Shelagh Melville

2/9/1929 - 18/10/2013


Adapted from a tribute given at Shelagh’s funeral service held at St Paul’s, Bedford on 12th November 2013 by Stephen Stanford.

Shelagh was born on 2nd August 1929 in Kew, near Richmond Surrey, one of five children; her family later moving to Burpham near Guildford. She attended the Grammar School (Guildford High) where she excelled, and went on to gain a BSc in Mathematics from London University followed by a Post Graduate Education Certificate at Leeds. Shelagh was clever – later in life she was a member of MENSA and was also a formidable contestant on the Channel 4 quiz show Countdown, for a time turning some of her fellow ringers into afternoon TV addicts! She also found fame on 20 to 1, another quiz show, and was very good at Crosswords.

Shelagh’s family worshipped at St Nicholas Guildford, a church with an Anglo Catholic tradition, and this no doubt forged the basis for her deep Christian faith and love of the church. It was here that along with her sister Monica she learned to ring, taught by Charlie Hazelden.

Although Shelagh’s parents were not ringers, her family had ringing connections. Shelagh’s great uncle, Sedley Collins, was born and lived in Debenham, Suffolk, and rang with the famous band there. Sedley’s second cousins, Edgar and David Collins, were also ringers who lived at Worlingworth. They both rang in a 16,000 of Oxford Treble Bob at Debenham in 1892 taking 10 hours and 32 minutes.

Shelagh’s first employment was with the Civil Service, at the Telephone Manager’s Office in Hanley, North Staffordshire. She lived and rang at Wolstanton, also regularly attending practices at Newcastle Under Lyme and Stoke on Trent. At Wolstanton Shelagh first met and rang with Julie and Ewart Edge, who were founding members of the Universities Association, and this presumably resulted in her introduction to Malcolm, who was also a founding UA member.

While she was living in North Staffordshire Shelagh rang her first peal, Plain Bob Minor at Keele for the Coronation, on 2nd June 1953. (Coincidentally, Shelagh’s sister Monica also rang her first peal on the same day; Grandsire Triples at Egham, Surrey). Just six days later, Shelagh rang her first handbell peal at Hartshill Stoke on Trent, also Plain Bob Minor, with Fred Wilshaw and Fred Grocott conducting.

From Staffordshire, in 1956 Shelagh moved to Kettering, taking a teaching post in Maths at Kettering Technical College. She served as the Kettering Branch Secretary for three years, also being elected to the Central Council to represent the Peterborough Diocesan Guild from 1963 to 1966. In 1964 Shelagh was elected Master of the PDG, the first lady to hold this post. It was during her time at Kettering that Shelagh rang her first peal for the Bedfordshire Association and of London Major; at Felmersham on 12th September 1959, conducted by Bryan Pattison.

Shelagh’s next move was in 1965 to Kings Lynn where she took a teaching post at Kings Lynn Technical College. Malcolm was also teaching in Kings Lynn at this time, and it may have been her reason for moving there. Here she rang and worshipped at St Margaret Kings Lynn and was actively involved with the usual activities; peal ringing, district meetings, outings, and of course teaching learners.

Shelagh and Malcolm were married at St Paul’s, Bedford on 9th August 1969, spending part of their honeymoon on a UA tour in York! They made their home at 45 Beverley Crescent where they lived for the whole of their married lives, and where Shelagh continued to live until she was taken into hospital just a couple of months before her death.

On moving to Bedford Shelagh secured a teaching post in Maths and Physics, at what was then Mander College. Her arrival in Bedford occurred at a time when the Sunday service ringing at St Paul’s was at its peak. A ringer of Shelagh’s experience and undoubted abilities was soon welcomed into the band, and it was at this time that she did most of her more advanced ringing, as the band progressed to ringing various new and more challenging Surprise Royal methods under Stephen Ivin’s leadership. Malcolm and Shelagh contributed financially when the bells were augmented to twelve in 1978, and Shelagh rang in many of the early twelve bell peals including the first; Grandsire Cinques on 12th March 1978, followed by Stedman Cinques on 10th April, Cambridge Maximus on 15th May, and Bristol Maximus on 28th December.

However, Shelagh was first and foremost a Sunday Service ringer and she remained very loyal to the band and ringing at St Paul’s through times good and not so good, until sadly failing health made it too difficult for her to climb the stairs. Although she always enjoyed the challenge of ringing on twelve, I think her preference was more for the high standard of ringing that had been achieved on ten.

