Wednesday, 10 June 2009

In Which there is Bellringing

I mentioned in my last post that we went out so that my parents could go bellringing, which is a little unusual, especially outside the UK, so I decided to expand a little on what it is.

So: I am a campanologist. I couldn’t help it. My parents both are, and I (and all my siblings) were taught to ring when we were too young to know any better.

Video of ringing (c) Docklands Ringing Centre

So. It involves ringing church bells. Change ringing is a uniquely British thing to do. There are other countries which have ring-able bells, but these tend to be in places which were once English Colonies, so there are small numbers of towers in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa. But the vast majority of bells, and ringers are in the UK.

It’s different from the way bells are rung in most other countries in that the bells are mounted on wheels, and turn full circle for each stroke, you need one person per bell, so it is a group activity – most towers have 6 or 8 bells, but some have 10, 12 0r even 16 – and the aim is to ring methods (based on mathematical permutations of the bells, rather than ringing tunes, as is more common with continental campaniles.

There are many such methods: the order in which the bells ring changes on each ‘stroke’
1 2 3 4 5 (ding)
2 1 4 3 5 (DONG)
2 4 1 5 3
4 2 5 1 3
4 5 2 3 1
5 4 3 2 1
5 3 4 1 2
3 5 1 4 2
3 1 5 2 4
1 3 2 5 4
1 2 3 4 5
(this is ‘Plain Hunt’, which is the simplest possible pattern.

Others are more complex…

And each bell can only ever move one ‘place at a time

starting from
1 2 3 4 5
The 2nd can swap places with the treble (no 1)
2 1 3 4 5
Or with the 3rd
1 3 2 4 5
But can’t ‘jump’ by swapping with the 4th or 5th, because that would involve moving 2 places at once.

Then there is the beer. Beer and bellringing go waaaay back. Ringers used to be paid in beer, and although sadly that custom has now lapsed, it remains the usual practice for the ringers to decamp to a nearby pub following an evenings ringing.

I am something of a lightweight where ringing is concerned. I learned to ring when I was about 11, gave it up in my rebellious teenage phase, took it up when I found that being up in the tower ringing absolved me of having to actually be in the church listening to the school’s Founders Day service, and became enthusiastic again when I went to university and discovered beer.

But I never became fanatical about it. One of the things which more, shall we say, enthusiastic ringers do is ring peals. A peal involves ringing 5,040 (or a little more) changes, and (depending on the number and weight of the bells) takes between 2 ½ and 3 ½ hours to ring. Non stop. As you have to concentrate, this can be quite hard.

I have rung peals. But I don’t make a habit of it. Other than peals, and quarter peals (which as one might imagine are shorter - 1,260 changes, or about 40-45 minutes) ordinary church-service-and practice ringing involves shorter bursts of 5 -10 minutes. Much more manageable.

clip of the ringing from last Saturday.

And did I mention the beer?

I don't ring much at present, I have a long standing problem with my shoulder which means I can only ring small, lightweight bells, and I can't even do that at the moment because I have whiplsh from my recent RTA, and I know from experience that trying to ring with one hand ends badly 9at least for me) But I WILL be back...

[Edited to add: Phiala reminds me I should have mentioned Dorothy L Sayers' novel 'The Nine Tailors', which has possibly the best literary introduction to ringing there is (provided you are willing to suspend disbelief over Lord Peter's skill despite lack of practice)]


Phiala said...

And then there's "The Nine Tailors" by Dorothy Sayers - nothing to do with sewing. And this. Sure you don't want to take up knitting???

Marjorie said...

'The nine Tailors'is great, although the way Lord Peter shows up, and despite having not runfg for years is able to ring a 9 - hour peal of Kent Treble Bob always makes me laugh!

I love the sock! It's not so much that I don't want to knit, but the times I've tried it (a) It makes my neck & shoulder hurt and (b) I was very very bad at it. Unless you happen to have a small child with arms of wildly different lengths, that is!

Siri said...

I adore peal ringing. I adore "The Nine Tailors". I adore hearing bells, well rung. I've never pealed. I wanna.

Marjorie, you are so cool.

But, I don't like beer. Well, American beer. I like stout.

Dragonsally said...

mmm, stout.

I love that in the clip from last weekend, the dong is so noticeable.

I also like to know that ringing is being done manually...hate hearing taped bells from a church.

spacedlaw said...

Looks like hard work and fairly difficult as well. Beer WELL deserved. In France or Italy, the church bells that are still rung by human are usually rung by just one person (the sacristan) and bell towers not allowed to the commoners.

Thanks for the explanation.

I think Siri should be made to know that some micro breweries of the US are ALSO producing stout-like beers (and/or Barley wine, which is more to my liking)...

Siri said...

True that, Nat, but none as good as a hand-pulled Guinness.