Trumpington Shield

Kitty Willers - An Appreciation

By the Bellringers and Friends of Trumpington Parish Church

Last updated 9th April 2018
Ely D.A Shield

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Miss Catherine Elizabeth (Kitty) Willers was a remarkable woman. Born on 23rd October 1898 in Cambridge, she began ringing at Trumpington in July 1918, served as Tower Captain at Trumpington for 56 years from 1920 to 1976, rang her first peal on 11th November 1920 at Trumpington of Grandsire Doubles and, on 1st November 1924, became the first lady to conduct a peal for the Ely Diocesan Association. She rang ~150 peals in total. She was instrumental in getting Trumpington bells augmented to an octave in 1957, and donated two new bells to help achieve this: the new treble bell was given in memory of her parents and the new second bell in memory of her grandparents, uncle and aunt.

She was District Secretary of the Ely DA from 1929-1934, then General Secretary 1935 to 1945, then Vice President. She also served on the Central Council of Church bell Ringers (CCCBR) from 1933 to 1939.

Her trade/profession was "Household duties". Needlework was among her other interests. She made many puppets and cuddly toys. She also enjoyed embroidery.

She died at her home in Trumpington on 17th February 1977, age 78, and donated her body to medical research. A memorial service was held on 6th March 1977 at Trumpington. Her obituary, written by Frank Haynes, was published in ‘The Ringing World’ in April 1977, page 287.

[Source: the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers]

A new road on the new housing development at Clay Farm has been named after her: "Willers Lane" – a “bell-ringer extraordinaire” and a respected village personality. See Cambridge street names: How new developments are helping to tell story of Trumpington's past. A new building on Glebe Farm has been named "Maddox House", after David Maddox (1922-97) who was vicar of Trumpington from 1956 to 1990.

The Bellringers with the new treble bell at the West Door of Trumpington Church, 28th Sept 1928, photographed by Mr A. Broome.
Standing (L-R): Arthur Wilson, Henry Wilson, Richard White (Bellhanger), Miss Willers, Cuthbert White (Bellhanger), Stedman White (Bellhanger), ? John Gillingham / Stanley Blunt ?
Seated (L-R): Jack R Harper, Eric Chapman, Edward Haynes, Rev A.C (Arthur Christopher) Moule, Reginald Jordan, Donald Freestone
The picture is from a small commemorative postcard that was donated to the Cambridgeshire Collection by the Willers family.
This image is used with permission of the Cambridgeshire Collection (Ref: Y.Tru K28/10820).


Trumpington Bellringers in action, 1925, on the old ring of five bells, with Kitty Willers on the left
[Source: Trumpington church guidebook, Tom Ambrose 2006]

Tapestry worked by Kitty Willers, hanging in the North Transept of Trumpington Church

Memories of Kitty Willers

Miss Willers was well-known and much loved character in the area, who touched many peoples lives. Many people have fond memories of her, and so I've tried to capture some recollections and anecdotes from some folk who rang with her. If you would like to contribute your own reminiscences, or have any photos of Kitty, feel free to Contact Us.

Alan Winter:
Catherine E Willers; a truly outstanding local ringer; tower captain at Trumpington for decades and very much to the fore in the augmentation to eight; it is possible or probable that she exerted the decisive influence in Trumpington having a wooden frame which is unusual for complete rings of this period; certainly she was very appreciative of the wooden frame as opposed to the hard steel frames at other towers; well into her eighties climbed the tower ladders to fly the church flag; the best loved person in the Parish and the best loved ringer in the Diocese; taught Frank Haynes and Peter Border to ring, not to mention Martin Kitson and a hundred others; gave outstanding encouragement to young ringers ... "will you please call the changes and with this wonderful new method you've invented we'll all be able to do it" (the wonderful new method was no more than calling the bells down rather than up); personally she encouraged me to call Holt's Original, actually insisted, and continued encouraging when I proved by demonstration that I'm unable to do that; I never heard her say a negative or unfriendly word; cycled to Hull and back to attend Central Council; enthusiastic gardener and maker of hundreds of stuffed animals which sold at church fairs (image on right is one of hers).

Stuffed animal made by Kitty Willers
Christine Northeast:

Kitty was indeed a remarkable woman. We were most impressed by her tale of cycling from Barnsley to Cambridge in one day, all thanks to embrocation, apparently. Frank King has one of the soft toys she made. I learned to ring in early 1968 at St Andrew the Great (StAG) along with another girl from Newnham. She (Janice) used to cycle to Trumpington for further tuition and that was where she met "Miss Willers" as she was called. I went only once and there were only four ringers, so when I returned to Cambridge in 1973 and went to a Trumpington practice, I was expecting the same thing and was astonished to find a full ringing room. Seven ringers had caught hold and were looking worried. They asked me whether I knew Lincolnshire; that was my introduction to modern Trumpington, and my particular friends Martin Kitson, Martin Corry, Ian West, Roger Kendrick, Mary Lucking (now Mears) and Margaret & Alan Bull. Kitty was rather in the background, being nice and encouraging, but you knew it was her tower and that she was a most important person in the church.
Margaret & Alan Bull:
Our memories of Kitty Willers are probably similar to many other people who knew her at the time (around 1972). She was delightful if a bit eccentric.

