Bell Ringing

My Ringing Career

As you might expect, on these pages I have mentioned various churches ("towers") and their bells, and I wanted to give readers an idea of the size of each tower's largest ("tenor") bell. However, as not everyone will be familiar with the usual way of expressing the weight of a bell, I have simplified things by rounding them to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight. One hundredweight (1 cwt) is approximately equal to 50.8kg, and there are 20 cwt in a ton.

From Strength To Strength

Published 4th December 2011

What a difference two years makes! (All together now: "Seventeen thousand, five hundred and twenty little hours..." Where was I?) Since being elected as Tower Captain at Keynsham the number of wedding-standard ringers in our band has trebled from three to nine, and towards the end of August this year we fielded an entirely Keynsham band for a wedding for the first time in many years. Throughout my first year in the post things remained largely the same as they had been when I took over, although we did attract a number of regular visitors to help out with our fortnightly practices. But in October 2010 we gained another experienced ringer and two new recruits, prompting us to return to practising every week, and a few months later things snowballed with three more people returning to ringing after many years and yet another new recruit, all of which allowed us to restart regular Sunday service ringing. By the middle of 2011 we'd gained another learner, and just this week another returning ringer and two more beginners turned up, so needless to say we're going to be busy teaching for a while!

On a more personal level, rather than amassing new towers (just twenty since my last instalment, giving a total to date of 227) I appear to have been amassing Quarter Peals, although some of these have also been at new towers. The reason for this is that early in 2010 I was invited by a couple of ringing friends to join an occasional Quarter Peal band, with the prospect not just of ringing Quarter Peals for fun but sometimes two on the same day! Considering that until then the most I'd rung was two on consecutive days back in October 2007 (Nos.26 and 27) this was going to be quite a challenge, at least to begin with. Fortunately they eased me in gently with just one (No.40) on the six bells at Charlton Mackrell (tenor 10½ cwt) in deepest Somerset... I say "gently" but the rope circle there is anti-clockwise, and we rang Stedman Doubles which was a first for me, although I'd rung Stedman Triples twice before in 2007 and one of those was at Bath Abbey where the rope circle is also anti-clockwise.

I rang two on consecutive days again in April 2010 (Nos.41 and 42), but interestingly neither were with that new group. The second of these, at Frenchay, was particularly noteworthy because I conducted it myself and – in the words of the tenor ringer, who must have conducted a fair number over the years himself – I chose a particularly "daring" calling for only my second attempt at conducting, and my first at conducting Grandsire. Considering there were only eighteen occasions out of 144 (that's one in eight) when I didn't have to call either a Bob or a Single, I'm inclined to agree with him! I also took that opportunity to finish circling the tower to Quarter Peals (i.e. ring at least one on each bell), the first tower at which I've achieved that, which is fitting considering it's also the tower at which I rang my first Quarter Peal on 16th December 2000.

My next Quarter Peal (No.43) the following month was the first one I ever organised myself – previously I'd always waited to be invited to ring by someone else – but I stopped short of conducting it as well. Six weeks later I was out with those "occasional" ringers for the second time for an eventful afternoon at Compton Dando (six bells, tenor 14½ cwt). The ringing room there is on a gallery with a Perspex screen between it and the rest of the church, and on a hot day in June with the sun streaming through the large stained glass west window and no ventilation, it made for a very effective greenhouse. Stedman Doubles was the method for this Quarter Peal (No.44) – our first attempt fell apart after about twenty minutes, but we got through it the second time around – and after we'd lowered the bells at the end we found that the fourth bell, which I'd just been ringing for more than an hour, was frighteningly loose on its headstock and therefore probably not safe to ring! If only we'd checked upstairs before we started...

On my first attempt at ringing two Quarter Peals in one day, sadly we didn't get the second one – a combination of another hot summer day, heavy and awkward bells, and ropes so rough they took the skin off your hands – but the Plain Bob Major earlier in the afternoon (No.45) at Marston Bigot (eight bells, tenor 7¼ cwt) went so well it really didn't matter that the second tower got the better of us. We returned to that same tower five months later though on 2nd December 2010, once again for our second attempt of the day (the first one was successful and gave me my 50th, although the open gallery ringing room at Buckland Dinham – eight bells, tenor 10½ cwt – was so perishingly cold on that snowy morning that I vowed never to complain about Compton Dando in the summer again), and this time we were prepared for what we would find and claimed our victory, not only over the eight bells of Frome (tenor 27¼ cwt) but also for me ringing two successful Quarter Peals in one day. Thus ended a record year for me with fourteen successful Quarter Peals (Nos.38 to 51), a total that's already been equalled – and with luck may be exceeded later this week – in 2011. Interestingly, my previous record year for Quarter Peals was back in 2006 with eleven, Nos.8 to 18.

I began 2011 in fine style with my very first Quarter Peal on twelve bells (No.52) at the end of January. I couldn't really see which bells I was supposed to be following for half the time, much less hear my own bell amongst the others, but thanks to a reliable band around me and a method I knew very well on six, eight and ten bells it all eventually clicked into place. Three months later I almost managed to ring three Quarter Peals in one day to celebrate the Royal Wedding, but we lost the first attempt so I had to make do with just another pair (Nos.57 and 58). My next Quarter Peal was a special one, and my first outside of England. Although I'd rung a fair number on ten bells before, they'd always had the tenor bell covering (remaining in tenth's place as a pacemaker) and I fancied ringing one with all ten bells "turned in"... so I organised one! Looking at my chosen method I found that the conductor would only need to call four Bobs and one Single, so I decided to conduct it myself too. This also allowed me first choice of which bell I wanted to ring, so naturally I chose the tenor. Our initial attempt on 17th April at Abergavenny (Y Fenni) wasn't successful – the 25 cwt tenor was rather loud and drowned out the smaller bells somewhat, which made my already tricky job even trickier – but we got it the second time around on 5th July at Chepstow (Cas Gwent).

The ringing highlight of 2011 for me simply has to be my first Peal which I scored at the first attempt (not even a false start!) on my own bells at Keynsham in October 2011. Like so many recent Quarter Peals this was organised (not by me) and rung "just for fun", but the opportunity was far too good to miss. I'd always insisted that I'd want a good reason such as a state occasion or significant local event to ring a Peal, and that if I hadn't rung one by the time I turned fifty – later impatiently revised to a more realistic thirty – I'd organise one for my birthday, thinking that perhaps Peal ringing would be one of those high plateaux that I wouldn't often reach. But as it turned out, just being invited to ring was reason enough, particularly as it was at my own tower. These things are evidently addictive because I'm still seriously considering a Peal on my 30th birthday in July 2013, and I've already got two lined up in January and December 2012 at Wells Cathedral (another unmissable opportunity) and Mangotsfield respectively!

By the way, I know exactly who I'm blaming for being such a bad influence on me and encouraging me to start ringing and planning Peals, but I'll spare her any embarrassment and won't name her here. Funnily enough I managed to get her into the band for my first Peal, so she shouldn't be too hard to find...