Edinburgh St Mary’s

22 Aug 1945 – 16 Apr 2020


Bill was born in Wolverhampton on 22nd August 1945. His father, Francis (Frank) Brotherton, was an excellent studious ringer and Tower Captain at St Peter’s Wolverhampton, a 33cwt Gillett & Johnston ring of twelve. Bill was taught to ring there by his father at the age of about 17 in a two-hour session. He then joined the regular practice night and was ringing Grandsire Doubles on an inside bell (by numbers) when his future wife Helen arrived to see the ringing with a view to learning. Bill was also a server at St Peter’s, a member of the church badminton club, and the Friday Club (an art, music and literature discussion group – which he attended only intermittently as he considered it a bit highbrow!). Bill then attended a local college where he completed a sandwich course in Mechanical Engineering, gaining a 1st Class Honours degree.


Bill and Helen married in 1967. The following year Bill was offered a PhD placement at Cambridge University, which he accepted. However, for political reasons funding was not available and he could not take up the place. Contact with Cambridge continued, however, and he did some work there.


In 1973 Bill joined the now defunct electrical engineering and equipment firm Ferranti in Edinburgh, working in micro-electronics. The family moved at that time to Edinburgh and subsequently to Rosyth, and Bill started ringing in Edinburgh at both St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and St Cuthbert’s Church. He gave up ringing whilst their children Clare and James were very young, but the whole family took up ringing again once the children had learnt to ring.


Bill was Steeplekeeper and then Tower Captain at Edinburgh Cathedral between 1990 and 2014, where he put a great deal of time and effort into both the general ringing and the training of new ringers. He was instrumental in augmenting the ring of ten to twelve whilst achieving his ambition (and Historic Scotland’s requirement) of retaining the original historic wooden bell frame. This made St Mary’s Cathedral the first ring of twelve bells in Scotland. He also served a three-year term as Master of the Scottish Association of Change Ringers.


Following the closure of Ferranti in the 1990s, Bill worked for Fife Council as a technician at a local school from 1996 until he retired in 2010.


Bill rang his first peal in October 1964 at Shifnal, Shropshire, inside to Grandsire Triples, for the Shropshire Association. His first peal together with the whole family, which he conducted, was at St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh in 1987 in three minor methods. A peal of Cambridge Surprise Royal at Edinburgh Cathedral in September 1992 celebrated Bill and Helen’s Silver Wedding Anniversary. Plain Bob Maximus at Edinburgh Cathedral in October 2009 was the first peal on twelve bells in Scotland.


Bill rang in over 130 peals and a great many quarter peals. Of all the peals and quarter peals he conducted, he was proudest of a little-mentioned quarter peal of Bastow Little Court in 1993 rung entirely by an Edinburgh Cathedral band and containing 91 calls.


In December 2014 Bill and Helen moved to the East Coast of Lincolnshire, where he and Helen joined the local band at SS Peter & Paul, Ingoldmells. They also travelled extensively throughout the county, ringing many quarter peals together, and became valued and very active members of the Eastern Branch of the Lincoln Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers. Although Bill did not hold an office within the Guild, he supported Helen, who held two offices concurrently for a time and continues (2021) as Guild General Secretary.


Bill was a very competent ringer. He had a sensitive disposition and would happily ring with both learners and experienced ringers alike. Whilst ringing he would often offer helpful gestures to assist others when the need arose. On completion of some good ringing or following the achievement of something being properly rung by a novice for the first time, Bill would always offer positive acknowledgement.


Bill suffered from poor hearing for most of his life. He was not born deaf but became so in childhood, probably following a bout of measles. He never became totally deaf but suffered from both middle frequency deafness – about the range of the human voice – and tinnitus. While he could hear parts of many words that were outside his range of hearing he had to guess what the rest of the word was, which explains why he could hear sometimes but not others. He could hear bells and, as with words, where the sound was outside his range of hearing he could feel the “tap” of the clapper. Despite this hearing deficiency he was an excellent striker. Ingoldmells tower benefitted from having Bill in their striking contest team, winning the Guild plate competitions in 2016 and 2017. He was also in an Eastern Branch team that won the Guild 8-bell striking competition for the first time ever in 2016. During his time in Lincolnshire Bill supported ringers and ringing throughout East Lincolnshire and made many ringing friends throughout the wider county of Lincolnshire.


Bill had a very effective formulaic approach to learning and revising the structure of methods. He would regularly revise his knowledge, often by just running through a method mentally without visual aid. When gardening he would sometimes seem lost in thought and could be seen writing down the figures of some composition. Bill was also affected by a form of synesthesia that resulted in him seeing methods in different colours. For him, knowing place bells was essential and a comment from a ringer that “Yorkshire is simply Cambridge above the treble” was met with the reply “yes – but that’s not much use to you if you don’t know where you’re coming from or going to next.”


Bill was very interested in method composition and liked to produce his own compositions for practice night touches, quarters and peals. His competence in conducting is therefore not surprising, as composition and performance trueness were important to him. In a quarter-peal, whether conducting or not, he would be checking the coursing order throughout. If there was a discrepancy that he considered too great he would not make a fuss, but he sometimes chose not to include the performance in his own records. Bill took ringing and the Church seriously and did not suffer fools gladly.


Grammatical correctness was important to Bill: for example, a mobile phone was a portable phone and for self-isolation, why not simply use the term quarantine? He found errors in notices amusing and liked to point them out, “No Nuts in How Cakes” being a recent example!


Outside of ringing, Bill’s other interests included climbing the Scottish Munros and he and Helen accomplished 81, mainly while living in Scotland. Bill liked to read books by Winston Churchill and enjoyed the challenge of Sudoku puzzles. He was strong on general knowledge and a useful member of his local Lincolnshire quiz team.


In the Covid self-quarantine period in the spring of 2020 Bill and Helen kept busy at home, Bill with his interest in DIY projects as tower bell ringing wasn’t an option. In April 2020 he was taken ill with breathing difficulties and on 16th April 2020 he was admitted to the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, where he passed away the same day from a myocardial infarction. Although he was tested for the Covid-19 virus, the test result was negative. He was cremated in Alford Crematorium on 4th May 2020 attended by six family members, but an “honour guard” of local ringers, who were able to travel there, stood along the route into Alford Crematorium.


He leaves behind his wife Helen, his children Clare and James, four grandchildren and a sense of great loss to the ringing community both in Scotland and elsewhere.


In short, Bill was a tremendous asset to ringing and particularly to Scottish ringing and the ringing at Edinburgh Cathedral. He is sorely missed.


Helen Brotherton and Tony Barker