She used to make gloves as an occupation and did lots of sewing to raise funds for the church, particularly beautiful stuffed animals which she sold for next to nothing. She provided me with some patterns for mice and ducks which I used to raise funds with myself at Irthlingborough's Autumn Fairs.

One summer she had the ringers round for tea in her garden which she loved - a typical cottage garden. All went well provided you kept off the potted meat sandwiches! She also made these regularly for the Branch's ringing teas when they came to Trumpington.

She was an excellent teacher of ringing as well as being a good ringer herself and had loads of patience with learners. Every Sunday she would put the St George's Day flag at the top of the church - she must have been in her late 70s or early 80s when we were at Trumpington. She welcomed all comers but was difficult to impress, I remember a time when the College Youths were in Cambridge and turned up on Sunday morning. They rang Surprise something or other indifferently (they had probably had a good evening the day before!) then she asked the local band to 'show them how it should be done' - there was an excellent band there at the time, with a general practice on Wednesdays and a Surprise practice on Tuesdays.

Dr Claire Barlow:
I met Kitty in the autumn of 1974, when I was in my second year as a student at Cambridge University. During my first year, I found that my three closest friends were ringers (including Richard Pargeter), and decided to have a go. I started to learn bell-handling during the summer vacation in 1974 - Malcolm Loveday was Tower Captain at Chertsey. So I returned to Cambridge for my second year, just about able to handle a bell.

The Guild at that time was not very interested in teaching learners, so after a couple of disheartening practices when I didn't get to ring at all I looked elsewhere. Someone, probably John Limbach, suggested that I should go to Trumpington.

Kitty sorted me out, characteristically. She made me welcome, and worked me hard. My vision of her is standing by my right elbow (and coming up to about that height!), keeping me firmly on the blue line with her chirpy voice. Her standards were uncompromisingly high: one consequence of that is that I think I have always been very aware of the need for good striking.

I went to Trumpington Wednesday practices for a year, but after that was able to get enough from the Guild so I stopped and went to the Wednesday St Andrew the Great practice instead. From autumn 1976 I became a regular at the Trumpington Tuesday practices, but without Kitty.

R. Ian West:
It will be 40+ years since I met Kitty at the Trumpington Wednesday practices; there used to be Tuesday ones too for surprise and spliced, with a monthly peal attempt. I owe a lot to the Tuesday practice. Five of Kitty's peals are recorded on, 4 as Kitty Willers, 1 as Catherine E Willers, all at Trumpington. I rang just one with her, Plain Bob Major at Trumpington in 1970, conducted by the late Barry Couzens; it was for Martin Kitson's 21st birthday. Her personal dedication to Trumpington was most remarkable. She lived quite close to the church and would walk there and raise the bells as far as I can remember.
Chris Johnson:
She taught a great many people to ring, including well known ringers such as Frank Haynes and Peter Border, who I remember wearing short trousers in his youth! She was a great cyclist, riding long distances to ring at practices and meetings e.g in Hertfordshire and at Hilgay.
Jean Kimber (nee Lavender):
Kitty Willers lived in Trumpington all her life, as far as I know. My family knew hers well, so I guess she did. She lived in a detached house at the junction of Shelford Road and the Hauxton Road [Sweetbriars, 115, High St], opposite where the cemetery is. She had an upper storey built on it - on sort of stilts. Everyone called it the bird's nest!

Kitty was an extraordinary lady. She made all her own clothes and hats and even some shoes. Every dress was the same style - just different materials and quite voluminous - and always cheerful colours. The hats, which usually matched the dresses, were pretty much the same too. She ate frugally and that included dandelions and nettles from her own garden.

She was generous to a fault and gave a large amount of money for the restoration of the bells. She rode everywhere on her bicycle but she always lent it to me when I was there, to save me having to take my bicycle on the train. It was large, high geared (no other gears, of course), with a massive basket on the front. Not cool - but very useful.

In the early 60s she bought herself a scooter, a Lambretta, I think. She went all over the place on it - to Guildford Cathedral bells consecration and to her WI residential creativity courses at Denman College in Oxfordshire. She made soft toys of all kinds and my sons still have a collection of them including a koala bear, a badger and a large yellow duck!

Although friendly, she was always rather formal. I don't think she ever called Stewart "Stewart" - always "Mr Kimber". She didn't use my aunts' Christian names either and they were friends! I think I was "Jean" because she'd known me since childhood.

She ran the practices but she wasn't fussy about how I handled! She wanted to get me as far as she could before I moved on. I learned to Plain Hunt in six weeks and could ring the Treble to Plain Bob (helped by a chap called Alan Shepherd), but when I got to Beddington, Frank Jennings immediately set about tidying up my handling!

