The St James’s Society at St Clement’s-in-the-Strand © C.J. Cooper 2007


The St James’s Society removed its headquarters from St James’s Clerkenwell in 1839 to the Parish Church of St Clement Danes, and there the HQ remained until the church and bells were consumed in a hail of firebombs on May 10th 1941.


The cracked 9th & Tenor lying in the wreckage of the church, 1941.

The main activists in the St James’s Society were also very often the chief peal conductors for the Society too. Thus we find the earliest conductor was Thomas Tolladay, who did much for the advancement and rejuvenation of London ringing generally. He lived and worked in the Parish, and conducted 51 peals for the Society. The 70th peal for the Society was rung to his memory; he having died in October 1843. It was in 1843 that the 3rd bell cracked and was recast by George Oliver – a worker at Whitechapel foundry – at his small workshop in Bethnal Green, using moulds borrowed from the foundry. In like manner he cast two new trebles in 1844, making the ring up to ten. Those who rang on the bells before their destruction in the war testify that they were an exceedingly fine ring of ten.

William Dunn was one of the first main activists in the St James's Society.  He was the first recorded Master (and had also been Master of the Society of College Youths), and it may well have been due in no small part to him that the St James's Society HQ was moved to St Clements in 1839.  He was an outstanding handbell founder as well as a practical ringer, and had a workshop at 35 Carey Street (near St Clement Danes) and also at one or two other locations including Bloomsbury & Kings Cross.  A set of 16 of his handbells bought by Leeds Parish Church, Kent in 1842 (unwisely sold in 1933 and then repurchased by the church in 2003) are still in regular use for Christmas Carol tune-ringing and occasional changeringing by the Leeds Society of Handbell Ringers, and pictures of  these bells and their box are shown below.  The date on the box is 1842, and the bells are quite unusual as they are hemispherical.  They have a beautiful tone.

George Stockham was the regular peal conductor following Tolladay’s demise. He conducted 61 peals for the Society altogether; the last in 1869. Stockham was an interesting character – for many years he was Steeplekeeper of St Clement Danes. He was well respected in the College Youths, and rang many peals for that Society, also. He had taken over the premises formerly occupied by William Dunn (a handbell founder of note, and the first recorded Master of the St James’s Society) and continued to cast handbells. He was also responsible for the disastrous augmentation of the bells of Hythe, Kent to 10 in July 1861. The story appeared to run that Stockham had agreed to supply two new trebles to Hythe. 


The Hythe& District band (on a handbell ringing excursion) in the 1860's

Richard Dale (Aged 16); Richard Hills; James Harrison; Joseph Chapple; John Tombs; Mr Hubbard; John Friend; John Marsh.

Dale, Tombs & Marsh from Newington next Hythe, Hills from Sandgate, Chapple from Hythe, & Friend Conductor of the Hythe band and Harrison Conductor of the Folkestone band.

John Friend was the Conductor of the Hythe band, and a member of the College Youths, and Stockham had agreed with him to cast two trebles for Hythe. However, it appears that, Stockham realising that he had not the wherewithal to cast church bells at his little workshop in Carey Street, he purchased two bells from Whitechapel Foundry and chiselled the Mears lettering off! This put the bells horrendously out of tune so that when they were installed and rung the inhabitants of the town fled to the seafront to escape the terrible noise! The evidence in the ensuing court case can be read here. Stockham appeared to win the day (probably rather unjustly), and it seems that Friend never rang with the College Youths in London again. The two trebles remained in storage at Hythe until 1891 when they were broken up and used to defray the cost of recasting the 7th & Tenor there. 

Still, Stockham was well regarded as a man of integrity in the College Youths and the London ringing scene in general - he had, indeed made St Clement Danes the chief meeting point of all the London towers, and was also a member of the band who rang the long peal of 8580 Stedman Cinques at Cornhill in 1861, and featuring in one of the verses of the doggerel rhyme composed by the Tenor ringer in that peal, James Dwight the Wheelwright of St Dunstan, Stepney.

