As well as ringing for Remembrance Sunday 2018, at Stepney the Armistice Centenary was also marked by the production of some fine handicrafts to serve and to commemorate.
In anticipation of the approaching centenary, at their January AGM Stepney’s band decided it was an appropriate time to invest in new muffles – the old muffles with their leather straps and buckles were difficult to strap on securely, some were worn, fragile and damaged and Stepney’s flightless 6 required special measures involving gaffer tape – not pretty. The last thing we wanted to happen for the centenary ringing was straps breaking, muffles slipping or wearing through.
An order was duly placed with Wilf Grove and great was our relief to learn that the order had been received before the cut-off in order to be ready for the big day. Although through spring Wilf encountered interruptions that threatened delay, he hand delivered the muffles to a Thursday practice in August with his colleague George, both ringers at Streatham and true craftsmen who care deeply about the quality of their products.
Deputy Steeple Keeper Éva economically shared out a tin of the recommended non-slip paint between the three towers where she rings regularly: Foster Lane, St Giles-in-the-Fields and Stepney all had their clappers so treated. By the end of August we were fully prepared.
A test in August confirmed the fit of the muffle for the flightless 6. A half-muffled practice 8th November reassured us that the muffles would not slip. We were very pleased on 11th November, when nine ringers enabled us to ring all 10 beautifully muffled bells in different combinations of 6 and 8 for the morning service.
Of course our new set of muffles are housed in one of Wilf’s trademark bags, complete with beautiful embroidered ‘portrait’ of the church. It’s possible to view the whole gallery of these wonderful embroidered tower ‘portraits’ on the Big Wilf’s website
Toward the end of summer, on his travels, Steeple Keeper Julian admired a life-sized WWI soldier-in-silhouette in a pose of solemn reflection and was inspired to create one for St Dunstan’s – finding two, in fact, could be produced from a single sheet of plywood. Daytimes these figures would be found in the churchyard.Brought in at night to protect them from unwanted attention, they were positioned standing guard at the entrance to the lady chapel and ringers entering the church for practice would double-take: Their uncanny presence almost life-like, their stance quietly but powerfully conveying the awful solemnity of the armistice and irrecoverable desolation of what had gone before, everyone agrees they are arresting and very moving in both locations.
We are blessed that a member of the Stepney band can always be relied upon to ensure that special events are commemorated – often with handicraft keepsakes. The team organising the centenary ringing was consulted about numbers and a small team of elves contracted for production. Accordingly it was seen to that all who would ring for the armistice centenary at Docklands towers and Foster Lane could wear a specially made ‘Ringing Remembers’ poppy.
More than 70 poppies were hand made by lead elf Anna and her small team of elves (Elizabeth and Kristen-of-Foster-Lane) from felt with custom commissioned ribbon stems jacquard-woven with ‘Ringing Remembers 1918’. The Docklands distribution network (Stepney ringers have many useful connections to other towers and their practices) was mobilised and all consignments were efficiently delivered by their couriers to the eight Docklands towers where ringing would take place as well as to Foster Lane in time for ringing for peace on the afternoon of 11 November.
The numbers turned out by this small production line are an encouraging reminder of the numbers of Docklands ringers who can rally to the request – in this case, expressed by the governments of the UK and Germany – to provide ringing. It is also a tribute to the skill of outgoing DRC Secretary Gill, who has many times expertly grappled with the logistics of assigning ringers to as many Docklands Towers as possible for a special occasion.
We’ll look forward to many years of service from our reliable new muffles and to wearing our poppies next November when we will be reacquainted with our soldiers and the gravity of their reminder at the beginning of their next centenary’s service.