Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thomas John Fowler

Thomas John Fowler was all the time I knew him a very active participant in village life. I became aware of his presence when I first went to Holy Trinity School in 1935. He and his family had just recently moved into #1 Black Butts Cottages, where he had set up a small building repair and decorating business and had taken on the responsibility of collecting rent every Friday night for the Kislingberrys who were the landlord. He also had taken on the job of caretaker for the school, which besides sweeping the school classrooms every day, he had to make sure the classroom fires were lit early in the morning as these had back boilers behind to heat the water in the radiators. The heating in the infant’s classroom was a big potbelly stove, which was fired with coke. The last task he had was to clean and empty the bucket toilets every day. Colin Hatch the Builders just about the outbreak of the Second World War thank god modernized these in 1939.

He had been all his life a dedicated Churchman, Bell ringer, and Chorister. Both he and his very close friend Walter ‘Simmy’ Ing the vicar’s gardener use to sit side by side and suck “Little Imp” lozenge’s during the vicar’s sermon, which was always precisely ten minutes in length.

His skills in the Bell Ringing world were well known as the South Bucks Branch Ringing Master of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, also as conductor of peals consisting of some 5,000 changes, and taking close to three hours to complete, as can be attested by the peal boards with his name on, in the tower ringing chamber.

During the war he took on the maintenance and caretaking of Moor Hall, working very closely with Miss Freda Salberg, and was also a part time Special Constable with the Berkshire Constabulary. His beloved bells were silent, due to the fact that they were only to be rung if there was an invasion. This of course did not stop him as he had made wooden silencers to fit across the waist of each bell to hold the bell clapper rigid. Though the majority of the younger ringers were in the forces, he still held to odd silent practice, so that when the ban was lifted to celebrate the victory in North Africa, all was in good working order. He was very saddened when his son Ron was killed in action while serving in the RAF. Ron also like his father was a fine ringer. One of the two bells cast after the war was dedicated to Sgt. Ronald Fowler.

I remember when my voice broke and I thought I was out of Sunday services, not so the Vicar conscripted me to being one of his servers and crucifer, and John Fowler seconded me to the tower as a ringer along with other broken voice choristers. Mind you he also persuaded some our young ladies of the village to join as well. That made it more interesting all the way around.
I suppose the highlight of our ringing year were two fold. First, the annual ringers guild meeting in Oxford. With a service and a meeting in the Chapter House, then luncheon in the college dinning room. After which we youngsters tried to see how many different colleges and churches we could ring in before catching the train back to Cookham.
The second was the annual ringers outing to the seaside, which was very popular among the ringers and other members of the church. With ringing at churches on the way down and on the way home, with the last stop at a nice pub who had been forewarned of our arrival on the August Bank Holiday Monday.

Another celebration that we all enjoyed, was our New Year’s Eve party held at Melmont Lodge to home of Mr. & Mrs. Wilson and family. Then to walk across the moor, to arrive at the church by eleven-thirty, to ring, the Old Year out, and the New Year in.Whatever the event was, John Fowler was always there to organize his ringers and ringing activities.


sarah castle said...

I was one of the 'young ladies' that John Fowler taught to ring, although I never really got the hang of ringing peals, etc. There was some skill in slipping out of the back door unseen after ringing for a service. We liked to ring for a wedding as we got paid. I do remember going on an outing to the seaside.

Historical Cookham said...

Hi Sarah: Yes I remember you and I have just written a note to you daughter.


James Hatch