William E Albone took over the Steeplekeeping at St Clement Danes in 1870, and occupied the position until 1898 when he was not re-elected. He was so bitterly shocked and disappointed that he died the following year, and the bells were rung half muffled to his memory. Another famous old member ‘Toppy’ Langdon died the same year, and again, the bells were rung half muffled.

E. Alexander Young was a great character of the Exercise. He was a member of the St James’s Society (renamed as the LCA in 1903). He was always most interested in reviving old traditions, and in some cases introducing new ones! As a practical ringer he was, by his own admission, fairly hopeless. But his great contribution to the Society was in his designing of a splendid membership certificate...... 


and Master’s badge which he presented in 1924 to mark the centenary year (by that time the Society had been renamed The London County Association). 

He also designed the ASCY Master’s badge which was presented to that Society in 1937 – its tercentenary year. E.A. Young learned to ring at St Clement Danes in about 1890. He rang his first rounds there one Sunday evening and said of it “I wish to draw a veil over my effort, having been roundly admonished for it by H.R. (‘Bob’) Newton.” Once Young was a proficient ringer, he was elected a member of the St James’s Society at its meeting place, ‘The Essex Head’ which was just off a side-road, hard by St Clement Danes. Having become a reliable ‘tenor behind’ man, he decided he had no particular desire to advance further in the Art, and with the first-rate local band at St Clement’s at the time – “those old boys were all masters of their art; it was a joy to listen to and watch them at their work”, he had no desire to become involved in ringing ‘inside’. He was St James’s Society Secretary from 1892-1894.

Challis F. Winney was, of course, a great activist in the St James’s Society (and later as the LCA) and held the office of Master from 1897-1903, following which its name changed to the London County Association. He learnt to ring at St John’s, Wilton Road (hard by Victoria Station) in the 1880’s and later became very involved in the St James’s Society and the College Youths. He conducted 33 peals for the Society and was an absolutely first-rate ringer and conductor on tower and handbells, and a very staunch and devoted high Churchman held in the highest esteem by all his contemporaries.

Henry R.(Bob) Newton was another regular St James’s Society supporter, and a renowned heavy bell ringer, especially with the College Youths. He rang many of the heavy London tenors to peals and attempted to turn Exeter Cathedral Tenor into a peal of Treble-bob twelve, though he unfortunately did not suceed in this tough undertaking.

In 1893, E. Alexander Young observed that the original 8 at St Clement’s (3rd of which had been recast in 1843) celebrated their bicentenary, and he 'sounded out' the Rector, Rev. Lindsey with regard to attempting a peal for the occasion. The Churchwardens promised a supper and to bear the cost of a peal board marking the occasion, and the ringers jumped at the idea. The other ringers arranged the band, but Young’s name was left out!  He determined that he should ring in the peal as it had been his idea in the first place, and the Rector supported him, and told the other ringers to ‘give the lad a chance’. Thus the other members had to agree to Young ringing the Tenor. Some of them however were displeased at having been got into this position, and determined to teach Young a lesson! They filled the bearings up with grit in order to make the bell run badly and wear him out, but they overdid it, and 40 minutes into the peal the bell set and could not be pulled off again! The peal was thus postponed for three months whilst William E. Albone (the Steeplekeeper) attempted to make the bell run well again, but the bearings had been ruined, and two men had to be employed to ring the peal using two separate ropes – Young was not one of them. A board was subscribed for and was hung in the porch. It was destroyed when the church was bombed in 1941.  Because of the damage to the bearings the Tenor had to be rehung in 1894 by Mears & Stainbank.


St James's Society [Est. 1824].

