Frederick Dench (d. 1958, aged 82)

Fred Dench (Click on the picture for larger version)

Pioneer of Surprise Ringing (following peal at Royston)

Fred Dench described himself as a "coachbuilder" and regularly advertised the sale of cars in the Ringing World.

From the Ringing World (July 30th 1937)


A note concerning a peal of London Surprise rung at Royston, Herts, is a reminder of how modern is the general practice of Surprise ringing. In these times the methods of London, Cambridge and Superlative are in everyday use and are rung by hundreds of ringers. Last year the peals in these methods exceeded those of Stedman Triples and were nearly as many as Grandsire Triples - which shows, quite apart, from the rest of the Surprise peals, over a hundred in number in more than thirty other methods, how far and how rapidly method ringing has advanced. Our note recalls that Mr. Frederick Dench, whose name was more prominently before the Exercise a generation ago both as a ringer and composer than it is today, rang his first peal of London Surprise in 1895, as a member of a celebrated band at Crawley, Sussex. Up to that time only twenty-six peals of London Surprise had ever been rung! And, apart from three early peals, rung up to the year 1870 and regarded almost as freak performances, the bands concerned could be numbered on the fingers of one hand, while even in the whole twenty-five years, to the end of the nineteenth century, during which period Surprise ringing was being popularised, the conductors of London Surprise peals numbered a bare twenty, while, perhaps, only five of those could really be regarded as frequent conductors of these methods.

Surprise ringing in those days was practically limited to London, Cambridge and Superlative, and the men who rang them not unjustifiably regarded their performances as the ' top of the tree.' It was the band at Burton-on-Trent, of which William Wakley was the leader, that really showed Surprise ringing to be something more than the ' crank ' stuff it was often previously, and even afterwards, termed. They laid the foundations of its popularity and demonstrated that competent bands could practise it with success. Oxford Guild ringers, with J. W. Washbrook and the Rev. F. E. Robinson, followed the lead of the, Burton men, and soon the society at St. Peter's, Brighton, took up the example set, until, in the early nineties the interest which Surprise ringing provided over what were known as ' standard ' methods, was beginning to be widely recognised. Nevertheless, peals where by no means ' cheap.' The men who rang them earned their success, and they deserve all the credit which is theirs for raising ringing from the rut of the previous century, and laying the foundation of the aspirations of the majority of ringers today. A peal of London, Cambridge or Superlative raises little comment now; but fifty years ago it was a thing to stir the interest of every change ringer with an outlook not confined by the four walls of his own tower. It is just as well, perhaps, in these times when Surprise ringing has reached a stage undreamt of a generation ago, that ringers should be reminded of the pioneer days and of the men, some, happily, still living, whose enterprise and perseverance brought Surprise ringing within the realm of ' practical politics. '


From the Ringing World:

March 14, 1958


The death of Frederick Dench, of Saffron Walden, came as a great surprise to his many ringing friends. He had been in remarkably good health until a week before his death, when he developed a chill. A sudden turn for the worse turned to a diabetic coma from which he never recovered.

Fred Dench was born in the village of Worth, near Crawley, Sussex, in 1875, and commenced bell-ringing at the age of 13 with James Parker's band at Crawley. He soon showed great promise and was in the band which rang all the Surprise peals.

In 1897 he moved to London and joined the Rochester Row band for Sunday ringing. Later he became a member of the St. Paul's Cathedral band. One of his great peals in London was the non-conducted Stedman Cinques at Cornhill.

In 1911 he moved to the village of Ditton, near Cambridge, and rang with the Cambridge Youths. In 1914 he moved to Saffron Walden and opened up a business on his own as a coach painter. He became a member of the Saffron Walden Society, and composed and conducted many peals. He retired from business about ten years ago.

He will chiefly be remembered as a composer. He was the first to discover that IN and 5ths runs true to London Surprise and to break away from Middleton's peal of Cambridge Major by parting the tenors. His method, Bedford Surprise, extends from Minor to Maximus, and his Dench's Principle from Doubles to Cinques. He was one of the few to compose and conduct peals of Cambridge Surprise from Minor to Maximus. His record of peals is not available at present, but it is hoped to publish this later.

He was a very modest man and a most genial companion and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

The funeral service took place in the Parish Church and was conducted by the Vicar (Canon M. R. Sinker). Among those present were L. E. Pitstow (College Youths), A. E. Pitstow, J. Negus, L. Mumford, H. Cranwell (Saffron Walden Society), T. R. Dennis, E. Hibbins, J. Quinney, J. G. Gipson, S. F. Brown (Cambridge), J. W. Ward (Melbourn), Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Austin (Newmarket).

As the cortege left the church some well-struck Stedman Triples was rung on the half-muffled ring by the following : J. Quinney 1, S. F. Brown 2, J. G. Gipson 3, E. Hibbins (conductor) 4, T. R. Dennis 5, J. Negus 6, J. W. Ward 7, A. E. Austin 8.


The death of Fred Dench, which occurred on February 22nd, is a great loss to ringing and to the Exercise generally, for he was in the front rank as a composer and conductor.

It is 60 years ago when I first met Fred and I have esteemed his friendship ever since. He first learned to ring at Crawley, where the band, with ' Jim ' Parker as conductor, was one of the few hands at that time which was practising Surprise methods and which band did hold the record length for Superlative Surprise.

Ringing was Fred's only hobby, and like all great artists he put his heart and soul into it and became the composer of peals in various methods. At one time he contributed news of much interest in ' The Bell News' and later to 'The Ringing World.'

He was outstanding as a conductor and it was very rare that he made a mistake. It was when he and ' Jim ' Parker left Crawley and we all-worked in London that I first met Fred, and we rang several peals together. He left London and sent to Cambridge and later came to Saffron Walden. we considered it very fortunate to have such a noted ringer join us.

On the social side Fred had a fine personality and disposition, and it was a pleasure to spend an hour or two with him.

He was always ready to impart his knowledge to those who were eager to learn. I myself, and I think I can include his may friends, wish to express our regret at the passing of a friend and a great ringer.        A. E. PITSTOW. Saffron Walden.

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