of the Guild
19.5.79 5040 P.B. Major at Swindon (St. Mark); cond. A.G. Tyers

Members of the GMR have also rung occasional quarter peals together, In both 1969 and 1970 members working in various capacities at The Middlesex Hospital achieved quarters, both conducted by Philip Chalk. In September 1972, eight doctor members rang a quarter of Stedman Triples, to mark the 90th birthday of P.T. Spencer-Phillips; conducted by Derek Sibson.
These, as yet scanty, formal achievements of the Guild emphasise the great part which Philip Chalk has played – and happily, still plays. Indeed, since their first attendance at a meeting, in 1459, Philip and Jean and their children have represented the family at almost every meeting, and have added much to each occasion.

To round up this miscellany, a word more about two of the Guild’s deceased Presidents. Because of his sensible reluctance to return to the mainland, it was not until 1958 that J.B. Williamson first came. Henceforward, until his health declined, he was a constant attender, became President, and invited us to visit him. He was a craftsman of the highest skill, not only assembling and maintaining his vast collection of venerable watches but producing the smallest ever set of hand-bells (from bicycle bells), and presenting the GMR with a fine wooden block and gavel – in the form of a bell and clapper.
G.C. (Guy) Roworth, of Swindon, sadly died whilst our President, and at a relatively early age. From his first appearance in 1946, until his death, Guy’s large and genial presence was a feature of all meetings. Moreover, being blessed with a truly happy family, he travelled normally by minibus, and thus was usually accompanied by several guests form his home tower of Christ Church, to reinforce our strength.
A final statistic: to date, the GMR has visited over 100 towers, including taking part in ringing for a Thanksgiving Service at the Cathedral, for the centenary of the Gloucestershire Branch of the BMA, and at Southwark Cathedral for a similar Service on the 250th anniversary of the founding of ‘Mr. Guy’s’ Hospital.