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A village history in West Sussex


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By Peter Wilkinson

We leave different kinds of monuments. In 1963 the churchwardens had written that it would be a "notable achievement" if Westbourne's ring of eight bells could be heard ringing out to proclaim each Sunday service. Within five years Ernie Treagus made this happen; more than 30 years on it continues to happen - even four years after Ernie himself had found the struggle to climb the tower steps too much for him to continue ringing here. For us, this is his monument.

Westbourne ringers and Westbourne congregation will remember Ernie as the embodiment of the tower's band. He was, simply, Westbourne ringing. It vas fascinating for any of his band to visit others towers - as they did - the length and breadth of England. When we said where we came from, the response was always the same: "Oh of course, Ernie Treagus's tower." His enthusiasm and dedication made him universally known. And he fostered a unique atmosphere of warmth and friendship in Westbourne tower. One of the band remembers moving into the area at the beginning of the 1970s. As ringers do, he visited a number of local towers to "sus out" a band he might like to join. Within five minutes of entering Westbourne tower, the decision was made: there was obviously nowhere to touch it. Perhaps Ernie's greatest achievement was the way he built up a band of ringers which represented the congregation: he had a particular talent for recruiting and keeping the teenagers and the young married couples. On the wall of the ringing room a board commemorates a quarter peal rung in 1971 by Ernie and seven of his pupils - a remarkable feat, of which he was justly proud. The core of our present band are still his pupils. One of the special features of Ernie's era as tower captain was the gathering in the Good Intent after the Monday practice. I remember one characteristic evening when we finally reached a decision on a long and hotly argued debate: that we should set up a kitty to buy the rounds. To celebrate, Ernie immediately rushed to the bar and insisted on standing drinks all round.

He kept his enthusiasm even when, in his mid 80's if health restricted his activities. On Sunday mornings, he would sit in his car near the church listening to the ringing - and let us have his verdict! When the bells at Stoughton were augmented it gave him a new opportunity. He could drive his car right up to the church and could then ring from the ground floor with no steps to climb. It meant too that he could share his experience and enthusiasm with a new and struggling band - perhaps the situation which gave him his greatest fulfilment. Even after he had moved into a nursing home - and only weeks before his death - he was able to join his nephew in handbell ringing. It seemed fitting that, as well as the muffled tower bells that accompanied his funeral, the service included a short touch on those same handbells.

But there was much more than ringing in Ernie's life. Born in 1910, he was brought up in the Arundel area. He became a compositor with the West Sussex Gazette there. He saw war service in the Middle East, and returned to the paper afterwards. When he moved to Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers this brought him to Westbourne and started his association with the church in this village. A lifelong Christian, he especially cherished the liturgy and language of the Book of Common Prayer, and would write eloquently in support of it. He had a flair for writing (as a newspaper man should) and was always ready to give a pungent and well expressed view. He was married for more than forty years to Millie, who gave him lifelong support for his ringing activities even though she never became a ringer herself. But they were great walkers and lovers of the countryside and led rambling groups until Ernie was well into his 80s. He was a great gardener too: his lawn at Tortington, New Brighton Road, was the only one I have ever seen that actually looked like the picture on a fertiliser packet - immaculate green stripes of pure grass without any trace of daisies or other invaders. After Millie's death he married Enid who gave him devoted care in his final years until she herself became ill and, sadly, died a few months before him.

At Ernie's funeral on 11 April, Westbourne church was full with a congregation which included ringers from across Sussex and Hampshire and beyond. They rang the bells, muffled in sadness yet rejoicing in a long and fulfilled life - and I am sure that Ernie was keeping a careful ear open to make sure the striking was up to standard!


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