Christmas 2018

We had five to ring at Stepney this morning and seven yesterday evening (thanks for double-handing, Dave!) – the first time the current band has rung for both the midnight mass and the Christmas morning service – thanks for organising, Greg!

Walking home from morning ringing today, I wasn’t sure if I heard faint bells –  my ears often turn indistinct sounds into distant bells in changes. But reaching my flat, stepping out to the balcony  it was unmistakable: call changes. How unexpected and nice! Was it Limehouse? Had Dorinda rallied sufficient ringers? Or was London so silent that I could hear Rotherhithe? The amazing and rare: London so at peace on Christmas morning – a soundscape no doubt aided by low cloud and the absence of any breeze.

It was later confirmed by Dorinda: Limehouse bells were rung for the morning service – and clearly heard in Stepney.

For me, Christmas Day is often a chance to do nothing at all but read a book all day. This Christmas, I’ve opened a book given to me by Jennifer earlier in the year: Those Greenland Days by Martin Lindsay, published by Penguin in 1932 about the expedition to survey Greenland prior to establishing the “great circle” route for trans-Atlantic flights.

Once read, I will pass this book on to my sister, an archaeologist whose current work is in Greenland.

Barely three pages in to chapter one, the Greenland expedition is setting off from St Katherine’s Dock and encountering what is now some of Docklands Ringers’ Heritage.

No doubt this expedition’s company heard Rotherhithe. If the Thames and east end were as silent on a Sunday in July 1930 as they are today, perhaps they might also have heard Hart Street, Bermondsey, St George-in-the-East, St Paul Shadwell (ringable then?) and maybe Stepney – but unlike me this morning, they would not have heard Limehouse, the tower having only acquired bells in very recent times.

Note a familiar ringing family name in the list of expedition members.

And a prominent tomb in Stepney churchyard bears the family name Lemon.

To have provided ringing for Christmas services where 12 years ago there was no band… to find in an unexpected place a reference to the sound of our bells nearly 90 years ago… Forgive me for being a credulous colonial, but I do often thrill to marvel at the layers and layers of connections circulating around this place and radiating outward through space and time, and to find myself living and in a small way participating in that nexus.

Thanks and Happy Christmas to the ringers of Docklands, and best wishes for 2019.