Nathan John Pitstow (d. 1914, aged 67)

Nathan Pitstow    (Click on the picture for larger version)

Much detail covered in Stacey's "The Pitstows of Saffron Walden" - see reference.

Nathan Pitstow's peal and compositions book is held in the Society's archive. He was Solicitor's Clerk by profession and lived at 25 West Road.

In the minutes for February 1914, we have the report of Nathan's death:

During the month the Company have lost through death the services of two of the oldest and most respected members. - Mr Jonathan Freeman aged 78, and Mr Nathan Pitstow aged 67.

Both died within a few days of each other Jonathan Freeman on Sat. Feby 14th and Nathan Pitstow Wednesday, Feby. 18th after long and painful illnesses.

Mr Nathan Pitstow was buried on Saty. Feby. 21st and the Company, and a large body of ringers from all parts attended the funeral, to show their last respects to one who was so popular and had attained such a high position as a "composer" in the ringing world. Immediately after the funeral a touch was rung, with the bells fully muffled.

Long peal of Superlative

From Bell News - 30 June 1894.


As is well known, on Whit Tuesday last, eight members of the Midland Counties Association, rang at Loughborough the longest peal in the above method which has yet been performed — 8800 changes. The record appeared in due course, and we publish this week a group photograph of the company [photograph]. Below a brief notice of each member is given in the order in which they rang.


Born at Saffron Walden on August 6th, 1846. From childhood fond of bells, and when he went into the office where he is now employed, he came into contact with three members of the old company of ringers. At that time Bob Major was only practised, and in three months he scored his first 1008 in that method, which entitled a probationer to be eligible for membership in the Saffron Walden company. He rang his first peal at Long Melford, in the Treble Bob method, which was a com­position of his own, in 1878. Since that year he has rang up. wards of 100 peals in all the well-known methods, and has com­posed peals is all the standard methods. He is a pupil of the late Jasper Snowdon in the theory of the Art, and owes all his knowledge of that part of the science to the great Northern Chief. He is a member of most of the country Associations, and also of the Ancient Society of College Youths, London, and represents his county Association as a member of the Central Council.


From the local paper we have:

DEATH OF MR N.J. PITSTOW. - A wide circle of friends this week learned with regret of the death of Mr Nathan John Pitstow, of West Road, which occurred on Wednesday at the age of 67. Mr Pitstow had been in ill health for several months, and his death was not altogether unexpected . He was the eldest son of the late Nathan Pitstow and of the late Mrs Pitstow, proprietress of the Cross Keys Hotel, a family which has been connected in many useful ways with the life of the town for number of years, and was much respected by all with whom he was associated. As a lad he entered the service of the Mr J. T. Collin, solicitor (now Messrs Collin and Adams) and was in the same employ for over half-a-century, latterly for many years as confidential clerk. It was in the bellringing world that the deceased was best known, for as a bellringer and composer he has had a notable career and was known among campanologists throughout the country. He has rung upon the bells of churches in almost every county in England and Wales, and in several towers in Scotland, for it was his hobby to go out for a week's ringing in various counties with such famous ringers of the old school as the late Mr Henry Johnson, of Birmingham, Mr Jasper Snowden, of Leeds, Mr Charles Hattersley, of Sheffield, Mr John Carter, of Birmingham, the Rev. F. E. Robinson, Vicar of Drayton, Berks (the first ringer to complete his thousandth peal), Sir Arthur Percival Hayward, of Duffield, Derbyshire, and Mr J. W. Washbrooke, of Oxford. He was also an accomplished player on the 'cello and viola, and for many years past took part in the orchestra at the Musical Society concerts. The deceased was for over fifty years connected with the Saffron Walden Benefit Building Society, and at the time of his death was Chairman of Directors, and at the annual meeting of the shareholders last week a vote of condolence was passed to him in his illness. He leaves a widow and two daughters, with whom much sympathy is felt. The funeral is arranged to take place next Saturday.

...On returning from the interment several ringers proceeded to the belfry and rang a muffled course of Stedman Triples. In the evening an attempt was made to ring a full muffled peal of Double Norwich Court, but after an hour's rining there was a collapse. The ringers were Messers HJ Tucker (conductor), R Strong, JW Nevard, Y Green, GH Sparrow, WE Dennis, A James and W Watts (tenor).

And from the Ringing press:


Death has caused another gap in the ranks of those who may undeniably be claimed to have been pillars of the Exercise in the past. Nathan Pitstow was known in person to a very large number of ringers, but, in name, he was known to a far wider circle, for his compositions have been rung in hundreds of belfries throughout the country. Good ringer though he was, it is principally as a composer that he is known, and he may be looked upon as one of the pioneers of investigation among the higher methods. Much of his most valuable work was done a generation ago, when the full possibilities of that phase of the Art was only just beginning to be realised through the efforts of such men as Mr. Pitstow, Mr. Charles Hattersley and Mr. Henry Dains and others, and it is among the older school of ringers that, perhaps, the fuller appreciation of the work of these composers is to be found.