It has been 104 years, but now the old St James' Society [Established in 1824] is working again with an image to match that of the old times.  Whilst the old LCA had patches of success, it - unfortunately - was cared for very little in latter years, and was supposedly closed.  It would appear this was to satisfy various ends.  The St. James Society, in striking contrast to the LCA was a much smaller organisation which aimed at a certain way of carrying on, rather than trying to emulate many of the County Associations which had sprung up at the time of the renaming and enlargement of the old St James' Society into the LCA.  The LCA served its purpose in its time, and could have had a future, but ultimately this would have involved shaking off its image, and it would appear that few wished to bother with that.  Practices will be arranged to suit those wishing to advance themselves in the Art within London, placed above a territorial Association level, but below the standard for the two senior London Societies.  Whilst it will be useful to assist persons wishing to advance their ringing, it will also be as well for folk to note that it is a common misconception that the St James' Society was originally formed to allow ASCY and SRCY members to ring peals together, and this is not at all an aim of the current Society, any more than it was the aim of those who began the original St James' Society.  Until the 1850's the St James' Society was simply a Society which  was founded in part by Thomas Tolladay from a society calling itself  "The Westminster Youths" and Established about the year 1800.  Tolladay was very keen to revive ringing in London which had reached a low ebb.  From the 1850's, members of both SRCY and ASCY rang peals under the name of The St James' Society simply as a flag of convenience to allow them to ring peals of particularly Stedman Cinques on handbells and, for instance, the 3rd peal of Superlative ever rung (on tower bells at St Matthew's Bethnal Green) on 9th February 1850.  It is an important distinction to make here that the  St James' Society was never founded as a way of members of ASCY/SRCY ringing peals together, and thus there is no suggestion that the current Society should be seeking to do this; rather more lately a St James' Guild seems to be used to this end.

The above picture was taken outside St. Clement Danes at the 1926 AGM of the St James's Society (which was then called The London County Association)  It includes Challis F. Winney (fourth from the right, 2nd to back row) who was a lifelong supporter of the ringing at St. Clement Danes arranged by The St James's Society (and later as the LCA) and was Master of the St James's Society from 1897-1903, when its name was changed to The London County Association of Change Ringers.  He was also a distinguished member of ASCY.  Also pictured 5th from right 2nd row from the front is E. Alexander Young, another stalwart of The St. James's Society (and later as the LCA) and of the ASCY.  He designed the Membership Certificate of the LCA, and the Master's Badges of the LCA and ASCY.  The Rector, Rev. W. Pennington-Bickford (sitting next to the Master) had a long association as Rector of St Clement Danes, his father-in-law having been Rector before him.  Sadly, following the destruction of St Clement Danes in the Blitz, Rev. Pennington Bickford apparently took his own life.  The Master, Thomas H. Taffender was Master for 50 years (1913-63) and did much for training of new ringers in London.  Although a good ringer himself, he was eventually virtually ostracised in ASCY circles (he was a member, and a St Paul's ringer) due to his habit of getting inexperienced ringers through a peal of a new method and having them elected to ASCY by a belfry election prior to a peal.  It was for this reason that belfry elections to ASCY were later prohibited.  Unfortunately, the LCA never really managed to lose this reputation, which played a part in its eventual downfall.

A brief History of the Companies of The Eastern Youths, The Trinity Youths of Deptford  and The Westminster Youths

 The name encompasses two great old London Ringing Companies.  The first is the Eastern Youths of London, established probably around 1690.  Little is known about them other than the fact that they gave two trebles to St Magnus the Martyr, Lower Thames Street in 1718.  It is likely that the Eastern Scholars who formed later in the 18th Century were the result of an amalgamation between the Eastern Youths and British Scholars.

The Trinity Youths of Deptford were established in 1782.  They were based at St Nicholas Deptford (A complete Newton & Hadley 8 from 1701, outrageously scrapped at the end of the Second World War).  The Society faded out in the early part of the 19th Century, and was re-established in the 1870's, only to suffer a similar decline 20 or so years later.  In their second establishment they rang at Greenwich, Deptford (St Johns) and some other towers in the vicinity.

The Westminster Youths were formed in the late 18th Century by Thomas Tolladay.  They were only a minor Company of ringers and faded out quite quickly, though the Society was re-established at St James Clerkenwell in 1824 as the St James's Society, which later became The London County Association and lately has been continued, again as the St James's Society.

The St James's Society continues today with its maintenance work, particularly focussing on preservation of interesting and rare installations, and historical towers.  It provides ringers for special occasions by Church Request at St Paul Shadwell, St Matthew Bethnal Green and St John Deptford.