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A Brief History

The Surrey Association of Change Ringers was formed on Whit Monday, 17 May 1880. The Association consisted of membership from the churches of Ashtead, Beddington, Bletchingley, Croydon, Horley, Kingston, Leatherhead, Mitcham, Nutfield, Streatham and Wimbledon. These towers were said to be "in union", the Association depending from the outset on individual ringers' membership rather than on formal affiliation.

In the first year there were 45 ringing and 14 honorary members and the subscription was 2 shillings (10p).

The Surrey Association was a founder member of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers which first met in 1890, our representatives being Dr Carpenter of Croydon and E F Strange of Putney.

By 1891 membership had risen to 233, the towers of Benhilton, Carshalton, Epsom, Putney, Reigate and Thames Ditton had been added to the list of towers "in union" and 156 peals had been credited to the Association. A handsome membership certificate was introduced in 1888.

The first Association peal was Grandsire Triples at Kingston on 18 February 1881. Up to 1900 354 peals had been rung, 60% of these in one of three methods - Grandsire Triples 132, Stedman Triples 44 and Kent T B Major 38. The Association in 1900 was in a buoyant position with membership 247 and 29 towers in union including Capel, Charlwood and Guildford. Several new rings of bells had been installed and some augmentations had taken place in the first twenty years.

The location of Gillett and Johnston's Bell Foundry at Croydon, itself a centre of ringing with a local Society dating back to 1730, naturally gave rise to a close rapport between the Foundry and the Association. Association meetings took place at the foundry as did several handbell peals.

At the AGM in 1912 the Southern District was formed and by the end of the year had 53 members from Burstow, Charlwood, Horley, Redhill and Reigate. In 1913 a Western District based on Kingston was formed, the towers not falling in the two new districts becoming known as the Central District. In 1913 71 peals were rung, this being many more than has been achieved recently

In 1913 there were 299 resident ringing members. A year later 152 association members served in the 1914 - 1918 war, 24 of whom did not return. Towers that suffered the greatest loss included Burstow, Mitcham and Redhill. A roll of honour listing the name and rank of all association members who served in the Great War, and those who lost their lives is contained in the 6th volume of the Association Peal Books.

On 1 May 1927 the new Diocese of Guildford came into being and the new Guildford Diocesan Guild of ringers held in inaugural meeting on 31 December 1927. The Associations's Western District was immediately dissolved and the Central District became known as the North Western District from 1928.

In the 1920s and 1930s several notable peals were rung, including at Beddington the first peal ever of London Surprise Royal No 3 or "Beddington" version in 1933 as well as the first ever Bristol Surprise Royal in 1934, Superlative Surprise Royal (No 2) in 1935 and spliced London, Bristol, Cambridge and Superlative Surprise Royal in 1936. In 1933 membership stood at 274 of which 186 were North Western District and 88 Southern District members.

The Associations's first ever dinner was held in Croydon in October 1935 and was attended by 109 ringers and friends.

By 1950 the Association had recovered from the war and membership stood at 391 the highest since its foundation and two important proposals were put forward and agreed. These were the setting up of a Belfry Repair Fund and of an Association Library. In 1954 the title of the North Western District was altered to the present Northern District.

The 75th Anniversary was celebrated in 1955 and marked by a special dinner. A badge was introduced in 1958, the design of which remains the same today. The 90th Anniversary was marked in 1970 and the Centenary in 1980 both including a well supported dinner. Ringers from around the world on The Central Council visited Reigate in 1986 for their annual meeting.

Fund raising for Bell Restoration really took off in 1976 and numerous important projects have been supported. The Training Committee was set up in 1984 to take over the Training Day organisation and has quickly expanded to the level of activity and importance it holds today. A Public Relations Committee was formed in 1995 and has already completed four projects.

Membership is now over 600, enthusiasm runs high, peals for the Association total over 3,000, individual grants of up to £20,000 have been made by the Belfry Repair Fund and training events attract large attendances. In Bell Restoration, in Training and in Public Relations we are in the forefront of activity nationally.

However, the Association has never been one to rest on its laurels and it continues to look for ways of improving its service. Through advertising and training efforts, on 1st January 2000, a remarkably high proportion of its bells were rung for the Ring In 2000 scheme. 1999 saw the introduction of an annual Peal Weekend near the anniversary of the first peal to run alongside the Quarter Peal Week in May to celebrate the founding of the Association.

The objects of the Association are much the same as in 1880. We aim to promote, advance, maintain and support the ringing of bells for service, we aim to facilitate and assist in the instruction and practice of both the art and science of change ringing, and we aim to promote fellowship and harmony amongst bellringers. The Association was 135 years old on 17 May 2015. It has a record and standard of achievement of which we can be both grateful and proud.