Otherwise, she was a good teacher. She taught me to handle in just one hour. She also taught a blind man to ring - a Mr Teulon, (no Christian name, you understand) and a gentleman called Colonel Blacketer. He was retired but she got him ringing inside to Plain Bob. She was certainly a stickler for striking as she was constantly saying - "listen to your striking". As a learner, I didn't understand what she was saying!

When I learnt, the Bullman brothers, Eustace and Dexter, were there. Eustace seemed to be her deputy. I knew Dexter through the Trumpington Young Farmers [TYF] and still meet him at reunions. Martin Seekings, also from TYF, was a ringer too. Kitty also taught Peter Border, of which she was VERY proud! He used to ring with us when he was home. I know his brother, Richard, from TYF too. I believe she taught the sister, Jill Border, as well but I'm not sure about that.

Kitty collapsed and died alone at home, which was very sad. There was no funeral - she left her body for medical research. (I'd loved to have known what they found!!)


Duck made by Kitty Willers

Animal family made by Kitty Willers
David & Monica Lilley:
I started cycling from Ickleton to the Trumpington Wednesday practices in the mid 1960s, where there were several other ringers of my age, such as Ian Quinney, Ursula & Lucy Stubbings, Heather Tarrant and Alan Kennedy. There were also older ringers such as Mr Maling and Mrs Balmforth, but Miss Willers never used their christian names. Only those who had known her for decades called her Kitty, and I can remember some of us calling one brash young ringer to one side to explain she was Miss Willers to him!

Although she was short, Miss Willers insisted that the ropes should be a respectable length. She would stop anyone lengthening a rope, telling them to stand on a box.

Monica and I once went to her house 'Sweetbriars' to see her needlework, and tried to get her talking a bit. She mentioned ringing on the old six at Ickleton, and on the now long unringable fives in the district such as Stetchworth and Dullingham, as well as ringing handbell peals.

At the District 75th Anniversary dinner at Sawston Hall, Miss Willers was persuaded to talk a little about her ringing career. She said that she was asked if she had any more like Peter Border, she replied that she had Martin Kitson and Kit Brooks coming along.

Miss Willers taught endless ringers, and always had time for those who found it difficult. Everyone respected her, and as such it was convention that she had receipt no.1 in each year's subscription book.

Martin Kitson:
I first met Kitty Willers in 1964, when my parents wanted to move into the house that had originally been the Smithy at Trumpington. This house had belonged to her uncle. Despite some better offers from other interested persons, Kitty had promised my father that we should have the house, and having made her decision, she stuck to it. This was Kitty all over. Once she had given you her word about something, that was that; her word was her bond.

In 1966, she visited us to ask me if I wanted to learn to ring. I had just completed my O-levels and so I decided I would. It was a decision I never had cause to regret. She taught me to ring on the 6th at Trumpington.

Kitty Willers had been a member of the Ely Diocesan Association of Church Bellringers for many years before she taught me. She had also been Tower Captain at Trumpington for many years. She had learnt to ring on the old 5 bells, and her first peal was 5040 Grandsire Doubles rung on the 3rd and conducted by Frank E. Kempton, on Thursday 11th November (Armistice Day) 1920. This was also the first peal on Trumpington bells.

On Tuesday 11th November 1924, Kitty called her first peal, of Doubles (Grandsire, Oxford Singles and Plain Bob) at Trumpington which was the first peal for the Association to be called by a lady. Once again a peal on Armistice Day. I believe that she called the first peal on the augmented six at Trumpington, which I think was Plain Bob Minor, each extent called differently; I think she rang the 2nd and called it. Kitty was in no doubt of her talents as a ringer; she was, as she once said to me, "a most conceited young ass" in those days. Certainly she was a gifted ringer, ringing peals all over the Cambridge area.

From 1930 to 1935, Kitty was District Secretary for the Archdeaconry of Ely, which comprised what is now the Ely and Cambridge Districts of the Ely Diocesan Association of Church Bellringers; and in 1935 became General Secretary and Treasurer for the Association, in which role she duly led the Association through the austere war years, when ringing was very severely curtailed; the authorities had decreed that the bells would only be rung as a warning, should there be a German invasion, although I gather the ban was lifted at Christmas times. I once saw one of Kitty's notices in an old Ringing World, advertising a Meeting, with a footnote "please bring your own sugar ration".

In 1956, Kitty fulfilled a life-time ambition to get Trumpington bells augmented to the full octave. Her parents had died and left her reasonably well off, and she paid for the augmentation. The new treble bell was dedicated to her parents. She kept the weights of the new bells secret. I asked Kitty about this once, and was very kindly, but firmly, told by Kitty that "the weights of those bells were given to me in very strict confidence and I will not divulge them to anyone". [The weights have since been released by the foundry.]

Although comfortably off, Kitty lived a very frugal life-style. She was, I believe, what one would now call a Christian-Scientist, and she enjoyed the flavour of fresh dandelion leaves, saying they were like eating somewhat stronger-flavoured lettuce. Her frugal meals were a necessity, as she would say "I have better things to do with my time than stand in the kitchen, cooking!".