Shelagh’s also had a great passion for ringing at new and different towers, and it was in this context that I have my earliest and perhaps fondest memories of her. She had an impressive record – even at that time I believe she had rung at 4,000 or more different churches – although she never quite managed to catch up with Malcolm!

Shelagh was an excellent teacher, and even as a youngster, I always found our conversation to be challenging and engaging. Travelling with her to meetings and outings as we often did was invariably an enjoyable experience; she knew very well how to encourage and motivate young people. I recall that she was particularly useful when it came to tricky maths and physics homework. Rather than struggle at home, it was far easier to attend the Bedford practice for a consultation with Shelagh, and in addition you had some very good ringing!

Shelagh also had some quirky tastes in music. It was Shelagh who introduced us to the Master Singers and their version of The Highway Code and The Weather Forecast, beautifully sung to traditional psalm chants. This was typical of her sense of humour.

One Christmas, Shelagh presented my brother David with a hand written exercise book in which she had written out in different colours the structure of Stedman Triples with a detailed explanation over several of the pages. It was a real work of art – a labour of love that must have taken her ages to produce. For Shelagh, nothing was too much effort to help and encourage a young ringer’s progress.

Shelagh presents Melville Cup in 2008

In later years she presented the Melville Cup to the Bedfordshire Association, in memory of Malcolm, thereby establishing the annual inter-district ringing competition for young ringers. This, as well as the young ringers that are encouraged by it, will remain a very fitting tribute to their memories for many years to come.

Shelagh was a kind and generous person. Over many years she cared for her elderly mother who towards the end of her life was physically impaired and required considerable assistance. Notwithstanding their friendly rivalry that included competing to ring at the most and rarest towers, and each receiving their own copy of The Ringing World, Shelagh was very devoted to Malcolm and she cared dutifully and lovingly for him also during his final and more difficult years.

Shelagh was also a regular contributor to Bell Repair Funds and various other charities. When shopping vouchers first became popular and replaced Green Shield Stamps, Shelagh would donate the same amount as she saved from using her vouchers, to the bell repair fund, and she encouraged a number of others to do likewise.

I too remember Shelagh’s kind nature. She would always be pleased to meet you and engage in conversation, and she would invariably greet you with that almost mischievous smile – many of us know it – as if to say, what have you been up to? And of course she was genuinely interested to know.

Shelagh’s kindness and generosity were unquestionably rooted in her Christian faith. She regularly attended the services at St Paul’s for many years, and following retirement engaged in welcoming visitors and various other activities. In more recent years she also found friendship at St Mary’s, Goldington where she attended the Wednesday morning communion.

Shelagh rang a total of 499 peals, her last being Cambridge Surprise Minor at Arlesey on 17th November 2001. 195 of her peals were rung for the Bedfordshire Association (far more than for any other society) and 127 of them were here at St Paul’s Bedford (her leading tower by some margin). She conducted 19 of her peals in a range of methods including peals of Cambridge and Yorkshire Royal. These were rung during the early eighties when Shelagh was a keen participant in a Bedfordshire all ladies band who rang several peals together.

A proud member of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths with 60 years membership, Shelagh was elected on 17th January 1953 and rang 8 peals for the Society, all except one of them at Bedfordshire towers.

A Requiem Eucharist was held for Shelagh at St Paul’s, Bedford on 12th November that was attended by members of her family along with a significant number of neighbours, church members, and ringers from Bedfordshire and further afield. The bells were rung half-muffled following the service as the cortege left the Church for a private cremation.

Our last meeting was in Bedford hospital, one Sunday evening, when Shelagh was clearly very weak. As we talked she told me, “I have seen the Doctor and it’s not good news I suppose. I cannot have any more antibiotics and they’ve withdrawn treatment”. A broad smile then came across her face – I think many of us know it well – as she said in her typically pragmatic and unassuming way “They didn’t really tell me anything, but I think I can read between the lines and work it out, so I suppose that’ll be it.” She was at peace, and to the very end her usual self. She was indeed a wonderful lady. We thank God for giving her to us and the time that she spent amongst us. May she rest in peace.

Author: Stephen Stanford

From the obituary published in The Ringing World