Bell supremo!

Revd. C D P Davies
(the Rector's great-grandfather)

The Reverend C D P Davies was a strange and unpredictable character. Ordained in 1881 to a title in a small town in Shropshire, most of his ministry was spent in the depths of rural southern England.

He was the son of a clergyman, who was for 31 years Vicar of Tewkesbury, and a fervent evangelical who detested the Oxford Movement and the more Anglo-Catholic practices that were introduced in the later years of that movement's heyday - like placing lighted candles on the altar and bowing!

It was therefore all the more surprising that C D P Davies, on going up to Pembroke College Oxford, became much influenced by that movement, and was almost hounded out of the parish of Ringmer in East Sussex at least in part for introducing just those sorts of rituals.

But if CDP's ordained ministry was in the end faithful, controversial but essentially modest in its influence, his involvement both in the field of astronomy and of campanology was far from that. He was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was President of the British Astronomical Society from 1924-1926.

But it was really in the field of bells and English change-ringing that his name is written into history. I well remember as a small boy being almost forced to learn to ring simply because the Master of the Tower in the Wiltshire village in which I grew up was adamant that a great grandchild of CDP must learn. And I know that his name is still recognised by ringers today. (It was more complicated for me because the house in which we grew up had been a very important bell foundry in its day, the company being taken over by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry only in the middle of last century.)

Firstly he was a great ringer, and thoroughly committed to the art of change-ringing, and like many teams today loved nothing better than to do a tour of towers to try out peals in as many places as possible. But as a scientist he had a fascination with the mathematics of change-ringing, and published a significant book on the matter not long before his death. He also composed changes, some of which remain in the repertoire today. He was Secretary of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers for nineteen years, and founded the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers, remaining as Master for fifteen years.

The funeral, which was held at Tewkesbury Abbey on Friday 13 February 1931, was attended by a huge crowd of people representing many different areas of CDP's life, and a peal of handbells was rung over his grave as he was buried. The day before, a peal of 'Steadman-Caters' was rung at St James' Church, Bristol, and a muffled peal after the funeral rung on the Abbey bells. All was done with 'impressive ceremonial' according to the next day's Tewkesbury Register and Gazette - Schubert's Litany was sung by his youngest son, my grandfather; the Abbey organist (Captain Percy Baker MC FRCO) played Lament by Coleridge-Taylor and Sorrow Song by Rowley; and all sorts of titled and decorated people attended. The hymns included 'Praise to the Holiest' which, as a relatively recently written poem of John Henry Newman, ensured his Oxford Movement credentials went to the grave with him! And the newspaper report ends with this wonderfully deflating comment:

Alderman A. Baker, a Churchwarden of Tewkesbury Abbey, was unable to be present, having to preside at a committee of the Town Council.

Andrew Deuchar
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 12th July 2003