On Saturday 1st February 1958, the first peal on the new 8 was rung by a local band. I asked Kitty once about her recollections of this peal. It was conducted by a local ringer called Peter Border who went on to do very great things in Ringing. "I don't know what Peter Border did", Kitty told me, "but we rang Grandsire Triples and he kept the 2nd and the 7th together. Somehow.". The peal was Parker's 12-part (7th observation) which Peter called from the new 2nd. Having myself called Parker's 12-part (6th observation) from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, I can empathise with Peter on this; Grandsire is not easy to conduct, the Coursing Orders are difficult to transpose and calling from a non-observation bell requires great concentration. Certainly it was a great achievement for a rural band (Trumpington was a true village then and not a suburb of Cambridge as it is in these times) and reflects great credit on all the band. The late Frank Haynes was in the band, and my good friend Jill Martin as she was then (now Jill Pratt).

In these days, Kitty would cycle everywhere to ring. Jill Pratt recalls how Kitty cycled from Trumpington to Loughborough Bell Foundry to see the two trebles cast. Jill also remembers passing Kitty in Thaxted one day, cycling to Chelmsford to ring; she and her husband offered Kitty a lift, which was politely declined! Jill told me that Kitty cycled from John O'Groats to Land's End at around about this time

When I learnt to ring in the mid-60s, Trumpington also housed the "Tuesday practice" which was for aspiring Surprise Major ringers. Kitty always attended this, even if she didn't ring much. On Sundays she would attend the early Communion Service, then climb up the tower, clamber over the bells and put the flag up. Then she would raise each bell, even the tenor, a great feat really for a now elderly lady. She would ring for Sunday morning service, attend the service, and be back at 5:45 in the evening to be ready to lead the evening service ringing, and attend that service. She always sat in the same pew, close to the Lady Chapel. She never missed a single church service. She was, for many years, a member of the Parochial Church Council for Trumpington church, and very single-minded about what "church" was all about. Jill Pratt recalls how her father cycled to Harston after work one evening to ring a peal and, because he'd not had any tea, was eating a sandwich in the tower when Kitty arrived, also ringing in the peal. She told him off very severely for eating in church!

Wally Chandler rang with us then and he was thin on top ("I need a hair-transplant, Martin" was his favourite greeting to me - perhaps he thought I'd got more hair than I needed!). He moved to Tring in the late sixties before I went away to University and I lost track of him, but his daughter, Valerie, was a ringer at Chesterton for a while during the mid-1970s.

Kitty rang one of her last peals for my 21st birthday in December 1970, at Trumpington, called by the late Barry Couzens, and also in the band was the late Jean Sanderson. Kitty, as always, rang without a single mistake. During 1970, she rang a peal with the Tuesday Band, as the Surprise ringers were called, on the treble; 6-spliced Surprise Major, a complicated A.J. Pitman one-part composition called by Derek Sibson. A few months later, Alan Barber called a peal of 5021 Glasgow Surprise Major. "This was quite a surprise," Kitty said to me afterwards (no pun intended), "when it came round at the treble's handstroke snap.". Sadly, Kitty never quite managed 100 peals for the Association, although she did come very close to doing so.


Kitty Willers teaching at Trumpington, 1969-70?
L-R: Miss Willers, Kit Brooks, Mrs Peggy Kitson, Ian Quinney, Martin Kitson, Ian West.
David & Monica Lilley kindly offered this photo of Kitty Willers teaching at Trumpington. It is not remembered who the photographer was [maybe Hilary Rose (nee Griffiths) ?]. Note the wooden floor and rectangular mats. We believe Kit Brooks joined the Association in 1970 and rang his first peal in December 1970, so the photo is probably circa 1969-70. Sadly, Kit Brooks died several years ago.

Kitty was a very active person; whenever you went to see her, she would invariably be out in the garden digging, pruning or mowing. When I knew her, she walked everywhere, disdaining public transport unless in an emergency. Until the late 60s, she had a little moped which took her everywhere ringing-wise; there was a story of a time during a District Meeting at Bourn, about 10-15 miles away from her house, she pushed it all the way back to Trumpington when it died on her; this was because she wanted the Trumpington cycle-shop to fix it because she didn't trust anyone else!

Kitty was an excellent needlewoman, making all kinds of embroidery. She had an extension built on the side of her house with an upstairs room, which had windows all around, so she could see out while working. As you passed her house, you'd see her busy doing this needlework. She made my younger sister several soft toys; many local people had gloves made by her when they killed rabbits "for the pot" as country people did in those far-off days, and they gave her the skins for the gloves.

In 1975, Kitty's health began to seriously deteriorate; I suspect she had a mild heart attack in the autumn of '75. Whatever it was, she stopped ringing for several months and also stopped coming to church, an unprecedented situation! "Whoever would've thought I'd crock up like that?", she said to me, rather shame-faced, just after Christmas. In early '76 she rang again for the evening service, a situation that worried us all terribly because she was clearly very weak and not really able to handle her bell. I believe that this was Kitty's last ring. I don't recall her ringing again. She was, apparently, more seriously ill than we'd thought. But it was typical of Kitty that she did come up and ring for the last time; she was never one to give in to illness - even if she had a bad cold, she'd suck a few catarrh pastilles and simply "carry on".

