John Francis Penning (d. 1924, aged 72)

John Penning (Click on the picture for larger version)

John Penning was a writer and lived at 42 Fairycroft Road. He used to "pen" little ditties (see Change Ringing (a long poem written in 1879 to celebrate what, at the time, was thought to be the first peal in Walden for over 60 years) and Saffron Walden ringers at Drayton (1900)). Below are three more, the first seemingly a retort to a complaint concerning Great Ringing Day written around 1892, the second recalling an outing to Horsham in August 1903 and the third following the loss of a peal of Stedman Cinques in 1921:

Saffron Walden Ringing Day, JUNE 27th.

[From newspaper cutting pasted as frontispiece to account book of 27 June 1892]

Thomas Turner, the old records say,
Had left his home and lost his way—
The roads were crooked; and evening grey
            Made him wish for the light of the morning.
As the night wore on his spirits died out,
At the dismal prospect of walking about
With no sound or light—he essayed to shout—
            And he sighed for the daylight's dawning.
But “Hark! What is that? An angel's voice?
O speak again—make my heart rejoice;
Let me hear once again that melodious voice,
            To guide me this dreadful night.
A bell! a bell! now I know full well,
I may safely travel o'er hill and dell,
For no goblin, ghost, or spirit fell
Dare stir abroad when the old church bell
            Peals out with its music bright.
“Another bell sounds! Another! Still higher,
The ringers have met, and 'neath some church's spire—
It must be those bells I always admire,
            The good bells of Saffron Walden.
Yes! now I listen, they are in full swing!
They have lightened my heart, their praises I’ll sing
And provide them the means that ever they'll ring,
And in after ages to memory bring
            Thomas Turner of Saffron Walden.”
And he kept his word, for when interred,
And his will was read, he there referred
To the bells' great service, and he averred
That on the ringers there be conferred
A payment that the bells might be heard
            Through every generation.
“C. C.” in his random rhyme of last week,
To prevent this observance now gladly seek
But the funny manner in which he speaks
            Shows lack of veneration.
‘Tis right to observe it; and few will complain—
Nay, rather, much rather, are pleased to retain
The “great ringing day,” and “C.C.” in vain
            Will vote its non-observance.
There are those who sigh for such perfect quiet,
That a pleasant sound is a dreadful riot;
And to hinder others' enjoyment would try at—
            Yet are fond of making disturbance!
From sixteen hundred and twenty-three
It has been observed; and will doubtless be
Long after “C.C.” has ceased to see—
Not a silent monument—but to hear with glee,
            And win our admiration.
There are monuments that in silence be,
And I meekly suggest to my friend “C.C.”
That to imitate these he is perfectly free—
            Let them be his emulation.
                                                              J. F. P.

The Saffron Walden Society.—August 14.

[From "Bell News", Aug 22 1903.]


We take a train to Liverpool Street,

A 'bus to London Bridge ;

Then off to Horsham for a treat,

And pass the “Leith Hill” ridge.


The scenery is of the best,

And Horsham town is good ;

And gave our supper quite a zest,

Which “coming round” we “stood.”


To hear a “hearty welcome all,”

From the worthy Canon there ;

And thanks from our Walden Master fall,

Those sentiments we share !


The dainties' midst sweet flowers placed,

With button-holes supplied;

The Vicar, with his daughters graced

The ringers side by side.


The supper o'er, we seek the spire,

And “Stedman” speaks once more;

But through the practise of the choir,

To ring again forebore.

Now to the parish room we go,
Our friends invite us there ;

They entertain us with a show,
And quite a goodly fare.


They “Cousins once removed” essay,

In quite a pleasing style ;

And their dramatic powers display,

To raise the frown or smile.


Next “Do not let the lady go”

We quite accord with this;

And by applause we fully show,

We like the charming “Miss.”


On all our pleasures to dilate,

Would take up too much space ;

And as the hour is getting late,
We find our resting place.


The Black Horse—only black in name !

We treated were so well;

That when we go again, the same

We vote is our hotel.

The morning, with its wind and showers,

Breaks as we fill a brake ;

To just exemplify our powers,

And a peal at Warnham make.


Mr. Charman at the church we meet,

Who wishes as success;

And we ascend to meet defeat,

For we break down I confess.


For though each bell goes e'er so well

All in such perfect state;

Something is wrong, for sad to tell,

There's no peal to relate.


