Croydon, St John the Baptist (Croydon Minster)

Just two ringers are listed on the original roll for St John’s, Croydon (Croydon Minster). E Elliott has so far resisted identification – there are around 70 possible candidates in the 1911 census. Rather easier to resolve was the identity of C F Johnston. Cyril Frederick Johnston was one of the great personalities of ringing in the first half of the twentieth century. The family firm of Gillett & Johnston whose bell foundry and clock factory was in Croydon had started off making church clocks, and this led naturally into first clock bells and then church bells more generally. It was Cyril who was fascinated by the idea of harmonic tuning of the bells, suggested by Canon Simpson and first put into practice by Taylor’s of Loughborough. After rather complicated war service with one of the Public Schools’ Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, and then the Grenadier Guards, Cyril was released from the army following the death of his father in 1917 to work under the Ministry of Munitions at the family firm. Peacetime clock manufacture had turned to wartime production of fuzes for shells. After the war he proved to be a flamboyant salesman, and won many prestigious contracts, expanding into the manufacture of bells for carillons, particularly in the US. He was perhaps a little too relaxed about the fundamentals of business and the firm eventually ran into financial problems and he lost control after having to get external investment. On one of his various trips to the US he fathered a child by an American nurse. She was Jill Johnston, who became a radical lesbian feminist, but also wrote an interesting account of Cyril’s life, and how she came to terms with his abandonment of her mother. The book is well worth a read, England’s Child: The Carrillon and the Casting of Big Bells.

Not listed on the original Surrey roll, but to be found on the Central Council roll of honour, listed as a member of the Cambridge University Guild, is the Reverend Cecil Herbert Schooling. He became curate at St John’s in 1910 and joined up as a chaplain. He is recorded on the church war memorial, but it is not clear if he ever did ring there. However, it seems right his name should also be connected with the ringers of Croydon.

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