15/09/1940 - 28/09/2022The first tribute shared below was summarised at Tony’s funeral from thoughts that Tony and Rosemary’s daughters, Sharon and Nicola compiled and were read out by Rev Gill Jessop.
Anthony James Thomas (Tony) was born in East Sussex on 15th Sept 1940 and was the eldest of the 3 Evans’ brothers. After his school years he initially wanted to join the RAF but when he failed the eye test he decided to move to Buckinghamshire and worked his way up to be a professional chartered mechanical engineer part of the senior management team for a machine tools company.
Tony loved being involved in all sorts of hobbies among them Bridge where he represented Buckinghamshire in county competitions, walking, cycling, brewing his own wine and beer, badminton and of course, bell ringing. As a young man, Tony learned the basics of bell ringing, but it was not until the move to Sutton, near Castor that his ringing really took off.
It was at the badminton club that he met Rosemary and they were married in July 1966 and they went on to welcome two daughters, Sharon and Nicola and in due season celebrate the arrival of 4 grandsons, George, James, William and Edward. One of his great pleasures in later years was to ride to the Peterborough Beer festival with his grandsons.
In the early 1990s Tony was reacquainted with bellringing when the bellringers at St Mary’s Peterborough went to ring a St Kyneburgha’s in Castor between 1989 – 1991, due to their church being demolished and a new one being rebuilt. This period helped re-establish a new band of ringers and Tony became a very keen and dedicated bellringer and would also travel far and wide to ring at many different churches and Peterborough Cathedral. Tony was very involved with training other ringers and greatly encouraged them often spending 4 nights a week going to help with different practice nights.
Tony was ambitious and determined, always willing to give 110% to anything he did. Having had an early retirement he became the Branch Steward and used his technical skills in making a number of local towers ringable again as a lead up to the Millennium. These included the bells at Glinton, Barnack, Easton on the Hill and transforming the best ring of 6 at St Kyneburgha’s to the finest peal of 8 in the area. When this work was completed, he helped sought funding to transform St Kyneburgha’s into a Ringing Centre and that lead to the establishment of the Castor Ringing School.
Tony retired from ringing in late 2016. He always helped others first and foremost and it is believed he taught 100 new ringers, predominantly through the Castor Ringing School. This is reflected that Tony rang just 9 peals and over 200 quarters.
Tony always rose to a challenge including in 2005 a charity bike ride from London to Paris, where he cycled with Keith Underwood.
He had a great sense of humour, could be quite sarcastic at times and people didn’t always know if he was serious or not but if he said he would do something he could be trusted implicitly to follow it through.
Tony was full of life and lived it to the full, there is so much to give thanks for and so much to celebrate, he will be greatly missed and never forgotten by his family and friends.
The following thoughts from William Baxter, Tower Captain of St. Kyneburgha’s 2004-2019, gives a personal tribute, which echoes with many involvements that the local ringing community in north Cambridgeshire has with Tony.
I met Tony in February 1996 in response to his call for pupils to learn bell ringing at St. Kyneburgha, Castor. This was followed by three or four other villagers joining Monday practice nights by May. Tony was assisted by Steve Reed, and slowly we all learnt to control our bells and ring for Sunday Service by the autumn. Tony insisted that if we came to learn we be immersed into the social ritual at the Royal Oak after practice, and to drink real ale, including our lady ringers. By early 1997 we had a band of Castor residents and rang a quarter peal. This was entirely due to Tony’s patience and perseverance, assisted by Steve Reed and others that the Castor Band has been so successful, ringing over 130 times a year. He took us to other towers, and even on tours.
With the millennium fast approaching Tony focused on bringing as many local towers as possible to quality ringing status. He attended to Easton on the Hill, Glinton, Warmington, St. Johns, Barnack, and others. Working with Haywood Mills, Steve Reed and Edward Baxter, and the local volunteers from their own towers. He observed that with getting these towers fully ringable again, and other towers that had bells but short of ringers, new ringers were needed, so he started a Saturday training morning at Castor with the object of getting 100 new ringers for the millennium.
With the help of all his ringing friends, and the Castor band, this commenced every Saturday 10.00-12.00 on open bells. How Castor residents stood the cacophony for two years is a mystery, never a single complaint. Tony and his team training over 120 new ringers for the millennium.
Tony observed that Castor had a very open belfry with a peal of 6 Henry Bagley 1700 bells hung on a 1900 Taylor H frame, had plenty of room for two more bells. So, with the support of the Rector William Burke, and the village we raised the money for the augmentation in 10 days. Tony arranged a bus to take everyone to Taylors Loughborough to see the casting of our two trebles, and William Burke had them baptised. The delivery, and preparation was organised and done by Steve Reed, Theo Hensman, Edward and myself. Tony sadly could not participate as whilst clambering about in a pigeon infested tower assessing bells, he cut himself and got an infection. He was heartily disappointed not to be involved in his inspired project in his own tower, when he has supervised in so many others.
Tony was sensitive to the noise of six bells with beginners attempting to learn bell handling for two hours each Saturday that he decided to take the Castor Band to a tower with a simulator to try it out one November morning in 1999. A great success, so he commissioned me and Steve Reed to make and fitted one at Castor. This was quickly installed and the village were able again to enjoy a peaceful Saturday morning whilst training continued and still does to this day.
Two of Tony’s particular successes were Stuart Weston and Edward Baxter. Both within a year were ringing quarter peals, Stuart rapidly moving on to peals, and conducting. Edward involved in steeple keeping and tower restoration.
Tony observed that Castor Tower had a set of hand bells which had not been used for years, he had them serviced and Maggie Noble started the Castor hand bells in 1997 with five ladies and Edward ringing by numbers. Les Hill at the Royal Oak invited them to ring that Christmas as “Eddy and the Hand Belles”. A packed pub with Cannon Philip Spence presiding. Tony was so impressed that, at his own expense commissioned an extended peal of hand bells so that more could be rung, and Maggie moved to music rather than numbers and recruited an all-girl band with most of the original band and again this was a great success, and the legacy of Tony’s gift lives on in their music today and for the future.
After 10 years as tower captain of Castor, Tony retired, job done. Now he concentrated on the creation of the Castor Ringing School with the simulator. He built a team around him which was very successful, and trained more than 50 new ringers. He retired after 10 years. Handing over to David Teal, and it’s still a very successful school.
It’s with great appreciation of all of us who have been introduced to church bell ringing, and trained to ring by Tony and his team, for his considerable patience, good humour, and fun. Keeping the social side of ringing to the fore. Without doubt his legacy is that many local villages and the city now have bells that can be heard on a Sunday, rung by many ringers he trained, or had a hand in the restoration of their bells. What a testimonial to Tony’s memory.
Tony’s lasting legacy around this part of England will echo for years to come to the sound of church bells, that he made possible, but we shall not forget that he also made it social, and even changed some lives through bell ringing.
One thing will stay with me and my son Edward, if it were not for Tony we could not have rung hundreds of times together, something I never expected, and one of the great joys I have had.
William Manton Baxter.
Author: Andrew Christie