Kenneth Walter Harry Felstead was born on 3rd March 1914 at Beighton, then in Derbyshire, now part of Sheffield. He was educated at Chesterfield Grammar School and Sheffield University where he graduated in 1935 in General Science, followed by an MSc in Geology, also at Sheffield. He trained for the ministry at Lichfield Theological College (1935-7) and was ordained deacon at Derby Cathedral on Trinity Sunday in 1937 and priest, also at Derby Cathedral, in 1938. He served his curacy at St John's, Long Eaton from 1937-39, where he met Sylvia Musson whom he married in 1940.
In 1939 Kenneth was appointed as Chaplain and Lecturer in Mathematics at King Alfred's College, Winchester, but war broke out and a few months after he had taken up his appointment, the college was taken over by HM forces. Kenneth was unable through health reasons to serve in the forces, so during the war years he looked after the parish of Weston, near Southampton, while the incumbent was on active service. In 1946 he was appointed to the living of St Michael's Southampton where he stayed for 24 years. He was made an honorary Canon of Winchester Cathedral in 1962. In 1970 he was appointed Master of St Cross Hospital, Winchester and held this living until his retirement in 1979, when he was made Canon Emeritus. Thereafter he lived at Warminster, Wilts and latterly at Goring, Oxon. He died on 26 February 1994.
Kenneth learned to ring at Beighton around 1934. He was a contemporary at Sheffield University of Paul Taylor, and it was largely through this friendship that Kenneth's interest in ringing took hold. When the ban on ringing was lifted in 1943 he was able to develop his ringing skills, largely through the influence of George Williams at North Stoneham. Kenneth's first peal was rung on Easter Monday 1945.
When he took the living at St Michael's Southampton there was no band but he set about rectifying this with the help of Charles H Kippin, who came to live in the area at about the same time. In 1948 the bells were augmented to 10, and thereafter St Michael's developed into one of the leading ten-bell towers in the country. Many peals of Surprise Royal were rung in methods new to the Winchester & Portsmouth Guild, and Kenneth took part in most of these. In all he rang just under 100 peals, including the first Clerical peal of Royal, at Magdelen College, Oxford on 18 April 1969.
Kenneth was a Central Council representative for the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild from 1946 to 1972 and an honorary member from then until 1983. He was, at various times, a member of the Standing Committee, Peals Analysis Committee, Methods Committee, Redundant Bells Committee and the Rescue Fund for Redundant Bells. He was Master of the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild from 1962 to 1968.
In 1954 Kenneth was elected Librarian of the Winchester & Portsmouth in 1954, in succession to Albert Yorke-Bramble. The latter had established the new Guild library with a collection of ringing literature donated by the late George Williams, and it was probably the custodianship of the library which first sparked Kenneth's interest in cataloguing peal records. Initially he was interested in towers in the Guild's area - many were still unpealed in those days - but later he extended his records to cover every tower in the UK and, subsequently, in the world.
Most of the data came from The Ringing World, from 1911 and, before that, The Bell News from 1881. Working through bound volumes in order, the records from 1881 were gradually built up. At the same time, records of earlier peals were gathered from many sources and with the help of many other people. Early peal boards, catalogued by the Central Council, were an invaluable source of information on pre-1881 peals.
The peals are recorded on lined cards, about 11" by 7", in landscape form. Each card is divided into three columns and takes around 50 peals. The data recorded for each peal is simply the date and the method. The classification of methods (eg Surprise etc) is not generally recorded, though 'TB', 'Delight' appears where relevant. The number of methods in multi-method and Spliced peals is shown. There is thus enough data to be pretty certain what was rung in each peal. Whilst we might now regret that more data is not recorded, we must remember the enormous manual task involved.
Peals are recorded in the order in which they appeared in the source data. This usually equates with chronological order, though towers with frequent peals sometimes have peals out of order. Late submissions are sometimes recorded with a RW date. No sequential numbering system was adopted, significant milestones being calculated simply by counting the entries. This was probably easier to do than might appear because of the number of peals per card (about 50). The totals may have been counted as peals were entered: small dotted lines appear underneath peals which turn out to be the 100th, 150th and so on.
When the database was largely complete, Kenneth started writing articles for the Ringing World. Initially these surveyed the peal ringing activity in each county. When the series was complete he turned to keeping things up-to-date by writing articles called 'Points from recent peals'. These mainly noted first peals on bells, rare visitors (eg first peal for 50 years) and notable milestones (eg 100th peal on the bells). Periodically he surveyed leading peal towers and noted changes in order and speed at which milestones were achieved. Publication of the articles sometimes generated correspondence, both public and private, comparing his records with those kept locally, and this helped to further refine the accuracy of his records.
When it became clear that his database was turning into a significant resource, Kenneth decided to leave it in his will to the Central Council. As a result, on his death maintenance of the manual database was taken on by David Dearnley, whilst investigations were made into the feasibility of transferring existing and future records to a computer-based medium.