Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - June 2017 Report

When Bill Sansom died last month, he was my last local link to the 19th century. He came from a family of bell ringers and was the prime source of my Millennium project researches into the history of the bells.

In 1968 my parents told me that their neighbour, Jack Sansom, was teaching them to ring the bells at St Mary’s. Jack was Bill’s father. As a teenager, I was reluctant to try what my parents were doing, but eventually, one evening, I was persuaded to go up to the church under Mr Sansom’s tuition. It transpired I had an aptitude for it, and I have enjoyed the hobby ever since.

The Sansom family came to Donhead St Mary in 1888. John eloped from Ottery St Mary with his wife to be and they were married in this church. John had learnt to ring in Devon, and he soon became captain of the ringers here. He took a keen interest in the newly founded Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers. Under his guidance, a band flourished through the early part of the 20th century. Both his sons, John (known as Jack) and his brother Bill, learnt to ring. Several of the ringers saw active service during the Great War and all returned alive. The ringers were all local, including a gardener at Donhead Hall. On 14 May 1938, Mr Sansom did not go to the Guild’s AGM, as it was his Golden Wedding. A message of congratulation was passed at the AGM. A letter to the Donhead Digest a few years ago (I do not know the date) from Mrs M W Butson (nee Lawes) said:

DSM Bell Ringers in 1938“John Sansom ... lived in the house almost opposite the Church. He was a blacksmith, then started as a Cycle Maker and Agent, and later, with his two sons Bill and Jack, opened another garage at Ludwell on the main London road. This site is now used as a Tea Room. His Grandson Bill Sansom carried on the business there, before opening another garage at Birdbush (now the Mobility Shop)... My grandfather, John Sansom, was Captain of the Bell Ringers for forty years, and had been a bell Ringer for over fifty-six years. On their Golden Wedding Day, teams of Bell Ringers from Mere St John, Semley, Berwick and Gillingham, came to Donhead and peals of bells were rung at intervals throughout the day to show their appreciation of his work during his association with the Diocesan Guild of Bell ringers, The bells were also rung muffled, at this funeral when he died.”

So far as I know, young Bill did not learn to ring, or if he did, he did not keep it up.

In the photo of May 1938 (above right), young Jack Sansom (who taught me) is on the far left, while his father John is 4th from left with the buttonhole. His son Bill (young Bill’s uncle) is behind him. (Note: click on the photo to see a larger version).

Christopher Sykes