The Devon Association of Ringers was founded in 1925 by Rev AF McCarthy as, according to certificates awarded at the time, “The Devon Association for the Encouragement of Round Ringing”, although this was soon changed to “The Devon Association for the Encouragement of Call Change Ringing”. The Association adopted its badge and motto, ‘We Serve’, in 1936 and it appears that it was at this time that the name of the Association was shortened to what it is today.
The first President, Alderman CJ Ross, was elected in November 1930 and presented the two shields which bear his name at the same meeting as his election to office, one for the eight bell competition and the other for the six bell competition. Following the Second World War, during which all ringing had ceased, the restart of the Association was announced in several of the county’s local newspapers, and a new president had to be elected due to the loss of Alderman Ross during the war, Sir John Shelley being duly elected to serve in this role. In November of 1945 a joint meeting was held between the Association and the Guild of Devonshire Ringers (GDR), who represent method ringing in the county, with a view to the possible amalgamation of the two societies, no changes were agreed and so the issue was left and consequently Devon still has two ringing societies to this day.
The first Association annual general meeting that was open to all affiliate towers was held in November 1957 at Diocesan House in Exeter, as prior to this the Association met only at committee meetings held at public houses in either North Tawton or Alphington, and it saw the introduction of the position of Vice-chair, one for North Devon (T Darch was elected to this role) and one for South Devon (A Tapper being elected here). The following year saw a female elected as president for first the first time, Lady Sylvia Sayers being the lady to hold the honour.
1959 saw the Association joining the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, an organisation that promotes bellringing nationally and also worldwide, with Rev J Scott as their representative and by the end of the decade 62 towers were affiliated. In February 1972 a second joint meeting between the Association and the GDR saw the formation of the Devon Church Bell Restoration Fund which aims to ensure the preservation in a ringable condition of as many of the bells in the county as possible.
From 1976 the position of President-Elect was introduced and the President would subsequently serve for 12 months to be replaced each year by the President-Elect who was elected at the AGM the previous year; Mr Tapper was the first person chosen to fill this new role. By the turn of the century, the Association’s constitution badly needed updating and so for the 2004 AGM a new constitution was prepared and adopted, with officers now serving for a triennial period. The constitution is now reviewed every 5 years.
It is impossible to tell the history of the Association without focusing some attention on the competitions that it runs and also decisions regarding the rules of these events. As more teams have looked to compete, the number of competitions has increased; the six bell competition was first held in 1925, followed by the eight bell in 1927. North and South qualification competitions for the six bell competition (now considered the ‘Final’) were introduced in 1947 as some 28 teams had entered the previous year’s final. A ‘Minor Final’ six bell competition was introduced in 1971 (with the final being rebranded as the ‘Major Final’) for teams finishing from sixth to tenth in the two qualifying competitions and, more recently in 1999, a Novice competition was introduced where there is no rising and lowering.
Initially all competing teams were expected to give the Hon. Secretary a list of the ringers expected to compete for their team, which was certified by their local rector, before the event, and in 1933 this was further tightened by stipulating that the ringers named must be regular service ringers for the tower they represent. Time limits were set at 20 minutes for the eight bell peal and 18 minutes for the six bell peal in 1931, although this latter time limit was reduced in 1935 to 15 minutes. For 1937 it was decided to limit the number of practices that a team could have at the tower where the competitions were due to be held to two, one of which had to occur between the announcement of the towers at the November meeting and the 31st December, whilst the other could be arranged at any time up to the Saturday preceding the contest, when the tower would close. Today this rule states the only towers a practice is allowed are those holding the 6 bell qualifiers and 8 bell contests and no more than one practice may be had up until the towers close a fortnight before the competition is held.
Although the two shields given to the Association by Alderman Ross, and which bear his name, were presented to the winning teams for the first time in 1931, the six bell competition had been held five times previously, in 1925 and 1927-30, and the eight bell competition had already been held four times, from 1927 to 1930. The names of the winning teams from these earlier competitions were also recorded on the shields, forming the complete list of winning teams from 1925 onwards to the present day. After the Second World War a new trophy, a cup, was presented by the new President, Sir John Shelley, and is awarded to the team placed second at the six bell final.
1972 saw six teams from the Devon Association invited to take part in a one-off competition in the City of London by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers and the Ancient Society of College Youths. The competition was held at the parish church of St Vedast, Foster Lane, in sight of St Paul’s Cathedral, and the teams chosen to compete were the top three from each of the qualifiers that year; West Down (1972’s champions), Swimbridge and Down St Mary from North Devon and Plymstock (1971’s champions), West Alvington and Kenn from South Devon. Reports in the Ringing World on the day say that while the ringers themselves were not happy with the standard of the striking virtually everyone else thought the standard was very high indeed and Kenn were the eventual winners having never won the Ross shield before or since.