The Hitchman Family
Isaac Hitchman of Blenheim House, Harwell, was an immensely heavily built man, and particularly proud of his family, especially his sons, who were all big men. He had thirteen daughters and eight sons. The sixth son, Walter, was born in 1868, and was a well-known figure in the village for many years.
On Sunday evenings Isaac Hitchman and his family would all attend church as choristers and bellringers, but like all good fathers then, Isaac required his family to go straight home and sing several hymns before retiring to bed himself. On a summer evening they would sing in the summerhouse in the orchard at Blenheim House, and as they all had very powerful voices, they could be heard all over the village. When this mission was completed, the boys' time was their own; they would be able to have their fun and a drink at the local Queen's Arms (in 1985 the Kicking Donkey); they all had great thirst and were no mean drinkers. For many years, Isaac Hitchman was parish clerk, local undertaker, builder, and leader of the church bellringers. He died in 1902 aged seventy-nine. At his funeral, his coffin was made and carried by his sons, the bell was tolled by one of them, and a "muffled peal" was rung by six sons after the funeral ceremony; only one son was absent, serving his country in South Africa.
Harwell has always been noted for the excellence of its choir, and not less for its bellringers. Walter Hitchman first joined the choir at the age of nine, twelve months before he became a pupil at Mr Wood's school for boys in School Lane. At the same time, (1891) a band of "change ringers" was formed by his brother, Isaac Hitchman junior. The bells had been rehung two years before in 1889 by Bond & Son, of Burford, Oxon. This band of ringers was a first-class group, and they joined the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Change Ringers in the same year.
In 1894 the Harwell Ringers accomplished their first outstanding performance when they rang a "Date-touch" of 1,894 changes of Minor, conducted from the tenor by Walter Hitchman. Although the bells of St Matthew's Church sometimes rang badly, they were always admirably struck by the local band, composed of the Hitchmans: Isaac, Lewis, Walter, Vincent, Richard and Albert, assisted by Alfred Thomas, the late landlord of the White Hart Inn, Alfred Bosley, Thomas Hughes, and other noted men.
In 1896 Walter was made Parish Clerk (ecclesiastical), although for several years he had become accustomed to the work by serving as deputy to his father. During the 1914 - 18 war, Walter Hitchman was a "Special Constable" in the village, and no ringer was "dodged the column" at that time. He was awarded the King's Medal, which he well deserved.