Copy of an article written for St Mary’s congregation in November 2018.

B is for Bellringers!

We are a diverse group of people, all ages, all backgrounds and all abilities and we become good friends through our enjoyment of ringing!   Some are from our own congregation and others attend different churches or maybe just come to church to ring!   If you see us rushing off after ringing on a Sunday before a service it is often because we have been to an earlier service, or plan to go to one later, and are hurrying to help with service ringing at another church!

Our main purpose as bellringers at St Mary’s is ‘to call the faithful to worship’ by ringing the bells prior to the main Sunday service at 10am and by ringing for other important services if we have ringers available. The bells are also rung to celebrate or mark events, whether national, Royal or personal.  At St Mary’s we have eight bells (making an octave in the key of G).   The tenor, the one you hear for the clock chime, is the largest bell and weighs over 10 cwt, or 500 kg or 80 stone – approximately half the weight of a small car!  Our ringers have to learn to manage the weight of each bell with just the rope and then, when they have mastered that, to learn to ring the bells with control and precision.   In our normal ringing we sound each bell 25 – 30 times a minute.

Training to ring safely on one’s own normally takes about six weeks (12 – 20 hours) with one-to-one lessons until muscle memory has developed and the technique of ringing a bell ‘full circle’ on a wheel has been learned.  After that stage we bring learners in to ring with the band, as a group of ringers is called, and they learn finer control before developing their ringing further.  Ringers have to learn to strike their bell with accuracy! The notes should all be evenly spaced, with a single gap at the start of the ‘round’. Newer ringers will find it difficult to ring evenly and you will sometimes hear a lumpiness or even the dreaded clashing in the rounds (listen for the conductor to raise his/her voice at that point!).

Although the bell is a musical instrument, the music we make has to be different because of the mechanism used to make the bell sound.  Unlike other music where you can have a note sounding more than once in succession, in bellringing all the bells must ring once (by pulling the fluffy ‘sally’) and then they must all ring once again (pulling the tail of the rope when the ‘sally’ is far out of reach) before any will ring a third time and so on, but not necessarily in the same order.  On Sundays we will often ring ‘Rounds and Calls’ where ringers are told by a conductor which position to move to (first, second, third in the row etc). If more experienced ringers are present we will ring a ‘method’ (which is the ringing word for a tune) where each ringer knows the course their bell will take (how it moves in the placing/order).  As with playing other musical instruments, some individuals will take more interest, have different skills and become more advanced in their repertoire than others.

On a Friday night slightly more advanced ringers from St Mary’s and the local area attempt a quarter peal in a nominated method. This takes about 45 minutes and is conducted by one of the band. Normally this means we ring 1260 rows, ie we will each pull the rope 1260 times. When we ring all our bells for a quarter peal the order of the bells (7 of them at least since the tenor is often kept as the last bell all the time) will be different for every row. A full peal on the bells lasts almost three hours and each of the 5040 rows/combinations will be different from any other.  Those of you who enjoy maths will be able to work that out: 7x6x5x4x3x2.

Bellringing ticks a lot of ‘boxes’: service to the church, community, heritage, teamwork, physical exercise, mental agility/stretching and friendship to mention a few. Some even call it their anti-Alzheimer’s therapy!


Trisha Hawkins, Tower Captain, 18 November 2018

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