Get your big hat out and posh frock we’ve been invited to a wedding. Well that is not quite true. I started ringing when I was about 12 years old at Christ Church Wanstead and didn’t much like it, I did it for a friend who had started earlier on, the first six months are the worst! I began to get better and enjoy it and then came the question, would you like to ring for a wedding? I wasn’t sure what that meant but said yes, it turned out that you met about 30 minutes before to ring the guests and bride in and then ring the bride and groom out after the service. The service in those days lasted about 30 minutes, now days it can be about 45 minutes (although for some reason our previous vicar extended it to two hours, which gave us lots of problems).
So for about 30 minutes the ringers have free time to get a cup of tea, go shopping, do homework, mark homework, read a book, write a book. It’s a surprise what you can do in 30 minutes and of course for some of it we would chat and build up friendships.
With the ringing came a surprise, I was paid for it. a whole crisp brown 10 shilling note (50p. today). Now let me explain, not just that it was a lot of money but it was a regular payment. Today if we get a couple of weddings a year we are doing well---no one it seems want to get married in a church but when I started ringing there was a wedding boom.
3 -4 -5 and sometimes 6 or more weddings every Saturday and when my friend and I got mobile with bikes, we got asked to ring for weddings at other churches. The first time I came to St. John’s was to ring for weddings, at the peak they had a 45 minute turn around , with them all coming in the main door and except for the bride and groom, leaving by the south door (where the ramp is) to stop congestion. We could have up to three brides on the premises at the same time and this was happening all over the country. Over a year I would make more money from ringing for weddings than all my friends that had ‘Saturday Jobs’ who got paid £1 each week from 8am.to 6pm!
How many weddings have I been to, well I’ve lost count and the same with how many churches I’ve rang in for weddings. I’ve seen all sorts of brides and grooms in all sorts of costumes and colours, no amount of different cars, some vintage, horse drawn carriages even a double decker bus [fun getting in the gates], to the cab of a lorry, one bride even walked down the High road
So what about this wedding invitation, well the request was could you ring for a wedding? Now we get asked that from time to time and June is a popular month for a wedding but the request this time was to bring a band of St. John’s ringers. The request came from Sandra, the ‘ringing master’ of St. Mary the Virgin Leyton. They have only one wedding so far this year and she was going on holiday on that date!
St. Mary’s was our parish church before St. John’s was built so when our tower stairs and subsequent other repairs were being done a couple of years ago, we as a bell ringing band moved over to ring at Leyton, which was fortunate, as after being told that the tower would be closed for three months, in reality it was over ten months and the problems with no bells to ring is that you end up with no ringers as they have gone to ring somewhere else so St. John’s would have ended up ‘silent’.
It was an easy move, where we could ring for the Sunday services as it was so local, even the service time was the same and it started on time. We also got a warm welcome from Sandra and other members of the church. So we said yes and rang for the wedding. I realised a long time ago that I enjoyed ringing because of the people I ring with but I also realised that I enjoyed ringing for weddings and no it is not for the 10 shilling note. Just two footnotes to this, one of our ringers June (no she was not born in June!) knew the groom and when he found out she was a ringer said that when he got married he wants bells and June said she would ring for it. A couple of years later she rang for it….it was the wedding at Leyton. The last time we rang for a wedding at St. John’s, Lynda, my wife, started ringing again after 35 years and the couple we rang for have become very active members of our church ….nice, how it sometimes turns out. Oh! we did have bells for our wedding and I did ring for it.