Thursday 20th January 2022
The Suffolk Guild was formed on, Easter Monday, 2 April 1923 following the formation of the new Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich in 1914. Prior to this the western half of the county was part of the Diocese of Ely whilst the eastern half was part of the Diocese of Norwich and consequently ringing allegiance was given to, what are now, the Ely Diocesan Association and the Norwich Diocesan Association respectively.
During the period between 1914 and 1923 the EDA adopted the style the Ely and St. Edmundsbury Diocesan Association whilst the NDA was known as the Norwich and Ipswich Association. The prime movers for the formation of an independent association came mainly from the west of the county but this met with much opposition and acrimony, particularly from Norwich.
The course of evolution moved quickly in the early 1920's and, despite this opposition, the Suffolk County Association was formed on 5 February 1921, at Lavenham, under the mastership of Stedman Symonds, but soon changed its name to the Suffolk Diocesan Association at Easter. The following year, on 29 April 1922, there was another change of name to the St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Association followed a year later by the final change to the current designation with Charles Sedgley being elected master and Rev. Herbert Drake secretary. Thus the great towers and bands of Lavenham, Bury, Long Melford and Clare, Beccles, Framlingham, Thornham Magna and Debenham, Ipswich, Wrentham, Helmingham and Leiston and many more started a new life.
The first peal was scored the day after, on Tuesday 3 April, 7 Surprise Minor, by the Thornham Magna band on their bells. The Leiston band, with the Bailey brothers already a legend before the Suffolk Guild was formed, were encouraged by Gabriel Lindoff, himself a onetime Leiston man and by 1924/25 a new Surprise Major band was emerging at Helmingham. In 1926 the Central Council met in Ipswich. St. Mary le Tower band was already well regarded and in 1927 recorded the first peal of Superlative S Maximus.
During the 1930's many new surprise major methods were rung together with the first peal of extending lead maximus, Rochester, and two lady ringers became prominent, Phyllis Tillett and Sylvia Bowyer, in the years preceding the outbreak of World War II.
By 1946 the six years of war had incurred many losses, both of young and old, and a membership reduced to the region of 200 was summoned by the new secretary Cecil.W Pipe to put the Guild quickly and firmly back on the map. A Guild Restoration Fund was launched with a cheque for £50 from Ernest W Pye and William P Garrett became the first man to ring 100 peals of maximus on tower bells.
The early 50s were concerned with restoration work and building up resources. Membership was increased to 375. In 1955 Cecil W Pipe retired and John Blythe took over as secretary and later became the first Chairman. Charles J Sedgley, having held office as master since 1923, over 30 years, was succeeded by Leslie G Brett, who went on to become the first person to ring 1000 peals for the Guild.
The 60s revealed the stark realisation that despite the attractive look of a membership of 500, funds were low and there was not a realistic approach to financing the work that needed doing. Somehow in 1963 a real trough in the Guild's history was reached; the sort of condition which prevails periodically. Membership fell to 327 and there was a general air of despondency. George W Pipe was elected master and Andrew Beckwith secretary with the aim of 500 members by 1970, developing Sunday service ringing in hitherto silent towers and boosting the Restoration Fund.
In 1964 the 3000th peal for the guild was rung, an average of 75 per year
including the war, and in 1966 200 members attended the AGM at Lavenham! Membership
reached 450 by 1968 when Lawrence R Pizzey became secretary and treasurer. Howard
W Egglestone became master in 1969 promoting the social aspect and developing
spliced minor and surprise major. From then on peal ringing has thrived. It
took 40 years to ring the first 3000 peals but only 30 years to ring the next
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 the annual peal total was 87, 56% of which were Surprise Major. With four regular peal bands attempting monthly peals and a total of 9812 peals recorded in the 2019-20 Annual Report, reaching the next milestone of 10,000 by 2023 (our centenary) looked achievable. 27 peals were achieved in the first 11 weeks of 2020 but the pandemic then struck putting a block on any tower bell ringing other than for service.
Quarter peals are perhaps a better measure of activity and achievement across the wider membership of the Guild. The 2019-20 Annual Report records 518 quarter peals being rung at Suffolk Guild venues in 2019. This was a healthy increase from the 450 recorded in 2018 however Covid-19 has again curtailed this activity. Thankfully, quarter peals have not been wiped out completely due to the opportunities afforded by handbells and virtual ringing platforms with a total of 36 quarter peals achieved since March 2020 including many firsts!
Membership has been growing steadily over the last few years and is currently 776 with eight members receiving their certificates recording 50 years of continuous membership at the 2019 AGM and two at the 2020 AGM.
Acknowledgement : G W Pipe
Updated: Rowan Wilson (Dec 2020)