Although he was not so much in the public eye in late years as formerly, Mr. Pitstow was by no means inactive in the department of our Art that specially appealed to him, and we understand that he has left a great deal of manuscript work. It is to be hoped that this may be examined, in order that the labours of the now departed composer may not be lost. Happily there survive him other members of his family, no whit the less keenly enthusiastic in the Art which he loved so well, who will be able to appraise what remains of Mr. Pitstow's work at its right value, and thus save it from the destruction which, we are afraid, has sometimes overtaken the labours of other masters of the past whose work has come into the hands of those who did not understand it, and consequently looked upon it as merely so much waste paper.

Nathan Pitstow was one of nature's gentlemen, and his place in the ringing world will not be easily filled. He was a man who always took the greatest pains to perfect himself in whatever he did, and it was to this trait that probably the Exercise owes the advantage of so much of his genius, for in his early ringing days only his inborn enthusiasm to succeed could have kept him attached to the Art in which, by his own initiative and energy, he rose to occupy such an eminent and respected place. Nathan Pitstow is now but a name, but it is a name which will endure in the Exercise, because it belonged to a man who gave the Exercise something that is worth keeping. His compositions are compositions of merit, and will outlive much that is newer but has no claim to anything but mediocrity.

And again:



Death has removed from the Exercise another of its shining lights; Mr. Nathan John Pitstow, of Saffron Walden, Essex, whose name, as a composer, is as widely known as that of any man of modern times, has passed to his long rest. The sad event took place on Wednesday of last week, and the intimation reached us by wire just too late to include the mournful tidings in our last issue. For some time past Mr. Pitstow had been in failing health, and the end was not unexpected.

Nathan John Pitstow was one of the ornaments among those who cherish our Art, and he had taken no small share in advancing its scientific side. He delved deeply into the mysteries of composition, and he has given us some gems in this department of ringing. His work was done at a time when composers had to explore for themselves, before the ground had been so well marked out as is to-day by knowledge based upon the labours of others. It is as a composer that the late Mr. Pitstow will be best remembered—although he was a ringer of no mean order—and, if there is any truth in what we are so often told, what is good will last, Nathan Pitstow's name will endure as long as peals are rung. It is impossible, in the space at our disposal, to touch in detail upon his many wonderful compositions, but his 5088 of Superlative has become almost a classic in that method, while his variation Thurstans' peal of Stedman Triples is almost equally well known.

Mr. Pitstow, who was born on August 6th, 1846, had been connected with ringing for close upon 50 years, for became associated with the Saffron Walden Society in 1867. Whatever he put his hand to he did well, and he lost no opportunity of making himself proficient. With his brother, Fred, he used to undertake long walks to towers in the district in pursuit of practice, and his ringing in Surprise methods was largely learned with Squire Proctor's band. His peals covered the whole gamut from Grandsire Triples to London Major; from Plain Bob to Stedman Cinques. During his active ringing career he took part in 182 peal performances, a list of which is given below, but, as we have indicated, his chief contribution to our Art was in the realm of composition.

Originally a member of the Royal Cumberland Youths, Mr. Pitstow subsequently transferred his affections to the College Youths, of which he was a member at the time of his death. One of the earliest members of the Essex Association he represented that society on the Central Council, and, in addition, was a member of the Midland Counties, Norwich, Oxford and Ely Diocesan and Yorkshire Associations.

The peals rung by Mr. Pitstow were as follows:-

Rung Conducted
Grandsire Triples 3
Grandsire Caters 7
Stedman Triples 31
Stedman Caters 7
Stedman Cinques 3
Bob Major 6 4
Bob Royal 2
Kent Treble Bob Major 41 15
Kent Treble Bob Royal 11 1
Kent Treble Bob Maximus 5 1
Oxford Treble Bob Major 2
Oxford Treble Bob Royal 2
Double Norwich Major 20 2
Double Oxford Bob Triples 1
Double Oxford Bob Major 1
Superlative Surprise Major 26 5
Cambridge Surprise Major 8
London Surprise Major 3
Total 182 28

Beginning life as a pupil teacher, Mr. Pitstow soon turned his attention to commercial matters, and entered an auctioneer's office, in which he rose to a responsible position. Ringing, however, was not the only pursuit in which Mr. Pitstow found pleasure and recreation. He was devoted to music, and was a member of the town musical societies. He was a 'cello player of much talent and has appeared in many chamber concerts with that instrument. On the playing field, in his younger days, he made a name locally as a cricketer, and, as a member of the Saffron Walden Town Club, he was one of the eleven which played for the town in 1872 and did not lose a match.

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