Thursday, 4 April 2013

James Gowing : Bell Ringer

James (sometimes referred to as John) Gowing was a shoemaker by trade and he lived in Saltgate in Beccles. He was a principal bellringer at St Michael's Church and he also kept a diary from 1781 to 1830, in which he recorded occasions on which the bells were rung for special events, as well as many priceless details about the events in local and national history.
I spent a long time searching for any personal details about James Gowing and very little was uncovered, either online or in local history books for Beccles, other than his diary extracts. Turning to the St Michael's Church Parish Register Extracts on CD rom, I found a baptism for a James Gowing 25 October 1750 s/o Charles and Elizabeth Gowing. There was also a John Gowing baptised 9 May 1755 (who was also the son of Charles and Elizabeth). Charles Gowing married Elizabeth Smith at St Michael's Church 22 February 1748.

Church Tower of St Michael's,

Here is an example of what Gowing's diary reveals (original spelling retained):

2 June 1782 Gillingham Fen flooded.
6 January 1786 Boy Boyce Post Boy lost in snow.
21 March 1793 The Kings head gateway brickt up.
28 May 1793 One of the Lincolnshire Melitia brought from Bungay to Beccles. Tried by Cort Martial. Recd One hundred lashes.
19 December 1797 Wringing. Thanksgiving day for three victorys over the French, Spanish and Dutch fleets.
2 October 1798 Greater news from Horation Nelson who took nine ships. Wringing.
11 June 1802 Raisd the bells for young Mr Crowfoot, Doctor, lately married. Brought his wife to town. 
27 September 1802 Began to pave the town.
8 October 1802. Anne Ayers Daughter of Jno. Ayers drowned herself in the river. Taken up Thursday morn aged 11 years.
7 November 1805 Lord Nelson defeated the French and Spanish Fleet. Took 19 ships of the Line. Sunk one. Lost his life. Raised the Bells. Mourning peals. 10s night.
9 January 1806. Lord Nelson Buried in St Pauls Church London. Bell told here from 10 till 2 afternoon. Minute gun fired 1 hour, then a mourning peale.
30 June 1810 Mr Woodroffe pulled down his house in the Old Market this week.
29 January 1813 Beccles Markette altered to Be on Fridays.
17 June 1814 The Feast Day for Peace. 2300 people Dine in Publick. Plumb Puding Roast Beef and plenty of ale.
4 April 1817. My wife died aged 68. (James Gowing's wife).
2 December 1818 Queen Charlotte buried, wife of George III, bell tolled from 3 o'clock till 7 night, then the mourning peal £1. 11s. 6d.
19 July 1821 George the Fourth crowned King. A Bullock roasted in the Old Market.
7 January 1827 The Duke of York Died aged 63, brother of George IV. The Bell raised at 11 o'clock. Whent till 5. Bumbled (muffled) and Flag halfe staffe high. Singing at Church this night. First time by the Wednesday night singers.

According to "Hark To The Bells: A History of Beccles as Told by the Bells and their Ringers", compiled by Anne Frith, Vivienne Osborne & Dorothy Smith, the original Gowing diary is deposited with the Lowestoft Branch of the Suffolk Record Office. The 'East Suffolk Gazette' newspaper reprinted diary extracts between April and August, 1909.

Published by A. Deed Frith©2011

On 2 January 1798 Gowing recorded that a new set of twelve handbells was bought for St Michael's Church for £2. 2s. These would have been used to instruct new recruits in the art of change-ringing, to be rung over the graves of bellringers, and on social occasions where the hat might be around.

In 1827, Samuel Stringfellow, a potter, made a large jug with three handles for the use of the ringers, known as a Bellringers' Gotch (meaning "beer jug"). Able to hold several gallons it was presented to the Beccles bell ringers, and bore the inscription -
"When I am filled with liquor strong,
Each man drink once and then ding dong;
Drink not too much to cloud your knobbs,
Lest you forget to make the bobbs"
"A gift of John Pattman, Beccles".

The Beccles Bellringers' Gotch

A wonderful You Tube video, posted by hjdnad:

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