Jean Cox’s Plaque in Memory of Doug Vellender

During the coronavirus pandemic, retired East Garston dressmaker Jean Cox decided to make face masks for charity. The response was overwhelming. After raising £1,400 for Macmillan Nurses and £1,500 for the East Garston Church bell fund, Jean decided to commission a plaque in memory of Doug Vellender (1932 – 2006) to be hung in the bell tower in recognition of his years of service to the church. 

Doug Vellender has been described as the driving force behind East Garston’s band of bell ringers. His whit, dedication and total likeability will live on with anyone that was privileged to know him, and even more so for those that were fortunate enough to be able to call him a friend. Please see tribute from his daughter Zoe Cleal (nee Vellender).

Doug learned to ring at Didbrook on the Stanway Estate in Gloucestershire. Unusually for those days he was taught by women; a ladies college had been evacuated to the area during the war and some of the students had become bell ringers. 

When ringing recommenced once the risk of invasion was over, they were keen that there should be a band able to ring for VE Day.

After moving to East Garston, he became the Tower Captain in 1969, and revived the bell ringing after 6 dormant years. Doug paid considerable tribute to Bob Powell, who was the only member of the old band to continue to ring regularly, supporting Doug and his learners by ringing Tenor behind when needed until ill health prevented him from coming.

Doug’s children Zoe and Chris can remember watching the bell ringing when they were young, and Doug taught all three of his children to ring the bells. Doug began to teach his family to ring, initially silently with the clappers tied. He paid no heed to the taboo against women in the bell tower and his daughters would have been the first women to handle a bell rope in East Garston, even though the country’s first ever lady ringer was recorded as long ago as 1896, just 25 miles away in Basingstoke. 

In 1971 the bells were restored, moving parts cleaned, the frame repaired and the accumulated debris of years removed. The band was now augmented by several other villagers. One of Doug’s pupils, Richard Thumwood, is now one of the top bell ringers in the country, and is frequently invited to bell ring at the most famous towers here and abroad.

Ted Baker from 2 Downlands was the key-holder by dint of living nearest to the church; there was Bob Powell from 3 School Lane; John Russ from 15 Hillside; and his brother-in-law Bert Wooldridge from Maidencourt Farm Cottages and later Meadow Cottage. After several years, the old guard fell away and East Garston bells became silent. 

Bob Powell continued mowing the church-yard grass, struggling with the ancient mowers, and winding the clock – calling in at 2 Downlands to borrow the key from Ted Baker. Doug saw Bob struggle with the mowing and clock-winding and offered to help. He ended up taking over from Bob and mowed the church-yard grass for twenty years. 

Doug formulated the idea of creating a new team of bell ringers. Bob Powell from the old guard was willing to join in and Hilary Re’em agreed to learn to ring so that we could have a six. Sarah rang the treble; Zoe rang the second; Hilary the third; Chris the fourth; Doug the fifth and Bob the tenor. Eventually, with the agreement of Bob Powell, their ringing was unleashed on the village. Despite expecting complaints due to need of further practice, they soon received compliments from people saying how nice it was to hear the bells. 

As they became more proficient they occasionally cycled to Lambourn to help David Harris out with weddings. Janet Easterling and her daughters Katrina and Tamera moved to the village and expressed an interest in learning to ring in 1971. Janet learned quickly and helped Bob out by taking a turn with the heavy tenor.

Doug became involved with the Newbury Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers. Making the tower fit for visiting ringers meant that tons of bird mess and nests had to be removed from the tower and the windows rewired; Hilary and Janet helped considerably with this arduous task. Doug made a new trap door for the clock weights to block off the deafening sound of the bells in the ringing chamber. Janet’s husband Les painted the clock-case a bright orange. 

Over the years Doug had many ‘learners’ some of whom went on to do well and others who didn’t. Neil Hawkins deserves a special mention for taking over the mowing of the church-yard grass, although he did not become a bell ringer. 

The individual band members thought very highly of Doug and he of them; he much appreciated their friendship and visits to him in hospital during his last months. Of this group, he was very proud of how Maureen Tarbox’s dedication took her ringing to another level. 

Thanks to his skill and love of bell ringing East Garston now has an enthusiastic band of ringers, so it is hoped this centuries-old tradition can continue long into the future. 

If you are interested in bell ringing in East Garston today, please contact Nigel Gay on nbbadger@yahoo.com

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