Eric learnt to ring in 1942, aged 11, on the six bells at St Nicholas North Bradley, Wiltshire. Four young lads from the choir were ‘herded’ up the tower by Percy Harding the Tower Captain and taught on silent bells because the wartime ban was still on. They were – Eric’s older brother Laurence, Fred Slatford, Donald Lee and Eric. The first time Eric rang open was on November 15th 1942 for victory at El Alamein when the ban was temporarily lifted for a few hours.
Eric rang his first peal at age 14 on VE Day May 8th 1945 at North Bradley, the treble to Grandsire Doubles in 2hours 51mins. It was conducted by Percival Harding and was the first peal for three of the band – Eric, Laurence Hitchins and Frederick Slatford.The record of Eric’s VE Day Victory peal, as reported in the Ringing World, May 1945
Eric Hitchins in the belfry at North Bradley on May 8th 2015 after ringing a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples to celebrate the 70th anniversary of VE Day and his first peal. He rang the same bell, now the 3rd, as he did in 1945.
Eric’s second and third peals were also at North Bradley in 1945- Plain Bob Minor on August 6th and Grandsire Doubles on August 19th, which was his first inside and rung to celebrate VJ Day and the end of the war.
Eric’s early ringing was all near his home in Wiltshire, and there was a 10-year gap before he rang another peal in 1957. He has always been a committed Sunday service ringer and an active member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers. The four who learnt together were elected in November 1943 and remained active ringers throughout their lives. Eric served in various SDGR branch posts, was General Secretary and Treasurer from 1972-79, and is now the longest serving Vice President. Eric also served on the Central Council for 25 years from 1968 – 92. He proudly celebrated 75 years of membership of SDGR in 2018.
When Eric returned from National Service in 1956 and reconnected with ringing, he found that progression was not easy in a scattered rural situation. If he wanted to progress, he had to seek out the opportunity. Eric started going to Bristol and ringing with Tudor Edwards, Dick and Liz Bowden, David Heighton to name but a few and this was a significant turning point for him. He was elected to the ASCY in November 1958, proposed by Gilbert Harding of Trowbridge, and was proud to have been a member for over 60 years. Another significant step for Eric was joining Wilfrid Williams’ peal tours in the 1960s and 70s.
Eric has rung 285 peals all on tower bells ranging from doubles to maximus, conducting 12. He rang 127 for the SDGR, 38 G&B, 27 Bath and Wells and 23 ASCY. Eric’s leading ringer and conductor is Jim Twiney with whom he rang 76 peals, followed by Tudor Edwards 59, Fred Slatford 54, and George and David Massy 48 and 45. Eric’s most pealed tower is Trowbridge with 21, followed by Melksham 18 and North Bradley 17.
Eric’s favourite ring of bells is definitely the magnificent 35 cwt ring at Westbury Wiltshire where he has rung 9 peals including turning the tenor in on three occasions.
The two particular achievements that stand out for Eric were his first peal of Maximus when for his 12th peal he rang the 9th to Kent TB at Redcliffe in 1959 and then at Sherborne Abbey in 1966 when he turned in the 46 cwt tenor and conducted a peal of Yorkshire Major. Other memorable peals were Oakham Royal at Inverary in 1978, the first time he met his wife, Trish, Cambridge Major at North Bradley in 1983 in which the four who learned together rang to celebrate the 40th anniversary of joining SDGR and finally his last peal, Grandsire Caters on the light ten at Mancroft in 2000.
This entry was written in April 2020.
Originally timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of VE day, this unique episode sees host Cathy Booth, joined by a whole cast of ringers, bust the myths about ringing during World War II. This is the full version of ‘thirty voices, seventy-five years, one story’ . And what a story! Bell towers across t...