The Early Years
Although records are scant concerning the growth of change ringing during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, those that have come to light reveal the art to have been widely practised by individual "Companies" and "Societies" throughout the county. The years between 1775 and 1825 were the most active and saw the emergence of many excellent local bands, notably at Saffron Walden, Chelmsford, Waltham Abbey, Barking and Great Tey.
By the mid-nineteenth century, however, change ringing had declined drastically. Belfries generally were neglected and most ringing was indulged in on a purely secular basis having little or no connection with the ecclesiastical workings of the church. This dismal state of affairs was rectified during the 1870s by the formation of territorial Guilds and Associations. These were often based on diocesan or county boundaries throughout the country and spearheaded by a dedicated group of clerical ringers. Their aims were directed at belfry reform, the recognition of ringers as church workers, and the promotion of change ringing.
Formation of the Association
Thus it was that on May 9th 1879, the Rev. J.B. Seaman, curate-in-charge at All Saints, Writtle, called a meeting of ringers from the Chelmsford area to consider the desirability of forming an association of the ringers of Essex. A circular was sent to all incumbents and ringers of parishes within the county and an inaugural meeting was held at Writtle on June 2, 1879. About thirty ringers attended the meeting which approved a set of rules and appointed a committee of five to run the affairs of the Association, and Rev. Seaman was elected Secretary. It was, however, the Rev. (later Canon) T.L. Papillon, former Fellow and Tutor of New College, Oxford, and vicar of Writtle from 1884 to 1909, who emerged as the inspired leader of the Association on succeeding to the secretaryship in 1886.
1900 - Post Second World War
In 1901 the county was divided into four administrative districts, each with its own officers whose task it was to conduct local affairs within the framework of the general committee. During the same year Thomas Papillon was elected to the newly created office of Master and the Rev. Henry Eyre, vicar at Great Totham, became secretary. In 1909 Charles H. Howard, a Braintree grocer and town councillor, became the first layman to hold senior office when elected Master on the retirement of Canon Papillon. Mr. Howard led the Association successfully through the difficult war years, saw the district boundaries reshaped to form a fifth district in 1919 and the membership figures reach 1,000 in 1921.
The inter-war years saw the gradual emergence of women ringers into what had hitherto been a male dominated pursuit. By conducting a peal of Treble Bob Minor at Colne Engaine in 1933, Miss Hilda Snowden of Halstead became the first woman to perform this feat for the Association. It was not until 1967, however, that the first "all ladies" peal was rung at Tolleshunt D'Arcy by a band from the South-Eastern District.
A complete ban on ringing was enforced from 1940 until 1943 after which a slow recovery was made. During the post war years ringing within the county gained a new momentum following the recruitment of many young ringers. Throughout that period the statesmanlike Mastership of Dr. P.T. Spencer-Phillips, a Great Baddow GP and churchwarden, co-ordinated the often fragmented remnants of a disturbed ringing fraternity and led the Association into a new era of prosperity.
Post War Prestige
Prestige was achieved for the Association during the next two decades by the creation of several national records in long and progressive peal ringing. Architect of the long peals was Frank B. Lufkin who, on August 7th1950, conducted a record peal of Bob Royal (12,740 changes) at St. Mary's Prittlewell. The peal took eight hours twenty-two minutes and still stands as the longest peal of Bob Royal on tower bells. On November 16th1957, he conducted a peal of 18,000 Minor in twenty-five methods at Stisted that lasted nine hours thirty-five minutes and was the longest peal ever rung on six bells. This was followed on April 9th1960, with 22,400 changes of Bob Major at Kirby-le-Soken in eleven hours forty-five minutes being the greatest number of changes to be rung by one set of ringers on church bells.
Centenary Celebrations and beyond...
A festival and exhibition was held at Writtle on June 2nd 1979 to celebrate the Centenary and the celebrations were held in 2004 to mark the 125th Anniversary.
Fund-raising activities in recent years have increased the income to the Bell Restoration Fund and thus enabled the Association to make substantial grants to churches undertaking bell restoration projects. Practical assistance is also provided by Association members.
In 1990, an Education Capital Fund was set up to provide grants for members wishing to attend ringing courses. A three-day non-residential course was started in 1991 and now takes place annually.