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WINTERBOURNE (St.Michael's) Handbell Ringers.

Many people don't realize that we have a very successful team of Handbell Ringers in the village, so this page should set the record straight.

Winterbourne St. Michael's Church owns a set of Handbells, which were housed in the ringing chamber of the bell tower at Winterbourne Church. The makers and date of manufacture are not known but they are believed to be about 150 years old. They were in a poor state and had hung on a rail in the ringing chamber for many years, unused.

In the early 1960s Terry Jefferies, a tower bell ringer at Winterbourne, whose Grandfather's family were handbell and tower bell ringers at Mangotsfield, together with Tom Walters, also a keen ringer at Winterbourne tower, decided to have the bells refurbished. They delivered 19 bells to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London where they were repaired and refurbished. Unfortunately, only 12 of the original 19 could be repaired as some were cracked or damaged beyond repair. A set of 12 diatonic bells were made up in the key of 'B' and two new bells added for extra sharps and flats.

Terry managed to acquire some handbell music in numerical form ("ringing by numbers") and the local ringers, friends and family were roped in to ring some simple carols around the village at Christmas time.

the big handbell team - early days
Winterbourne St.Michael's Handbell Ringers in the very early days.
left to right: Terry Jefferies, Brenda Jefferies, Tom Walters, Paul Sherlock, Mary Jefferies, John Turner, Roger Hemmings, Brian Winkworth, and Chris Jefferies(Terry's brother).

It became obvious that such a large team ringing just one or two bells each was unmanageable and when Terry happened to see a small team of ringers at Malvern playing four-in-hand he decided to form a team of just three ringers to ring the twelve bells. Using music he had acquired which included some carols and folk tunes like 'Farmers Boy' and 'Bells of St Mary'. The ringers were Terry Jefferies, Paul Sherlock and John Turner. The great advantage of the three members was that they could go around the local public houses at Christmas time and stand in a corner of the bar, throw their music on the floor and perform, while friends or wives collected donations for charity. A lot of pubs in those days had a roaring fire in the bar and this was usually the only clear area, being too hot, which meant that they ended up playing with their backs to the fire and roasting! They would then go back to one of the ringer's houses on Christmas eve count the collection and have a bite to eat - a tradition that still carries on to this day. Over the years the team have collected an impressive amount of money for many charities.

In 1967 The Handbell Ringers of Great Britain were formed at Ashton-under-Lyme and Winterbourne Team joined in 1969. As the HRGB was still in its infancy the Winterbourne team were made founder members and given Life Membership.

handbells ringing team
July 1973: left to right: Paul Sherlock, Stephen Holmes, David Bisp, Kevin Norton, Antony Jefferies, Nigel Jefferies, Terry Jefferies(Captain)

It became clear that the bells being old and fairly delicate might become damaged with the increasing use they were getting. The skill of the ringers was improving and with only 14 bells the repertoire of music was restricted. So, it was decided that the money collected for the next few years be used to purchase a new set of bells so that the future of the team and charity support could continue. A new set of 26 bells of two chromatic octaves was ordered from the Whitechapel Foundry in London in 1973. Unfortunately at the time there was a shortage of copper and a very full order book. Consequently the bells were not ready for collection until 1975 and had more than doubled in price.

A party of ringers and friends made the journey to London to collect them and were given a tour of the foundry, which was quite an experience.

Winterbourne handbell ringers and family collect their bells from Whitechapel
1973: left to right: Albert Hughes (Director, Whitechapel Bell Foundry), Terry Jefferies, Paul Sherlock, Kevin Norton, Nigel Jefferies, David Bisp, Susan Taysom, Ernie Thomas.

The team decided that ownership of the bells should belong to the Church, so that in the event of the team ever disbanding the bells could be used by the Church members for future generations.

The team was now able to carry on and improve their technique and repertoire. They attended many National and local rallies, which included the newly-completed Wembley Conference Centre and also the Colston Hall. Unfortunately, Paul Sherlock, who had been working for Oxfam for some time, was finding it difficult to attend practices and performances due to his work, which increasingly took him abroad. So he sadly decided it would be unfair on the team for him to carry on.

Brenda, Terry's wife, stepped into his place and allowed Winterbourne to continue and prosper. Local music teacher Joan Heaney was kind enough to arrange music to improve the repertoire further and became a great help to the team. In the early 1980s a junior team was formed as the need was felt for new youngsters to carry on the tradition. The new members (Steve Holmes, David Bisp and Kevin Norton) did well and made several performances but sadly split up as they grew and took on other commitments.

Ryan Price, who also ran a successful handbell team and played guitar accompaniment suggested that John Turner should try the same with the Winterbourne ringers, as he knew that John played the guitar and thought it would improve the sound. So it was decided to give it a try. This proved quite successful as it made a good accompaniment to the bells and also held the rhythm.

So it was that John took on the new role and Terry's son Antony became the new member of the team, now consisting of three handbell ringers and a guitar player. This unique line-up went down well at performances and rallies although it made it more difficult to perform in public houses as the team had progressed to ringing from a table instead of previously throwing the music on the floor. Of course with the new set of bells they had more notes to use and so needed somewhere to place the extra bells during the performance and the floor was just not convenient!

Handbell ringers at Bodmin Church
29th April 2000: Winterbourne St.Michael's Handbell Ringers
» Concert at St.Petroc's parish church, Bodmin, Cornwall.
Brenda, Antony and Terry Jefferies with John Turner.
photograph by Rob Willis

In 1988 they attended the International Handbell Ringers Symposium held at Exeter University in Devon and proved very popular with other countries including America and Japan.

Winterbourne Handbell Ringers have gained the reputation as one of the leading four-in-hand teams in the country and over the years have performed in many towns and cities and made many friends throughout the handbell ringing fraternity. Many thousands of pounds have been raised to help such charities as Friends of Frenchay Hospital (for which a sound recording was made for sale, with the kind help of Gordon Kethrow), Crack Multiple Sclerosis and the NSPCC. The team (Terry's family!) provided a Christmas lunch on Christmas day for several years to elderly and otherwise lonely people at Westerleigh Village Hall with the co-operation of the local council services.

The team continue to perform during the year and are very busy at Christmas time still although not in pubs as they used to - pubs have changed and so have the team - and John now arranges most of the team's music. In 2005 they performed alongside Acker Bilk and the Blue Notes Jazz Band to a record congregation of approx 1400 for the » Radio Bristol Annual Christmas Concert held at Bath Abbey. This was broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

It's the second time the team have been asked to play in the Radio Bristol Concert - the first time was in 1990 at the Bristol Baptist Church in Broadmead who were celebrating 350 years since the church was founded.

The team was invited to attend the 2006 International Symposium in Brisbane Australia in August and held a Christmas Concert at the Greenfield Centre in Winterbourne to raise funds for the flights and accommodation. This was very successful with a full house of over 100 in the audience.

the team recording 'Live at Frenchay'
Brenda, Antony and Terry Jefferies with John Turner.
St.Michael's Handbell Ringers recording 'Live at Frenchay' in Frenchay Hospital before an invited audience (May 1988).
Side 1: Hornpipe; Bells of St. Mary; Grandfather's Clock; Farmers Boy; Paloma; Blue Bells of Scotland; Morning has Broken; Wonderful Land; Narcissus; Memories; All I have to do is Dream; Trudie.
Side 2: Mary's Boy Child; Little Donkey; White Christmas; Frosty the Snowman; Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Jingle Bells; Sing a Rainbow; Those Magnificent Men; Last of the Summer Wine; Never on Sunday.