Face to face with Theo Crowder

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Theo Crowder who, after retiring as a music teacher, moved to Holt and retrained as a woodturner.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Theo Crowder who, after retiring as a music teacher, moved to Holt and retrained as a woodturner. But, after a short spell with for a local firm, Theo gave up work to devote more time to an a-pealing hobby dating back hundreds of years . . .

Sent to boarding school at Oxford at the age of 11, self-confessed tomboy Theo spent her early years climbing trees, playing sport and dreaming of becoming a doctor.

She began playing the violin aged 6 and, after leaving school, spent 2 years studying violin and art before switching to playing the viola and gaining a place at Birmingham School of Music.

Theo then went on to study for 3 years at the Royal Academy of Music in London, playing in the British Student Orchestra in Vienna and travelling to Milan with the International Student Orchestra.

After a spell teaching music at a number of North London schools, Theo spent 12 years working at a Finchley grammar school, where she was eventually made head of department.

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She then spent a further 14 years working as a peripatetic music teacher for the London borough of Barnet, before taking early retirement at the age of 54.

Watching friends ringing the bells at her local church in South Mimms, Hertfordshire, Theo decided bellringing was a challenge she would enjoy and, after taking lessons, she became well and truly hooked.

She has since notched up bellringing sessions in thousands of churches across the UK, and in countries including Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Keen traveller Theo, 72, has also visited Peru, Argentina, Africa, India and Tibet, where she sponsors a number of needy youngsters.

After moving to Norfolk and retraining as a woodturner in 1989, Theo began ringing the bells at St Andrew's Church, Holt.

She is now tower captain, leading a group of around 8 ringers who meet every Friday evening to practice, also ringing the bells every Sunday morning at Holt and monthly at churches at Bale, near Fakenham, and Wiveton.

The tower at St Andrew's, which is reached by a narrow, winding stone staircase, houses a set of bells cast between 1404 and 1998.

Special occasions previously marked by 3-hour-long 'peals' include the Queen's Golden Wedding anniversary and the 300th anniversary of the Great Fire of Holt.

In her spare time, Theo, who is a delegate for the Norwich Diocesan Association of

Change Ringers and a past president of the Ladies Guild of Change Ringers, enjoys singing with St Andrew's Church choir and with Sheringham and Cromer Choral Society.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about ringing is that it just grabs you; it's something you've just got to do. There is also a wonderful camaraderie, great teamwork and friendship from a lovely group of people from all walks of life.

And the worst?

We are lucky at Holt to have heating, but, at some churches, it is absolutely perishing!

Where do you go to unwind?

I enjoy walking my dog Pip on Cromer beach.

If your house was on fire, what is the one possession you would save?

Possessions are not desperately important to me, but, if I had to choose, it would be a small contemporary painting of Charles the First that has been handed down through my family.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

I love both Binham Priory and Castle Acre - I couldn't choose between them.

Have you ever done anything outrageous?

Trekking with a group in Tierra del Fuego in South America, we got lost going back to the campsite and imbibed freely of the complimentary alcohol. At 1am, we had to go looking for beavers and we were all absolutely plastered. We were giggling so much that any beavers there might have been had gone when we got there!

What is your proudest moment?

Finishing my first peal at Lemsford, near Welwyn Garden City in 1979 - because I'd helped install the bells, it was a pretty good feeling.

And your greatest achievement?

Completing a peal of 23 Sliced Surprise Minor at South Mimms, Hertfordshire in 1988. Put in simple terms, it's various tunes - which we call 'methods' - all mixed up together. It is very complicated and requires a lot of concentration.

Who do you most admire?

The Dalai Lama - his methods of peaceful negotiation and his prayerful efforts to bring about peace and reconciliation are amazing. Refugee that he is, he still works to achieve peace and harmony.

What makes you angry?

Injustice and petty picking at people.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

I first read Kim by Rudyard Kipling at the age of 14 - I've got 3 copies now and I still go back to it from time to time. My favourite film is On the Black Hill (1987 Andrew Grieve Welsh borders drama) and I just can't miss Casualty on television.

How would you like to be remembered?

Hopefully, as a good, honest person.