Later on that month, I was travelling to work one morning and passed an old lady, bent double, carrying a small shopping basket, obviously returning from shopping, and remember thinking at the time, "poor old thing". It wasn't until later in the day I realised "my God, that was Miss Willers!". She was normally so upright and vigorous that I hadn't recognised her. The situation was, sadly, obvious. A few days later, the Vicar's wife telephoned me in floods of tears, sobbing "Martin... she's dead". She didn't need to say who it was. I knew. A sympathetic neighbour hadn't seen Kitty for a day or so, and popped round to her house to see if she was all right; on looking through the window saw her lying on the floor, clearly having passed away earlier that morning.

I was not able to attend Kitty's funeral, thanks to an unsympathetic boss, who ranted and raved at me for daring to ask for time off, threatening me with dismissal if I asked for time off again; it was during the worst recession we'd known (then) and this kind of thing was commonplace, sadly, in those days. But I understand the church was filled to capacity. Kitty was finally laid to rest beside her parents, within the sound of her beloved bells, and close to the church in which she had worshipped all her life. I myself moved away from Trumpington shortly afterwards for personal reasons, and have never returned. A new regime took over at Trumpington tower and Kitty is now just a memory, but I like to think she lives on in the voices of the two treble bells that she paid for, to augment the old ring of six into the full octave. In fact, I can still hear Kitty's voice when I'm ringing sometimes, saying, in her inimitable way, "listen to them striking!". Congratulations on the Kitty Willers memorial; I'm sure she'd be very pleased and proud to have seen it, although she would probably have frowned and said severely "Oh dear, you know, you really shouldn't have!" but being secretly delighted that we all thought so much of her.

David Webber:
My memories of Kitty Willers date from the time when I was learning to ring in the mid to late 1970s. I usually had one or both of my sons Andrew and Richard with me, who were, of course, making much more rapid progress than I was.

I remember Kitty as a small person with great energy and enthusiasm who ran the practices with impressive authority. If I arrived early she had often been giving a tied-bell lesson to a learner and was up amongst the bells releasing the clapper. On these occasions a red light would be on at the bottom of the ladder warning that the bell-ropes must not be touched. Then she would come down the ladder at great speed so that the practice could start.

I was sometimes allowed to ring the treble to a touch of Grandsire Triples and I think sometimes early in the practice, before numbers had built up, a touch of Plain Bob Minor. There were always several visitors so there was not much I could do later on when much of the ringing was Surprise Major.

At the end of the practice her call was usually for the local Trumpington band to ring down.

Pam Down:
I remember Kitty Willers although I was just a learner in those days and was taken around to meetings by Jill & Brian Pratt. My recollections are that she was a 'character' and wore thick brown knitted stockings and always wore a hat and carried a large handbag!
W.R. ("Bill") Haynes:
In the early 1970's, as each of us reached the age of 11, Kitty Willers taught me, my sister and my brother to ring, about 50 years after teaching my Father to ring. As small children at Christmas we had all received as presents a soft toy expertly hand-made by Kitty. After teaching you to ring her gift of a soft-toy was faithfully replaced by a copy of the 'ringer's diary' each year.
Richard Pargeter:
When my father was up at Cambridge in the 1930s, Jim Quinney was in charge at Gt St Mary's, and Kitty Willers was in charge at Trumpington. When I came up in 1973, they were both still in charge! My father told me that it was at Trumpington, with Kitty, that he first saw ropesight.

I occasionally visited Trumpington as an undergraduate, and have a visual memory of Kitty swarming up the ladder, displaying her voluminous bloomers, to take muffles off the bells (I think she must have been teaching). The bells were up, and she wouldn't allow anyone else to do it.

I was living at Grafton St, after graduating, when Kitty died. I understood that she died of hypothermia, because she didn't have enough heating on in the house. Her funeral filled the church, and I remember an impressive list of famous ringers whom she had taught.

Diana Pargeter:
My first experience of bells was during a long summer visit to the USA in 1973, ringing Bob Major in hand with members of the band at Washington Cathedral. When I returned, aged 15, Kitty taught me during my school holidays, first to handle a full-sized bell then the beginnings of method ringing. Unfortunately, the Cambridge Rapist began terrorising the city in October 1974, and my parents justifiably decided that it would be unwise for me to be cycling out from the city centre to Trumpington in the dark at a regular time each week, and I switched my allegiance to St Peter's, Caversham, near my boarding school. I may not have been under Kitty's tuition for very long, but she definitely gave me a good start!
Paul Seaman:
In the early 70s I rang at Trumpington, only very occasionally, as I felt quite intimidated by the ringers there at the time. I was struggling to ring Surprise Minor then. When I did go up, Kitty was very encouraging and welcoming. She rang rarely then, preferring to sit and listen or stand behind a learner. When she did ring, she was such a good striker and so competent.

