Gordon Halls MBE 1931-2002

Gordon Allan Halls was born in Denton, Manchester, on April 15th 1931. His father’s employment later brought the family to Derby, where Gordon first went to school. A further employment move took the family to Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire. When Gordon was about 12 years old, his father told him he must do something for the church and gave him the option of joining the choir or learning to ring. Gordon chose ringing and said he would try it for three weeks! The first time Gordon rang on open bells was on May 8th 1945 – VE Day. His first peal was at Newton-le-Willows on April 27th 1951 – exactly 51 years before his death.

After leaving Newton-le-Willows Grammar School, Gordon continued his education at the UMIST, where he gained a first class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering. He did it the hard way, travelling from Newton each day to Manchester and doing all his studying at home. After his graduation in 1952 he was offered a job with Rolls Royce at Derby where he stayed for all his working life.
Gordon did not do a lot of ringing while he was at University, apart from Sunday ringing at Newton, but when he came to Derby, he joined the Cathedral band. He was soon ringing peals in Derbyshire, ringing in the first peals of London S Major and Yorkshire S Major to be rung in Derby, the first peal of Stedman Doubles for the Association and the first peal of London S Major to be rung by an all-resident band.
He rang a total of 2117 peals. He enjoyed both arranging peals and conducting them. Lunch times at Rolls Royce were spent with Denis Carlisle, composing peals. This was in the days when Peals had to be laboriously proved by the composers – no computers then to do it for you! Denis and Gordon produced many peal compositions, which are still rung today.

In 1961 the Association Bell Repair Fund, as we know it today was inaugurated and Gordon was its first secretary. Previously the funds in the BRF had consisted solely of collections taken at the end of ringing meetings. The new BRF, led by Gordon, invited PCCs to contribute annually.

The demolition of St Andrew’s church in Derby in the 1960s, with the loss of its fine peal of ten bells prompted Gordon to try to ensure that such a thing never happened again. He made himself known to the DAC and asked that he should be consulted about any work that was to be done which would affect bells. He was never invited to advise them, but that became his role before very long. Certainly, when St Alkmund’s church in Derby was demolished, he played an important part in finding new homes for the bells. He continued to work with the DAC until his death, visiting just about all of the churches in the Diocese with 4 or more bells, plus many of those with fewer bells, including many single bells. After the visits, reports had to be written, very often followed up with a visit to the parish concerned to speak to the PCC about any projected work on the bells. After his retirement from work, he did a lot of restoration work himself, with help from many other ringers: it was his aim that there should be no unringable bells in Derbyshire.

Gordon was a member of the Cathedral band for 50 years, but for 25 of those years, he also was Tower Captain at St Peter’s in Derby. He took over at a time when no ringing was taking place at St Peter’s. Gordon knew that bells, which are not rung, become unringable eventually, so he asked the Vicar if he could run a practice there. At first,St Peter’s was used as a training ground for the Cathedral but soon there were enough ringers to have bands for both towers.

Gordon taught many ringers the basics of ringing and was always ready to encourage beginners, though some may have been a little anxious about his rather brusque manner: he always said exactly what he thought. When Gordon gave praise, learners knew that it was deserved.

Gordon represented the Association on the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers from 1960 until his death. He was on the Bell Restoration Committee for fifteen years and undertook the first survey of unringable bells in the first such survey in the UK for that Committee. He was the author of a booklet of advice for those organising a bell restoration project.

In 2000, eighteen months after Gordon had had to undergo a horrific operation for cancer of the oesophagus, he found to his great surprise – and delight! – that he was to receive an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to campanology in Derbyshire. He thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Buckingham Palace, though it took some persuasion to get him to wear morning dress for the occasion!

Sadly, after three years during which Gordon had been able to enjoy ringing again, his cancer returned, this time in the form of two brain tumours. He died on April 27th 2002, leaving the world in general and Derbyshire ringing in particular, the poorer for his passing.

Article by Pat Halls