22nd March 1948 - 18th December 2005
John's obituary, written by Tom Longridge.
Having grown up at about the time that Dad was phasing out the amount of ringing he was doing, I've always found it fascinating to hear stories of him during his ringing days. Whenever I venture out to a new tower, I am always conscious of introducing myself as a Longridge. More often than not, the question "You're not a relation of John are you?" would be followed by a tale of how he had once called a peal, of his own composition, whilst ringing two bells, putting half the band right and removing his jumper half way through! But whenever I recalled what people said about him to Dad, he would never make much of it; but would usually reply with "Ah, one day I'll be introducing myself as Tom Longridge's Dad". His modesty meant that it's only in the last few months that I've come to realise how talented he was, and how much he did for ringing in Exeter. So if he couldn't "blow his own trumpet", then I will.
John learned to ring when about twelve years old; his father taught him having only recently learned to ring himself. John learned bell control at Silton and Bourton, North Dorset and very quickly progressed when the family moved to Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset with a local surprise minor band. Together with ringing when at Kings School, Bruton, and then in and around Salisbury where he attended the Tech College; John quickly developed all the skills needed to both ring and conduct. His quiet manner, together with his innate teaching skills made him a natural leader and organiser.
He came to Exeter in the late sixties as a student at St Luke's. He founded a ringing society at the college which later became the Exeter Colleges Guild, and he served as president of the ECG from 1991 until his death. He had been Exeter Branch secretary, treasurer and ringing master, and the report editor for the Guild of Devonshire Ringers.
St Mark's, Exeter, was John's tower - he was tower captain there for twelve years - and in that time he transformed bell ringing in Exeter. But in doing so, he was always able to carry the older generation of ringers with him. After ringing at St Mark's on Sunday morning he would then go and ring at Chudleigh, and stay for the service there. Then in the afternoon there would be a quarter peal, at Heavitree perhaps, or the Cathedral. By organising so many quarters (he rang over seventeen hundred in all), John ensured that the standard of ringing progressed very quickly - from a repertoire of not much more than the basic methods to spliced surprise. John's quarter peals, whether on Sundays, on quarter peal days or on "John's week" in the summer, meant that the learners he taught got plenty of practice. Many a visiting ringer would look bemused at straying members of the band as they cried out "John, John! I'm lost!".
He was asked to ring some very high-powered stuff, such as the record length of Bristol Surprise Major at Llanfeugan in 1974, which was at the time the longest peal rung on church bells (23,296 changes, lasting thirteen hours and ten minutes), and is still the record length in the method. Another pinnacle would be the peal of Grandsire Triples at St Mark's in 1977, which John called while ringing two bells.
He also had extraordinary skills in the technical side of composition and conducting which, over the years, combined with his increasing interest in printing, led to a number of publications, all of which have remained popular with ringers around the world. Typical of John that his adverts in the Ringing World were printed in reverse - white on black!
One of Dad's many pupil's in the seventies was a Susan Sherwood; or Mum as I prefer to call her. She learned for a couple of years with a group of friends at the age of 14. After meeting again and sharing a dance at a mutual friend's party when she was 18, Dad decided to call her back (two years later!) and ask her out. Although from what Mum says, it probably wasn't her ringing abilities that attracted Dad, there was obviously chemistry; after courting for three weeks they were engaged and they were married the next summer.
During the eighties Dad gradually retired from ringing; his commitments to the family and his own baby (a Heidelberg printing press) meant he had less and less time. However in the last few years, as well as teaching the three of us children to ring, he went out for the odd quarter and peal. Latterly, he had been doing some handbell ringing with the Exeter University crowd, and thereby again enabling Devon ringers to progress. He had hoped to reach his five hundredth peal, but in fact his illness left him two peals short. One of his last peals was of Little Bob Royal on handbells; rung at Buckfast Abbey to commemorate the first ECG peal of Royal, rung there 30 years ago.
Dad learned of his cancer in May last year and it was his faith in God and a lot of love and care from Mum that helped him through his last six months. It is with some sadness that I don't think I'll ever know about half of the things that Dad achieved. Much of the detail above was supplied by his brother, Chris, and Exeter ringer Lester Yeo. However I'll always remember Lester's words during Dad's Memorial Service: "We all knew that John was an excellent ringer but in fact, as time goes by, I realise that he was one of the best ringers I've ever known."