After her death there was no funeral as she left her body to medical research. If my memory serves me well, the Sunday following her memorial service there were mutterings and complaints that the St George Cross flag was not attached to the flagpole (as it was close to St George's Day) on top of the Church, it was then that people realised it was Kitty who put the flag up year after year.

When she died, visitors to her house were astonished to find no central heating (or heating of any kind), all her clothes were home made and there were numerous embroidery designs she was working on. It is not surprising to see her work still on display on the floor of Trumpington's ringing room. She never owned a car and would walk (or cycle) huge distances. Even back in the 1930s she would cycle phenomenal distances to ring at other towers. Latterly, she would use the bus to get to meetings.

Her hair was always immaculate with a central parting, often plaited and tied up. When she walked it was with determination and had developed a slight stoop with her left arm tucked up and her right arm sweeping briskly. Her clothes were all hand made, fair isle type of jumper and a long pleated skirt.

It is hard to believe the number of famous ringers she taught, Frank and Eric Haynes, Peter Border, Brian Threlfall, Martin Kitson, etc. and then teaching the next generation, all the Haynes and Threlfall children, I remember her teaching David Threlfall when he was standing on two boxes to reach.

She also taught the Bellringing Club from Cambridgeshire County High School for Girls (now Long Road Sixth Form Centre) to ring each Thursday afternoon.

There was always a quiet dignity about her and massive resolve to live her life in the most exemplary fashion within her strong faith and dedication to Trumpington Church.

John Limbach:
My main contact with Trumpington was in the early 70's, when I regularly attended the Tuesday Surprise Practice, at that time being run by Alan M Barber. Judging by the peal columns Alan is now on Tyneside but I have had no contact for many years. I was in the Tower with Miss Willers a few times but at that time she was no longer ringing, at least when I was there.

I was at school with Kit Brooks who learnt to ring at Trumpington in Miss Willer's (for thus she was always described) era. Sadly, Kit died a number of years ago. He said that she insisted on pupils learning on the light bells, graduating to the heavier ones only when able to ring the light ones well.

Monica Meeneghan (nee Griffiths):
[In the tower] She was always there quietly in charge and so steady, always seeming to be the same. When ringing, you would see her lips move as she counted. I do remember once when she was a little angry with me. I didn't break a stay when I was learning but later I was beginning to get a bit of trouble with my right wrist and got a bit nervous and to my alarm broke a stay then. She was annoyed that as an experienced ringer I had done such a thing. It meant she had to go up and repair it. I gave up ringing after that because of my wrist.

I remember visiting Kitty at her home when she showed me all the toys she'd made. A great big bag full of them. All sorts of animals and insects, spiders and the like. So imaginative and charming. She gave a Peter Rabbit she made to my sister's oldest child who now lives in Cambridge. I remember the gloves Miss Willers made. She often gave us some for Christmas.

Hilary Rose (nee Griffiths):
I learnt to ring on the four bells at Landbeach, but when my mother retired to Cambridge I joined the band at Trumpington whenever I went home from London where I rang at St Stephen's Hampstead and St Anne's Highgate. Miss Willers was always welcoming, but on one memorable occasion for which I have every reason to be grateful, she introduced me to "this young man who is coming up to London". She asked me to "look after him". I took her at her word, we got married and have rung together ever since! We were married at Trumpington, with bells of course, and Miss Willers made our children some of their favourite toys. I attach a photo of some of them.

It has been lovely to read other people's memories of Miss Willers, not only for bringing back good memories of her, but also for reminding me of people I rang with there. This was mainly in the early sixties. There was a well equipped children's corner, and the young Haynes children had little chairs to sit on while their parents rang. Over 40 years later in 2006 Frances Haynes and I rang with other Perseans for the service at Great St Mary's celebrating 125 years since the school's foundation. These remembrances have strayed from Miss Willers, but they show how she brought us all together in friendship through ringing. It was a very happy tower.

Three b&w photos by Hilary Rose (nee Griffiths), circa 1970:


Stuffed animal made by Kitty Willers

Julie Barnes (Stapleford), Lucy Stubbings, Kitty Willers

Wally Chandler, Stan Maling, Mrs Peggy Kitson (hidden sitting on window), Jean West, Ian West

