In this Guild we concentrate on ringing bells in the English style of full circle (practically 370o) to changes, but we have an interest in bells generally.
Bells can be sounded in a variety of ways, all involving a hammer or clapper striking the bell near its mouth. If the bell is struck whilst stationary or swinging through a small arc, we call it chiming. There are many methods of chiming:
- Clock chimes with an external hammer hinged from the frame with Big Ben a large example
- Carillons which are played from key boards like this large installation at the University of Chicago
- Chiming with rope or cable fixed to an internal clapper, the norm for the Russian Orthodox church as here at Ekaterinburg,
- Ellacombe chiming apparatus – external hammers hinged from the frame. It can be used on bells hung ‘dead’ (cannot swing) or on full circle swinging bells when they are mouth downwards and only one ringer is available like here at Bath Abbey.
- Chiming a swinging bell with an internal clapper. This can be a bell with a swinging headstock that has a lever or half wheel so cannot swing above the horizontal. Full circle bells, when mouth downwards, can be made to chime if the rope is checked just before the end of its natural swing, like these at Dorton.
There are also, to us, unconventional ways of ringing bells:
- There are several styles of ringing in Italy on bells hung in a similar way to the English style, like this very heavy ring of bells at Verona.
- Bells turn through full circle and carry on rotating and sounding on every turn in a typically Spanish manner. Some are still rung manually at bell level but mostly by electric motors as here at Almudena Cathedral, Madrid
- Asian bells are usually struck by an external striker hung on two cables to hit the bell at a target spot about half way up the bell as here at Kyoto.
- Chinese bells go back at least 2,400 years like this ancient musical instrument in Wuhan Museum.
This 5 minute YouTube video gives a quick introduction to English style full circle bell ringing. While this 48 minute video also on YouTube gives a good background to more aspects. There is also a very full explanation of the whole topic of change ringing on Wikipedia.
To cope with the banning and then the restrictions to ringing during the coronavirus pandemic, virtual ringing has become very useful using the Ringing Room program.
In the usual English way of inventing things, it is the North American Guild that sells ringing the best! Although the Churches Conservation Trust has come up with a new angle! Here are some typical myths and answers.
Change Ringing is a social team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that is conducive to well-being, involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.
Some consider ringing to be their contribution to church life, most do it for the pure pleasure, fun and the company it brings. Ringers come from all walks of life and range in age from ten, through teenage years, universities to those in their eighties.
Have a listen to some of these Fun with Bells podcasts and some samples of six-bell call and change ringing.
"When I'm ringing I forget all the tensions and frustrations of the day. Even better: I couldn't wish for a nicer group of friends!"
Could I become a ringer?
"if you can ride a bicycle you can ring!"
Ringing is well within the capabilities of most people. The initial learning takes several weeks, after which you can begin to ring with the rest of the band. Most ringers practise once or twice a week and ring before or after church on Sunday.
"Being able to count is all the maths you'll need and you can become a very good ringer without knowing anything about music."
Why learn to ring?
- Lifelong learning experience
- Learn and practise a traditional skill
- Team activity
- A great mental workout
- A good recreation
- Friends around the world
- Opportunity to visit amazing places
- A service to the church
- Watch this video!
Come and see
Listen for the bells at a church near you or look for a Guild Towers. Then go along and see what ringing is all about. There will be someone in charge of the ringing, usually the Tower Captain, appointed by the local parish authorities.
Beware! once you've got the bug, you'll find it hard to give up:
"I learnt to ring over forty years ago and I still get the same buzz that I did when I first started."
With thanks to CCCBR Public Relations Committee, North American Guild and ART
For information about handbell ringing click here.