Then we rode back again dinner call!
Some old friends there we see ;

The Canon, Burstow, Vaughan—we all

Enjoyed their company.


We thank our friends, who did their best,

For all went happily ;

And trust they'll come and put to test,

Our appreciation see.



Easter Monday May 29th 1921 - A failure

Granted it was a failure - what of it?

We're not dismayed, disgraced - oh not a bit!

Not to succeed in everything we try,

Although we do our best we will deny

That we are beaten, and some other day

Our efforts with success must find the way-

    Three hours forty minutes was not bad,

Six minutes longer would have made us glad!

A peal of Stedman Cinques is no mean thing

And even this "attempt" some pleasure bring.

1  See Frederick Senior at this treble rope

this great exploit give the conductor scope.

2  Next him stand Alfred, Frederick's elder son,

3  Then Arthur James prepares himself for fun

4  Followed by Leonard, Ernest's younger lad,

5  Beside him Frederick Dench, a ringing "fad"

6  George Sparrow next surveys the circle round,

7  And Robert Strong the next position found;

8  Then Ernest Pitstow this attempt begun,

9  And by his side Harold, his eldest son;

10 John Penning at his favourite bell finds place,

11 And Frederick Junior fill the eleventh space

12 While Walter Parish swings the Tenor round

    (where himself and bell at "home" are always found.)


J.F.P. May 30, 1921.


From the Ringing World:





We very much regret to report the death of Mr. J. F. Penning which occurred on November 13th, at his residence, Saffron Walden. Deceased had been in failing health for the past two years, and during the last twelve weeks was confined to his bed.


Mr. Penning began his ringing career with the Saffron Walden Society in 1871, and was still a member of this ancient society at the time of his death. In the early part of his ringing career he was closely associated with the brothers Pitstow, and with them and the late Mr. Samuel Slater, and other members of the Glemsford company, he rang his first peal, which was one of Kent Treble Bob, at Long Melford.


At this time the, Walden company was at low ebb, Treble Bob and Bob Major being rung, but the, introduction of young blood caused great progress in all standard methods, and Mr. Penning was one of the band which rang the first peals in the following methods on the bells : Stedman Triples, Double Norwich Court, Superlative Surprise (first peal in the county of Essex), Cambridge Surprise (first peal in the Eastern Counties), London Surprise (first peal in the County of Essex). He also took part in the first peal of Treble Bob and Cambridge Surprise in the County of Cambridge.


Mr. Penning had practically a lifelong connection with the church. First as a chorister for a great number of years; as verger for 27 years, and as a ringer for 54 years. He was a, most regular attend­ant for Sunday Service ringing until the duties of his office as verger prevented him giving full time to ringing. Unfortunately, a full record of his peals is not available but they consisted of all standard methods from Bob Major to London Surprise, The last time he visited the belfry he expressed a wish to ring a course of London Surprise, but after ringing six leads he set his bell, being too fatigued to finish the course.


It was perhaps as a composer Mr. Penning was better known to the Exercise generally, he having composed peals of Bob Minor with the greatest number of calls yet published. In the early eighties he be­came prominent by the composition of peals of Grandsire Triples, was the first to improve on Holt's One-Part, and was the first to obtain a Five-Part peal with the use of ordinary singles. In 1907 he com­posed methods known as Penning Triples and Stansted Triples, and his peals in these methods were rung by the Stansted company.


Mr. Penning was a member of the Royal Cumberland Youths, the Ely Diocesan and Essex Associations, being district secretary of the latter for a number of years, and taking a great interest in the business matters concerning the associations of which he was a member.


Mr. Penning possessed a gift for writing poetry, and it gave him much pleasure to record ringing performances in the form of verse. He was for 27 years town hall keeper, and custodian and clerk of the corn market. He also occupied for many years the, office of secretary of the local Court of the Ancient Order of Foresters.


The deceased, who was 72 years of age, and leaves a widow and two daughters to mourn their loss, was laid to rest in the family grave at Saffron Walden Cemetery on November 18th, and in the evening the local company rang at the Parish Church with the bells half-muffled, 1,036 Grandsire Triples being the first part of one of deceased's compositions : A. E. Pitstow (conductor) 1, F. Dench 2, A. James 3, L. Pitstow 4, R. Strong 5, A. Evenett 6, F. J. Pitstow 7, W. Parish 8.

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