Extracts from the booklet by Chris Purnell published in 2001
The Devizes Branch was one of four agreed at the AGM at Wimborne in May 1901. The first meeting was held on July 13th 1901 at Devizes. When it was formed it was considerably different to the shape it is today, it included the area now covered by the Calne and Marlborough Branches but did not include Westbury or the Towers to the south of Westbury which were all in the Salisbury Branch. There were 130 members in all.
The Branch was fortunate in that three out of the five ‘Instructors of Change ringing’ appointed to the Guild lived within its boundaries, even so progress was slow and early reports complain of opposition by the old ‘Rounds Ringers’ many of whom were Tower Captains. Things did improve however, and in spite of the formation of the Marlborough Branch in 1911, by 1913 membership had passed 200 with 10 peals being rung by Branch members that year. As with all parts of the country World War 1 took its toll, but things seemed to pick up quite quickly afterwards and when the new ring of eight at Bradford on Avon was dedicated in 1923 three hundred ringers attended the service.
The years between the wars saw good progress made in all aspects of ringing culminating with the rehanging and augmentation of Trowbridge bells to ten and then twelve and the formation of a band capable of twelve bell ringing. During 1932 (50th Anniversary of the Guild) 18 peals were rung in the Branch. By 1935 Trowbridge was ringing Stedman Cinques for Sunday Service and scored the first peal of it with a local band for King George V Silver Jubilee. Several ringers well known to the Guild were Branch members during this time including Sam Hector, Gilbert Harding, Charlie Andrews, Sid Grant & Bill West. Towards the end of the war Percy Harding was teaching a band of lads at North Bradley and on VE day they rang a peal of Grandsire Doubles, in the band was Eric Hitchins, Laurie Hitchins and Fred Slatford all of whom became Guild officers in later years. North Bradley bells were soon augmented to 8 and it was destined to become the Branch leading change ringing tower in the fifties. There were also strong bands at Trowbridge, Melksham, and Westbury at this time.
The 60’s were probably the most exciting time in the Branch’s history so far; during them we saw the formation of the young band at Holt and the election of Bill West from Melksham as Guild President. The great ringer and composer Edgar Shepherd moved to Warminster and with his encouragement Norman Knee began a regular eight bell Surprise practice which thrived for many years, Norman was also responsible for the revival of the Branch outing which has continued with varying degrees of success down to the present time. It was also during the sixties that the Branch Striking Competition began and Edington bells were augmented to ten.
Roy and Audrey Mills moved into the Branch during the seventies and new innovations such as the Branch Dinner and Barbecue were started, ten and twelve bell practices ran regularly and annual peal totals became respectable again thanks mainly to a new conductor Jim Twiney from Steeple Ashton. In 1977 Silver Jubilee year another Branch member Charlie Andrews became Guild President and twenty-two peals were scored finally at the end of the decade Westwood bells were recast into a new light ring of six.
In 1982 we celebrated the Guild Centenary and the Branch raised funds to augment Marden from five to six, among the 18 peals rung that year was the first peal of Surprise for the Guild by an all ladies band conducted by Audrey Mills. The eighties were a sad time in some ways as during them we seemed to lose many of our older ringers Charlie, Edgar, George Moore the skilled engineer and Church Clock wizard and Norman Knee all passed away. The 1990’s did not begin any better for within two years we lost Sid Grant a ringing master for many years and then Audrey Mills. In 1993 (continuing the tradition of Guild Officers coming from Melksham) Bob Purnell was elected Guild Master and in 1995 the Branch played its part in hosting the Central Council.
In more recent years we have concentrated our efforts on bell restoration, in 1996 All Cannings bells were augmented to six and the three at Monkton Farleigh were made ringable, in 1997 with the aid of lottery grants Bradford Holy Trinity and St. John’s Devizes were overhauled and more recently Keevil. However we have not neglected the ringing, we still hold three Striking Competitions each year, monthly meetings on the first Saturday, training days on the second, advanced practices on the third, and young ringers practices on fifth Sat; add to this an outing, a barbeque, a dinner and a skittles evening and I think you will agree that we are doing our best, as they were in 1901 to ensure the furtherance of our art.