The first of a series of reminiscences from Michael, the tower captain at St. Johns.
As I sat in the church hall enjoying Les Porter's Afternoon Tea celebration for his 90th birthday I was trying to work out how long I had known him as I first met him as a bell ringer. It bought back memories of other St. John's ringers and church members. Some people think that going back in time is wrong as many people now in church had not known them but I feel without them there would not be a church today, we live in a continuance where we help pass on the 'church' from one generation to another and I use the word church as 'the people'. I add to this nostalgia trip in that I am celebrating this year, forty years as St. John's ringing master and over the next few months I hope to share with you some of those - well would it be too pompous to call them - saints?
Now I'm going to sound like one of those old boys that we as young boys used to make gentle fun of. My first recollection of St. John's is as a boy of about six years old helping with the weekly Saturday shopping in Leytonstone, believe it or not it was the best place to shop in the area. From about 10a.m. onwards, outside the railings of the church, gathered a crowd sometimes five deep and after some time a cheer went up and they started clapping as the Bride and Bridegroom appeared on the church steps, it was the first Wedding of the day. I started bell ringing in Wanstead at the age of twelve and by fourteen was well into ringing for Weddings and being paid a crisp brown 10/- note (50p today) for each Wedding. I also got invited to ring for other Weddings and that is when I first started ringing at St. John's. In the school holidays I would sometimes ring at the Monday practise night as a visitor with some trepidation as some were St. Paul's Cathedral ringers and in those days they seemed to shout a lot.
I wonder how many of you remember Bob Poole, he was a churchwarden at St. John's, when I first met him at local bell ringing meetings, he had started late, as he had retired, his wife had died and his daughter was at Vet's college. It was something to do, to get him out and meet people. We became unlikely friends and he found out that I was looking to move where I rang and suggested St. John's. I already knew Charlie Wellmington, the St. John's ringing master at the time, who I had great respect for as a ringer. Ex police sergeant, President of the Police Guild of ringers (yes, there are quite a few ringing guilds, from medical to railways). He was also a nice man with lots of stories to tell - one of the 'old boys', so after talking it over with him I became a St. John's bell ringer. So when did I first meet Les Porter?
Charlie had a band of local ringers at the time, Les Porter being one - also with lots of stories to tell, then there was Ron Brown who worked at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Jim King, Mervyn Balkwell and of course Bob Poole. Then along came Bet and Denis Mitchell. Charlie said to me that there is a young lady wanting to learn to ring for some award scheme and could I perhaps help out (We always try to teach with two ringers). This was Ann, Denis and Bet's eldest daughter and surprise they came too, they stayed and Ann didn't. The problem came that between Charlie and Denis, no one could get a word in edgeways (strange phrase) but I always thought Bet was swish in her open top Triumph Herald car. So when did I first meet Les Porter, well sometime in the late 1960's.