Bell-ringer’s top honour

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When Joan Simpson rang her very first church bell, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, George VI was on the throne and the Second World War was about to end.

It was 1945 and Mrs Simpson was 13. Now, a sprightly 85-year-old, she is still ringing bells.

Born in Louth, she lived on the south coast, but for the past 23 years, ‘home‘ has been Coningsby.

Often twice a week, she still climbs the steps to the belfry high in the tower of the local church, St Michael’s.

She’s lost count of the number of times she’s made that journey.

Not even a fractured shoulder two years ago has stopped her.

Her amazing commitment - spanning 72 years - has been recognised after she was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year’s Honours list.

No-one was more surprised than Mrs Simpson herself.

She explains: “I was absolutely amazed...I had no idea.

“At first, I didn’t believe them. I thought they were joking. Now, I’ve had a few days for it to sink in I still can’t believe it.

“I’d like to know who put my name forward - but no-one will tell me!”

Campanology runs in the family. Her father Arthur Hoodless rang the bells at St James’s in Louth until the age of 91.

His father - also called Arthur - was a renown ringer, mainly at Barton on Humber church.

Her father was a saddler in Louth and the family lived in Chequergate before moving to Nottinghamshire during the war.

Mrs Simpson recalls taking up bell ringing with two other youngsters, primarily at St Mary’s in Nottingham.

She adds: “Given the family tradition, I suppose it was only natural that I started.”

Mrs Simpson did practice in her village church although that was something of a problem.

The sound of bells ringing during the war was a warning of an German invasion!

Her late husband, Allan, was also a bell-ringer and the pair moved to the south coast to look after her parents.

In 1994, they moved back to Lincolnshire - and Coningsby.

Mrs Simpson has been involved in many community activities and fundraising events.

She has also been instrumental in supporting younger people getting into bell-ringing.

Apart from Coningsby and neighbouring Tattershall, she regularly ‘rings’ at other churches in the area.

She is a member of the Parochial Church Council, arranges church fairs to raise funds and is also involved in the local Lions, Luncheon and Thursday clubs.

She is hoping her MBE will raise the profile of bell- ringing and encourage more people to share her ‘wonderful hobby.’

She added: “I really have enjoyed it and it’s great way of making friends.”