The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

College Youths Afloat – Country Meeting 2014

(Report by the Secretary. Photographs by Gavin Bennett and the webmaster)

In May 1787, eleven ships sailed from Portsmouth to establish the first European colony in Australia, arriving at Botany Bay, Sydney, eight months later with their payload of 1000 convicts. How appropriate, then, that when the Ancient Society of College Youths arrived in the city for its country meeting on 16 August, a number of Australian members were among their number, some happily settled in the UK, others making a short visit. They were joined by members from the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Central Europe, all arriving to join the fourth UK tour for overseas College Youths organised by Simon Linford, which started the very next day.

HMS Warrior from the Spinnaker Tower.

The welcome influx of overseas members gave this year's country meeting a festival feel, well attended by members from across the UK. Perhaps it was the attraction of the City of Portsmouth (once dismissed by Boris Johnson as “too full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs”), or the cityís fine bells, or the venue for the evening dinner?

As is now traditional, proceedings began with peal attempts over the days preceding the meeting, with members lobbing in requests for inclusion to the Junior Steward, who then had to sort out credible bands without causing too much disappointment or offence. Tessa Beadman worked miracles here, with ten successful attempts reported, and the one failure due to the rather unusual indisposition of a member of the band. The peals ranged from minor to maximus, from single methods to spliced, and included some of Hampshire's finest towers and bells (and minor incursions into Sussex, home territory for both the Master and the Secretary).

Saturday's programme began with open ringing at the three towers in Portsmouth – St Mary Portsea, Portsmouth Cathedral and St Agatha – contrasting in style and weight, but all well looked after, and testament to the strong state of ringing in and around Portsmouth at present. The Cathedral bells were augmented only in 2010, but the notice board reminds people to look at Avon and Orion before the next 12-bell practice. The light eight at St Agatha's were installed at the beginning of 2013, but have already been pealed 68 times (and probably more by the time this is read). Mark Esbester, who had made all the local arrangements, led the way to the Bridge Tavern – in the heart of the working docks area – for a relaxed lunchtime gathering. Those not tempted by the ringing opportunities were able to explore the attractions of Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, with Nelson's flagship HMS Victory and Henry VIII's warship the Mary Rose, and many chose to look down on these sights from the top of Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower, with its views for up to 23 miles.

Dining aboard HMS Warrior.

A short business meeting was held in Cathedral House, allowing Mark Esbester formally to welcome the Society to Portsmouth. Rob Gibson, of Washington, DC, was elected a member, having been proposed and seconded at a previous meeting. Five other members of the Washington band were present to support his election, which was greeted with acclamation.

The evening dinner was held on HMS Warrior, Britainís first iron-hulled warship, now restored to its former glory and permanently moored in Portsmouth's historic dockyard. The 149 members and friends attending had the run of the ship. Those tempted to play with the cutlasses and rifles soon found out that the Royal Navy was afflicted by the health and safety culture as much as any other organisation, with everything screwed down tightly. Dinner was served in the impressive surroundings of the gun deck. The menu was suitably naval and hearty – barrel bottom stew flavoured with beer, rum and molasses, followed by spotted dick and custard, requiring some translation and interpretation for overseas members. Anxieties that the three barrels of draft ale might not suffice proved groundless, not least because many diners gravitated towards the short and well-priced wine list. The only speech of the evening was a short welcome from the Master, taking up his position at the capstan, who also offered repeated thanks to those who had assisted in making arrangements for an excellent country meeting.

  • Friday evening in the Customs House.

  • St Mary Portsea.

  • Ringing at St Mary Portsea.

  • Ringing at St Mary Portsea.

  • Ringing at St Mary Portsea.

  • Ringing at St Mary Portsea.

  • 300th Anniversary peal board at St Mary Portsea.

  • Portsmouth Cathedral.

  • Mark Esbester welcomes the Society.

  • The business meeting.

  • Robert Gibson is elected to the Society.

  • The Master welcomes members and guests aboard.

  • Aboard HMS Warrior.

  • Phil Rogers, Andrew Graham, and Tim Bradley.

  • The Master aboard HMS Warrior.

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