Bell-ringer and skilled electrical engineer Geoffrey Cheetham

GEOFFREY Cheetham, who died on Wednesday, July 20, was a skilled electrical engineer who, whilst in his teens, became passionately involved in church bell-ringing, writes Bill Birch.

The only son of Arnold and Eva Cheetham, he was educated at Roomfield School and at the age of 16 began a lengthy course in electrical engineering at Burnley Technical College. He developed engineering skills in his formative years after becoming fascinated with Meccano as a young schoolboy. Later on he made miniature cranes and even elevators that operated faultlessly once he’d coupled them to electrical transformers.

His parents worshipped at Todmorden Unitarian Church and it was there that Geoffrey was taught bell-ringing by Derek Sanderson.

Before that, though, he was exceptionally enthusiastic about model railways and would save up every penny he could to buy the best models that Hornby Toys produced. His father built a remarkable layout for him in the attic of their home, complete with tunnels, bridges, stations and signal boxes.

Moreover, Geoffrey spent many hours on the platforms at Todmorden Railway Station collecting the names and numbers of engines in that nostalgic age of steam trains.

On college graduation he entered National Service with the Royal Air Force and was posted to Locking in Somerset. He couldn’t believe his luck to discover that one of the leisure activities offered to recruits was bell-ringing, off-base at the local church. Needless to say, he didn’t stop for a moment to accept the offer!

Soon after being demobbed in July, 1959, he secured a position with Ferranti Electronics as an engineer, based at its Springhead headquarters in Oldham. His assignments took him to many parts of Britain and as far away as Singapore.

Geoffrey joined the Rochdale branch of the Lancashire Association of Bell Ringers at the beginning of January, 1955. He served as secretary from 1965 to 1970 and was elected branch chairman in 1982 until 1985. He went on many bell-ringing outings and holidays, usually arranged by Peter Schofield, Donald Bateman and Jeffrey Kershaw, originally bellringers at St Peter’s Church, Walsden. and Ian Oram (Kent and Sussex).

Quite often they went canal boating, in conjunction with visiting and ringing at churches, a typical one in August 1983, being known as the Avon Ring. Two boats were hired on that occasion, ‘Stratford’ and ‘Meriden’, and the crew included Donald Owen, Chris Barker, Mike and Helen Rigby, Derek Thomas, Nick Clarke, Diane Lord, Kevin Allcock and Cathy Inston. His last ringing holiday was to Devon in Easter 1992.

He never kept records of the different church towers he visited, though astonishingly, his colleagues have estimated the figure to be around 4,000! He rang 114 peals - each lasting three hours.

He was very loyal to Christ Church, Todmorden, and became very upset when its bells were removed in 1989. Though he had taught many people to ring there, including Brian and Donald Owen, Philip Halstead, Catharine Dawson and Chris Barker, he changed his allegiance to Heptonstall, where he rang until about 2006.

For years Geoffrey was a member of CAMRA and always had a Real Ale Guide handy on his travels. He always visited the British Beer Festival wherever it was being held and went to others around the country, usually with his good friends Graham Barker, Leslie Hannam and Arthur Rogers.

Weak and losing weight, he was admitted to Calderdale Royal Hospital on July 13 but died at home just a week later. He was unmarried.