Ringing in the changes after almost 70 years

FOR almost 70 years you have heard Frank Kennington ring the bells of the Grimsby Minster.

But unlike their loud, regal, sound echoing from the tower, Frank, 78, is the landmark's unsung hero.

For 68 years he has quietly stood in the bell chamber, grabbed his rope and sent musical chimes out around St James' Square.

He has served weddings, christenings, funerals and Christmas services.

But not any more.

Frank has – reluctantly – retired because his knees can no longer take the strain of the 86-step climb to the Minster's bell chamber.

His departure marks the end of an era not only for the Minster, but the Kennington family who have rung the bells at the church since as far back as the 16th century.

The Binbrook pensioner said: "My last ring was very sad. I was christened there, married there and I have many happy memories there."

On his last day, a local band of bellringers – all of whom Frank had taught – rang out a quarter peal, lasting 45 minutes and 1,260 changes, an effort worthy of his dedication.

Frank is the last member of his family to be a bell ringer at the Minster after his father and then Tower Captain, Charles, "showed him the ropes" on Victory of Europe day when the nationwide ban on bellringing was lifted in celebration.

For years the bells of the churches in Britain had not been heard after the Government had decreed church bells ringing out would be a signal of an invasion of Britain by enemy forces during the Second World War.

His father was contacted by the clergy and asked to gather ringers to announce to the town the War had ended and Frank, then just ten years old, was proudly among them. From that day on, his life would be dedicated to the church.

Frank remembers the moment like it was just yesterday. He continued: "He took my mum, me and my sister and two brothers up to the chamber and from then on I was committed.

"It has been handed down our family for years. I felt a sense of duty to the Minster. I felt I owed it to my father and his mother and the rest of my family. They were all bell ringers."

His devotion to the bells did not go unnoticed by Cannon Gervase Markham and after 11 years he was appointed Tower Captain – a role he would keep to the end. Over the years Frank was responsible for raising and lowering the flag on the tower on auspicious occasions. He climbed up the tower three times a week to manually wind up the tower clock before the Minster switched to electric power.

He shared his knowledge and love of bell ringing with youngsters and adults and if a bell-rope broke, Frank would splice it together to be used again.

He also served as Ringing Master for the Northern Branch of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers.

It is because of his fundraising effort alongside Cannon Markham that the Minster is one of the few churches in the area to have ten bells after the double act decided it would be nice for the church.

One of Frank's happiest memories was when he and wife Maureen were invited to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London to witness the casting of the two new bells. He was even entrusted with stirring the bell metal.

Whenever there was a shortage of bell ringers, Frank would somehow rally the troops from other churches to make sure the Minster never stood silently.

But the modest, quiet natured man never sought praise – although his wife, Maureen, wants the town to know just how dedicated her husband was to its landmark building, sometimes a source of arguments between the loving couple.

She said: "People may have heard of golf widows but I am a bell ringing widow! But I am so proud of him. It has caused a few marital problems in the past, mainly when I wanted to go somewhere but he was committed to ring, but no-one else has shown the Minster the kind of devotion he has. There is only me who knows of his commitment because he is such a quiet man."

For Frank, bell ringing has been a way of life, his eyes light up when he talks about his favourite method – a ringing term for tune – Grandsire. It is a tradition he has participated in with pride – and one he fears will die out if more people are not encouraged to take up.

And while he may not be able to ring at the Minster anymore, he will still ring at the smaller churches in Tealby, Claxby and Middle Rasen – as much for his social life as it is his bells.

Frank added: "It is sad to say goodbye to the Minster but I have so many fond memories there and I will still be ringing in other churches. I won't stop ringing until I really have to."


Grimsby Telegraph (07-07-2012)

  • GRIMSBY: Bells, bell ringers and bell ringing
  • Bell ringers: Bibliography


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