1957 Rector killed
The Rev William Russell Ware Mortimer, L.Th. Durham, was born in Bedminster in the first quarter of 1889.
In the first quarter of 1919 he married Stella M. Tansley in Witney; their son Roger W.A. Mortimer was born in Bournemouth in Q1, 1932.
The Rev. William was inducted Rector of our Parish on June 11, 1944.
His tragic death in the Church on the 21st of July 1957 was reported by the Western Gazette:-
STRUCK BY BELL HE WAS
CORONER'S QUESTIONS TO RINGERS
WHAT happened in the bell chamber of St. Andrew's Church, Okeford Fitzpaine, on Sunday aftcernoon when a bell weighing nearly 10 cwt. swung down and hit the Rector, the Rev. William Russell Ware Mortimer, is a matter of conjecture and surmise, said the North Dorset Coroner (Mr. W. H. Creech) at the inqurst on Tuesday.
The accident happened when the Rector was showing a party of Sunday School children round the belfry after he finished conducting the children's service in the Church.
A ten-year-old boy, Walter Adams, was slightly injured when the bell swung.
Among, the people in the church at the time was the Rector's wife, who had boon playing the organ at the chlldren's service. While others went to the Rector's aid she ran to the near-by Rectory to telephone for a doctor. It took three ringers over half an hour to release the 68 year-old Rectoi, who was plnned down by the bell.
Returning a verdict of accidental death, the Coroner commented, "A clergyman being killed in such a manner in his own church, after taking a service there, is quite beyond the understanding of the human mind.'
The Coroner said it seemed conclusive that some action by the Rector, which was quitc involuntary, set the bell off. His outstretched hand might possibly have touched a part of the bell or a stay.
At the time th accldent happened the bells had beein left in the "up position" by
the ringers in readiness for ringing at the evening serviee. A notice in red letters, stating "Danger, bells up," was displayed in the ringing chamber, the Coroner was
Dr. H.F. Wilson, of Child Okeford. said death, which was instantaneous, was due to a
fractured skull. The Rector's right shoulder was completely smashed.
One of the children wio went into the belfry with the Rector, Wendy Caroline Adams, aged 11, of Castle Avenue, Okeford Fitzpalne, said Mr. Mortimer went into the bell chamber and two of the children stayed in the door-way.
"Three of us were on the steps," she said, "when I heard someone call out ''Something has hit my head.' My brother, Sonny, who was in the doorway, was hit on the head. We all came down the steps. When we got down Mrs Ricketts asked where Mr. Mortimer was, and we said we did not know"
Mrs. Florence Ricketts, the Sunday School superintendent, of Thornhiil Farm, Okeford Fitzpaine, said when the children came down the steps they wwere frightened, and Mrs. Mortmimer asked her to go up and see if she could find the Rector. "I went up to the belfry and could not hear or see anything, so I came back and told Mrs. Mortimer I would fetch help," she said.
Leo Kingsley UnderhiU. a retired schoolmaster, o! Fippenny Cottage, Okeford Fitzpaine. said he was in his cottage on Sunday afternoon when he heard the sound of a bell - just a half tone. A little while after Mrs. Ricketts came in and told him they were worried about the Rector.
He went up to the belfry, and on going to the entrance of the bel! chamber saw a bell half up facing him just inside the door.
Then he saw one of Mr. Mortimer's feet through the other side. His head was very near the rim of the bell, and his body was caught between the rest of the bell and the frame.
"He did not reply when I spoke to him, and after I was quite sure I eould not get him out I went downstairs and got the ringers," he said.
Replying to the Coroner, he said anybody standing in the doorway of the bell chaniber would be only just out of reach of the bells.
Pinned by Bell
Dr. Wilson said when he was called to the church, he went up into the bell chamber and saw the Rector pinned by his legs and body to the bell. His head was against the wall and there was a gash in the scalp. It was quite obvious he was dead.
Afterwards, he said, it took the ringers over half an hour to move the bell. He noticed that all the other bells were in the upright position.
The doctor said that to get through the doorway one would have to bend. He would imagine that when the big bell swung over it would come within a few inches of the doorway.
"I think if he were leaning forward and that bell suddenly came over it would probably hit his head and sweep the body underneath and pin it there," he said. "I don't think it would be necessary for him to have to be right inside."
Left " Up"
The captain of the beliringera, Benjamin Ridout of 22, Castle Avenue. Okeford Fitzpaine, said that when they finished ringing for the morning service on Sundays the bells were left in the up position. ' After ringing the last five minute bell he put up the warning notice that thN bells were up.
The Coroner asked if anybody walking across the bell chamber could cause a bell to come down, and Mr. Ridout replied that it was impossible to walk across the chamber. The bells were in an iron frame, and it would be impossible to get in unless that particular bell was down. He said he did not think the accident could have occurred through som« fault in the mechanism.
Replying to the Coroner, he said: "I don't think he could have stumbled because he would have to crawl under the bell. I think, perhaps, he caught hold of something to pull himself out and pulled the bell over."
The Coroner: Do yon mean to say that when the Rector went into the bell chamber he must have crawled?
Witness: He could not walk in, Sir. He would have to go on his hands and knees.
The Coroner: It seems to me if he hud to crawl in he might very easily have touched something. If he was crawling along it would have been quit possible for his hand or some portion of him to have just knocked the
bell? -Yes, he was bound to knock something, either a part of the bell or the stay. It would not take very much force to set the bell off.
Inspector T. Battson: Assuming the only position in the bell chamber where a man could stand up was immediately inside the doorway, which way would he turn before he descended the ladder out of the bell chamber?
Witness: The ringers go down backwards..
Further questioned, he said the Rector had been to the bell chamber before, but not many times. As far as he could gather, the children told him the warning notice was displayed when they went up.
Heaviest But One
Another bellringer, Frank Hilliar, of RosehiH Farm, Okeford Fitzpaine, said there were six bells in the belfry, and nuber five bell, the one that killed the Rector, was the heaviest but one.
"What did Mr. Ridout mean by crawling?" the Coroner asked him. He replied: "When you go into the bel! chamber you cannot walk straight in because the fifth bell is straight in front of the door. When it is up you can go in as far as the headstock.
The Coroner1: Do you thmk the Rector was crawling or upright?
Witness: He could not have been upright. You could not touoh the bell, but you could touch the stay or the slider that would set the bell off."
The Coroner: The most plausible theory seems to be that Mr. Mprtimer must have inadvertantly touched it and set it off. He was bound to. There was no other way of setting it off except by anyone touching the rope.
Replying to further questions, witness said the bells were never left up at night, because the ringers did not think it was safe to do so, as anyone might go into the church and waner about. It was dangerous to go into the bell chamber, and that was why they had a notice. The bell weighed between nine and ten cwt, and had to be manhandled up after the accident.
He added: "No ringer would go into our bell chamber unless we had let down the fifth bell, because it is straight in front of the door."
Inspector Battson: If anyone had just stepped inside the door could his head be caught by the bell if it should come down?
Witness: Yes, his head would be caught, but that would not account for his body being under the bell. He must have been inside the bell chamber to have been in the position he was in.
The Coroner said one would have thought that the Rector knew it was a source of danger to go into the bell chamber. "It is a most tragic affair' he added, expressing sympathy witn the members of the family.
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On 24th July, 1957, William Russell Ware Mortimer was buried in Plot R6 of the New Churchyard. His grave is unmarked.