FEATURE: Sound the bells - how an Oakley group once named Selected English Lettuces has bloomed over 20 years
The wording on a cobweb-covered and dusty cardboard box read: “Selected English Lettuces”. Inside was a set of handbells.
The find, by the vicar’s wife at Oakley 20 years ago, led to the formation of a handbell ringing team.
Bizarrely called after the words on the box in their early years, but now renamed Selected English Roses, the team will be at Brome church on Sunday when thanks will be offered for their formation and continued performances.
The ringers – Freda Stiff, Ursula Halton, Pauline Goddard, Iris Cracknell, Sheila Conolly and Judith Guy – are conducted by former Diss music teacher Elaine Halton, who has also written a history of the team.
Although most performances are local, at Women’s Institute groups, harvest festivals, sometimes in pubs to play carols, or at residential homes, they have also been to Brome in Germany to play.
“I was chairman of the parish council about 13 years ago and got a letter from the burgermeister, who was contacting the five other places in the world called Brome for the 800th anniversary of their town,” said Mrs Halton.
It resulted in an invitation to play at their celebrations – where they caused a bit of a surprise, because the English way is to ring the bells rather than strike them with a hammer.
The ringers’ rendering of Edelweiss was appreciated but Mrs Halton was surprised when she was suddenly invited to conduct a brass band as well. “Fortunately they were playing a march and I was able to get through it,” she said.
The ringers have added to the original find of bells, some specially cast at the famous Whitechapel foundry in London at a cost of £300 each, which extends the range of music they can play.
Four of the ringers are in their 80s – a late member continued into her 90s – and the youngest is in her 50s. New members who can commit to practices and performances are always welcomed.
The ability to read music is an advantage, although Mrs Halton said that those who did not had their own ways of marking their scores to know when to ring.