31. The bellringing thing

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’.bellfrt

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)

Winchendon Place Doubles_cr

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

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27. The church and me

I may have mentioned, somewhere along the line, that I am a church bellringer, yes a campanologist and have been so since an early age. At that time I was also a chorister in a choir of around twenty boys and a dozen or so men, most of whom has been boys in the same choir. Now there is no choir and we find it hard to get enough ringers for a Sunday service. Indeed when I lived in Devon there were five or six churches with bells, within half an hour of my home and only one of them could get a regular Sunday band to ring. As is my wont, it got me thinking how things have changed.

My paternal grandfather and his antecedents were bellringers, both on Tyneside and in Derbyshire, so their church-going credentials go without question. My maternal grandfather had been raised a Primitive Methodist, but never attended church in my memory although his bible knowledge was so good that my grandmother feared the ‘knock’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who he used to tie in knots until they almost begged to leave. As he could not read or write, this was some feat.

The generation before them was altogether different, particularly if the family were non-conformists. Sunday, The Sabbath’, was strictly observed; meals were prepared on Saturday, cooked on Sunday, and the washing-up waited until Monday. Activities in the strictest homes would be confined to walking or reading, but only The Bible!

Before the time of Cromwell, you could be fined for non-attendance at church, but this was mainly to keep a check on Catholics. When non-conformists came to power, then that Elizabethan law was repealed. However most people, even in my time, would attend church on Easter Day and everyone would have knowledge of the important festivals, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsun. Most of these were bank/school holidays and even Ascension Day was a half-holiday. Most children of my generation and before were expected to attend Sunday-school either during the morning service or separate from it.

Good Friday, until fairly recently, was celebrated in my home town, by the many non-conformist churches with a March of Witness. Hundreds of people in their best clothes would parade through the town, each chapel with its own ‘supporters’ accompanied by bands of The Salvation Army and The Boy’s Brigade. The streets would be lined with people watching, and a service would be held in the town square. There were several Methodist Churches in the town, Presbyterians, Baptists, the Salvation Army and probably others. Such have the numbers dwindled that last year it rained heavily and for those who turned out to march, a service was held in what has become the United Reform Church in that same square.

The Church of England did not get involved in’ the march’, but the main church had two or three ‘satellite churches’ around the town to cater for those in different areas, as there were so many regular church attendants. Then, of course there were The Roman Catholics who always did their own thing.

Apart from the traditional weddings, although they are now more likely to take place on the beach, and christenings, which appear still to be an occasion to wear the full ‘Ascot’ outfit, there were the civil functions. Mayor’s Sunday was a day with processions, soldiers and bands to fill the church and singing to raise the roof. Harvest Festival, not only filled the chancel with gifts of produce, but the gallery was adorned with nets for the ‘harvest of the deep’. That reminds me that the same church had galleries on three sides; such was the size of the Victorian congregations. These were removed as long ago as 1951.

Churches of whatever denomination have always had more to offer than ‘religion’. They are social communities and always have been. The Church Hall kept the secular side separate and whist drives, pie and pea suppers, and later discos kept the church at the centre of the community.

As a once-convinced Christian I still find it hard to see the dwindling congregations of mainly middle-class elderly people who keep the services going with rising costs and dwindling collections. More and more of these once vibrant and elegant buildings have been demolished or converted to another use. Where will it end? I cannot guess, but fear the end is not too far away.

See more of Christ Church and bellringing