If you have been following my blog, you will have realised by now that bellringing has played a significant part in the life of the Scott family. The first documentation, discovered by my brother Mike, the family historian, states in the notes of St. Paul’s Church, Winlaton, Co. Durham: “In 1847 Zachariah Scott, Sexton, was one of the ringers.”. Since then, one or more of the family has rung church bells, particularly in Tibshelf, Derbyshire and North Shields, where the main family homes were, but now, wherever the descendants of Zachariah have come to reside.
Church bells have over time played an important role in society, particularly when church-going was either compulsory or an expectation of any ‘proper’ person. For much of this early period clocks and watches were rare and expensive, so the church bell(s) could be heard for great distances and tall towers containing the bells made this possible. Even now when it is quiet and the wind is in the right direction a distant church clock can sometimes be heard. Imagine how it was with no cars, buses or aeroplanes.
The ability of a bell to be heard over long distances meant that not only was a ‘call to prayer’, but a warning in times of trouble. However, bells which are designed for ringing in peal are a much different thing, and this is based upon the way they are ‘hung’.
The bells are attached to a wheel with a rope around it and it rotates 360o. Each time it does this, it strikes once. This means that once it starts moving, it cannot be stopped, speeded-up or slowed-down until it next reaches the top.
This may be seen here: Bells in action
Some towers can ring tunes with a carillon, which uses hammers on the side of each bell and is either mechanical or has a kind of giant keyboard.
Change ringing is the name given to the method that is usually heard in the UK and a few places around the world. A ‘change’ is literally what it says: two or more, adjacent bells change places e.g. if two bells ring in the order 1 – 2 then they swap so that 2 rings before 1 (2 – 1) then that is a change.
Now comes the complicated bit so you can skip the next bit if you wish and go to *.
Bells always start in the order 1 2 3 4 5 6 (or however many there are). This is called ‘rounds’. Any bell now can only do one of two things: it can change places with the bell next to it, or stay where it is e.g. from rounds a new order might be 1 3 2 5 4 6 because 2 & 3 swapped as did 4 & 5, but 1 & 6 stayed where they were. This is regarded as one change. With six bells there 720 possible different changes of order, and with seven there are 5040 possibilities.
There are two ways of knowing what change comes next: the easiest is call-changes where the conductor calls out the change e.g. ‘2 to 3’ in the case above then ‘4 to 5’ to arrive at the order shown. The other system is ‘method-ringing’ where each ringer memorises a pattern which has a name, and there are lots of them. These are the ‘methods’ and are carried out without shouted commands (more or less)
The diagram shows the first ten changes of a typical method. The red line shows the simple path of bell no. 1 (the treble), while the blue line shows (part of) the more complex route of no. 2. The other bells are executing an identical path to bell 2, but obviously starting from a different place. 120 changes later it ‘should’ all come back to rounds.
Five bell methods like this are called doubles methods, six bells are minor, then triples and so on
Every method has a name. The one shown is Wichendon Place, but there are many, some common and some rare and thus, usually complex. Most tower bands would aspire to ring for Sunday services with a practice night during the week, but there are groups who meet at other times and places to hone their skills. ‘Peals’ usually consist of around 5040 changes and last about 3 hours 10 minutes (without stopping or going wrong). Quarter peals, lasting ~45 minutes are often rung to commemorate special events.
* Like most hobbyists, there are those who are interested in ‘grabbing’ the most different towers, the most peals, winning competitions for good striking or just going on an outing to a few towers with a meal and a pint or two.
There is much more that I could add. Perhaps I might come back later.
For details of our tower and links to other ringing sites try www.christchurchringers.org.uk