Some Tom Gye memories

The following comes from an email sent by Tom Gye to our rector in 2010. Tom was looking back over his 90 years in the village and recalling some things he had done. The rector was James Campbell and the memories seem to have been stirred by the name James.

The name James always invokes memories for me. It is one of my own along with Thomas and Edward. There were three of us contemporary boys in the village all named Thomas and Edward. I was the only one with a third name, James. My paternal grandfather was James who died twenty years before I was born. His time matched the reign of Queen Victoria, born at the time of her coronation and dying in 1901. James was a tall well-built man, 6feet 3inches in his socks, one time Tower Captain when tradesmen only were allowed to be bell ringers. He was in company with the Sexton (blacksmith), Blacksmith’s brother (ironmongery shop), Village plumber (one time churchwarden and maker of the weathercock), a professional gardener and wreath maker, a sign-writer and decorator

When the bells were recast in 1876, a wealthy benefactor had a chiming (carillon) installed. I believe the same person donated the tower clock. When I started ringing in 1936 the bells were only rung for evensong, the most important service in those days. For matins, the four most senior ringers took it in turns to call the congregation with the carillon. For that the bells had to be fixed to stop them swinging. To enable this, the paid sexton had, every morning, to climb the tower stairs, fly the flag and apply the locking device to the bell wheels. After matins he had to climb the stairs again and unlock the bells ready for evening ringing. The chimers were paid ten shillings annually, which I think came from a charity set up by the carillon donor.

I was given the extra name because after my parents had decided T. E. my mother stated that E. would be after her father; to which my father immediately responded, “ If we are having one grandfather we’ll have the other”.

The story goes that after an evensong service a group of young men had gathered at the bottom of the Church path surveying the rest of the congregation leaving. When a group of young women approached one of the men said, “Which one be you gonna have James?” James replied “That little dark eyed one.” And in good time he did, and between them they raised nine children to maturity, no mean feat in those days. Their first six children were all girls and the three sons followed. My father was the youngest.

Grandfather held the rank of sergeant in the local unit of ‘The Loyal Volunteers’ a forerunner of the Territorial Army. I imagine these voluntary forces date back to the time when Napoleon was a threat before his defeat at Waterloo. The LVs were armed with Martini Henry rifles with bayonet attachments. They had a practice range at the Fiddington end of the village. To obtain extreme range they used to fire across the through road. The targets were marked on iron sheets and positioned in that hollow in the escarpment just south of the Southcliffe Industrial site. I have some silver plated pewter beakers that James won shooting. My wife’s father was also an LV Sergeant and she had some plain pewter beakers her grandfather had won. I used to tease her that mine were silver plated because my grandfather was a better shot.

For many years there was a one-eyed man in the village who had been on duty as a ‘marker’ on the firing range. Although there was suitable protection for the markers while the shooting took place, this man did not wait for the shooting to stop and looked round the protection to see the bullet strike on the target. A piece of metal rebounded and hit his eye.

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