Stan Maling, Mrs Peggy Kitson (hidden sitting on window), Ursula Stubbings
Ursula Stubbings:
I was introduced to ringing by Hilary Rose (nee Griffiths), and was taught to ring by Miss Willers in 1959 aged when I was about 13 years old. I rang two peals, several quarters, and even called a QP at Intwood (with fellow students from Keswick College). Kitty made dresses from furnishing materials, and liked bright colours - orange, red, brown - often with a matching hat. Her sewing room was above the car port of her house. She taught my sister Lucy to ring, and made her a soft toy - a poodle - that was named "Stedman". She also did leatherwork, for example, gloves. A regular attender at church, she always sat in the same pew in the South aisle. To get about, Kitty would either walk, cycle, or use her Lambretta, and only as a last resort use public transport. She undertook a cycling tour of Scotland win in her mid-60s! When the two new treble bells for Trumpington were being cast in 1957, she refused offers of a lift to Loughborough to see the bells being cast. Instead she left on her bike at four in the morning, and cycled all the way there. In the tower, I remember her intense concentration on the sound the bells were making when she was coaching you. She hated gaps between touches at practice or especially if we were ringing for a service. She would say "keep those bells ringing" or some such phrase. She was totally dedicated!
John Gipson:
I always remember Kitty with affection. She was such a character. She was on the Central Council with my late father in law, C.W. Cook, and he related many tales of the CC meetings. As already mentioned by someone, she cycled to Leeds on one occasion. I also recall the incident when she walked back from Bourn when her moped broke down.

Kitty always stood on two old hassocks when she was ringing - with straw coming out! I asked the late Bill Newman, of Litlington, to make her a proper box with a carpet on top. Kitty was very pleased with it, and with a huge smile on her face, thanked me very much!

Peter Wood:
I think that it was probably during the late 1950s that I first met Kitty Willers when she came from time to time to attend meetings of the Essex Association Northern District. I can remember her arriving on her moped and it being quite a talking point for some of us youngsters that this lady of mature years should have come all the way from Trumpington on a moped! Although she was always known as "Kitty" she was never addressed as such even by the District Officers, she was always "Miss Willers".

I am tower captain at St Mary's, Great Bardfield, Essex and have been looking through the peal book of Joseph Jennings who was a former tower captain at St Mary's for many years. I came across a peal of Superlative rung at Great Dunmow on 9th August 1930, in which Kitty Willers took part.

Anthony Fortin:
Kitty Willers lived at Sweet Briars on the corner of Shelford Road, a short distance from my father's family home.

I would always call and see her on visits to my grandparents in the mid 50s and invariably she would get the handbells out from a mound of church sewing and embroidery and coax me through Bob Minimus. She would talk of the impending bell restoration which transformed the poor old six into an excellent eight. I was very pleased to be able to go to the dedication service for the augmented ring and never dreamt how many peals were going to be rung on them.

We would meet from time to time, quite by chance, at various towers, Kitty travelling on a motor scooter now, having been a cyclist all her life. I learnt, long after she had gone, that Peter Border was taught the rudiments of ringing by her. Kitty and I exchanged Christmas cards right up until her death. Yes! Trumpington would not be the same without her. God bless her soul.

Richard Bowden:
I am reminded of a visit to a practice night at Trumpington in September 1960. My wife and I were early arrivals and cautiously entered the ringing room where sounds of activity were coming from the open trap door of the bell chamber above. Eventually a pair of legs clad in woollen socks and stout shoes started to come down the ladder and that was our first sight of the famous Miss Kitty Willers, who gave us a warm welcome. In conversation she mentioned that she enjoyed teaching ringers and that her star pupil was Peter Border.

I recall having the pleasure of ringing with three other formidable ladies who were contemporary with Kitty Willers and also highly respected ringing teachers - namely Marie Cross of Oxford, Beatrice Boyle of Devon and Marion Lidgey of Cornwall.
[RW 5270]

David Stubbings:
Kitty was one of the nicest people I have met and I have fond memories of her. Amazingly until today I did not know her given name was Catherine, to me she always will be Kitty.

I have taken up ringing again after a break of many years. Sadly mobility problems and old age mean that I am unable to climb stairs and will not be able to return to Trumpington ringing chamber, where I learned to ring under the excellent tuition of Kitty Willers, and where I rang a number of peals.

I lived in Trumpington from birth until my early twenties, so I knew Kitty from an early age, and indeed had a soft toy made by her. She did make wonderful gloves as well, and we supplied her with rabbit skins from our Chinchilla breed rabbits. She particularly liked the colour of the fur. She would pay me sixpence (a fortune for a young boy!) for every skin, unless it was to make the gloves for our family. I remember her drawing round my hand as a template for gloves for myself. She "cured" the skins herself using alum. This was in the mid-1940s.

I started ringing as a teenager, and there was a group of us including Jill Martin (as was). We were keen and rang every Sunday and practice night, attended meetings and rang peals. It was during a practice night that the 5th bell cracked, not being rung by me I am glad to say! This was the trigger, I think, for the bells to be augmented to eight due to the generosity of Kitty, when the new bell was to be cast and the others to be refurnished and rehung. I was honoured to ring the tenor for the first peal of Grandsire Triples to be rung on the augmented eight. I am glad that the old bell has been repaired, is in use, and no longer languishes in a dark corner.

Kitty had not resorted to hassocks in my time, indeed if she thought you were failing to dodge with her she would thrust a foot forward and stamp on the then uncarpeted floor. She was a good teacher, firm but fair and never unpleasant. We had great respect for her and did not think that her appearance was anything out of the ordinary. Sunday evenings we took the flag down for her on many occasions. I do not think that most local people appreciated that Kitty went to 8 o'clock Communion every Sunday, sometimes being the only communicant, and then raised the flag on the tower having climbed two long, near vertical ladders to do so. She then repeated the performance after Evensong except when we did it for her.

Alan Barber:
It was with great interest that I read the comments about her especially as several were from names in the past. As my name was mentioned in dispatches I would like to add my own.

I knew Miss Willers (as a teenager that was how I knew her) from my earliest days in ringing. I really got to know her from my attendances at the halcyon days at the Trumpington Tuesday night Surprise practices in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was there that I saw both sides of her character. On the one hand she encouraged us to push the boundaries in ringing Spliced and such things as Glasgow, etc. On the other hand she did her best to curb our youthful extravagances.

It says a lot for her that the legacy of her teaching is still evident today. Nowadays she would be described as an eccentric as she really was a 'one off'.

As regards the other comments may I correct Martin K as although Miss Willers did indeed ring the treble to a peal of Spliced conducted by Derek Sibson she did not ring the treble to any of the peals of Glasgow we rang. Also I can confirm to John Limbach that I am indeed living in the Borough of North Tyneside.

Henry Bennett:
Kitty so reminded me of Miss Marple with her modest ways but the same wise twinkle in her eye.
Henry Haslam:
What a pleasure to read all these memories of Kitty Willers. My own memory is of her patience and encouragement when I, as an undergraduate in 1960­1961 and a very inexpert ringer, used to ring at Trumpington for Sunday morning service.
Clare Hensman (nee Mitchell):
Kitty taught my mum, Jean Mitchell, to ring when mum took some of the older Sunday school children ringing. At that time in the late 60's I too occupied the small chair in the corner and read the somewhat politically incorrect story books that had been placed there. In 1976 aged 13 I decided that the view up the tower was more interesting than that from the choir stalls and started ringing myself. Although Kitty, or I mean Miss Willers, wasn't ringing herself any more I believe that I was the last person she taught to handle a bell. My dad's over riding memory of her is the view from below as she came down the ladder, one I am sure many other ringers share! When I became tower captain in the early 80's I had the job of raising the flag and I have no idea how Kitty managed it because the door at the top was tiny and you had to pull yourself out of it backwards. It was bad enough in trousers rather than the skirts Kitty wore. As a child of the parish my lasting memory will be of the wonderful stuffed toys which she sold at the Church Missionary Sale each year in the church hall. Her stall was always placed in the middle and would be the first one people visited.
If you would like to contribute your own reminiscences, or have any photos of Kitty, feel free to Contact Us.

The new Trebles

Kitty donated two new bells to Trumpington in 1957, the new treble bell was given in memory of her parents and the new second bell in memory of her grandparents, uncle and aunt.

The inscription on the new treble reads: "To the Glory of God in memory of George Harry Littlechild Willers and Alice his wife". G.H.L.Willers and his wife Alice were Kitty's parents.

The inscription on the new second reads: "To the Glory of God in memory of George Willers and Catherine his wife, also of Elijah Lawrence and Elizabeth his wife". G.Willers and his wife Catherine were her grandparents. Elijah was the village Blacksmith and Kitty's Uncle (by marriage presumably).

Her Peal Book

As well as the postcard photo at the top of this page (Ref: Y.Tru K28/10820), the Cambridgeshire Collection also has Miss Willers Peal Book (Ref: C.69 PAM). This is a notebook with a black cover, containing a record of the peals she rang during the period 1920 to 1938, cut out from copies of the Ringing World, now on yellowing paper.

The Cambridgeshire Collection is based at the Central Library in the Lion Yard at Cambridge, where the postcard and her peal book can be viewed by an appointment in advance.

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : black cover

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : first page with beautiful hand-drawn Trumpington village shield, and first two peals, both of Doubles and both at Trumpington.

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : 2nd & 3rd pages, including peal #8, her first peal as conductor, being "the first time a lady ringer has called a peal for the Ely Association".

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : her first peals "in-hand"

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : her first peal of Surprise Major, and first of seven Surprise Minor for the Ely DA.

Kitty Willer's Peal Book : her 100th peal and first of Royal

Kitty rang a Peal of London Surprise Major at Royston in 1937...

...and 20 years later, rang the first peal of London Surprise Major on the bells at Trumpington, conducted by Peter Border

On the back page, Kitty even recorded a tally of the peals she scored versus ones that were lost, for the first 10 years of her peal ringing career.

Peal Boards at Trumpington






Trumpington Tower Rug

Kitty crafted by hand a beautiful red rug for the floor of the ringing chamber at Trumpington. Before the blue carpet was laid, the floor was originally just plain wooden boards, which the rug would have helped to decorate and make feel more cosy.


Disclaimer: All views expressed above are those of the authors, not of Trumpington church or its current bellringers. They are presented in good faith, but we cannot be held responsible for the factual accuracy of memories that can fade with time...!

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