All you need to know about Bell Ringing
Who are the ringers? St Teilo’s has a small but dedicated band of ringers, some of whom are parishioners of St Teilo’s but others, for example, worship and also ring the bells at St Mary’s Priory Church in Abergavenny. The ringers come from all walks of life; and the band includes a retired postman, naval Commander, farmer and museum curator.
When do we ring? The bells are rung for service on Sunday mornings from 10.00am until 10.30am, and also for practice from 7.30pm until 9.00pm every Thursday. Bells are often rung on request for special services, weddings and funerals etc. and the ringers will also ring for about half an hour for personal significant occasions such as anniversaries, births or christenings. For those special events a small donation is required, half of which goes to the Church, and half towards the maintenance and upkeep of the bells. A commemorative personal certificate can be issued to mark the event.
How do we ring? The six bells are rung ‘full circle’ as opposed to the simple chiming mechanism of the service bell rung from inside the church. Each bell is hung from a wooden or metal ‘headstock’ having bearings at either end enabling it to rotate. At one end of the headstock is attached a wheel, around the rim of which is a rope leading down into the ringing chamber. Prior to ringing, the bells are all in the ‘upside down’ position. When the rope is pulled, this starts the wheel rotating, and as the headstock and wheel are attached to it, the bell is tipped ‘off balance’ allowing it to swing through a full 360°. As the bell rotates, the clapper strikes the inside of the bell, creating the ringing sound. By slightly varying the strength of the pull on the rope, the ringer is able to govern the speed of rotation of a bell by altering the arc through which the bell swings. So, by altering the relative speeds of the bells as they swing, the ringers can change the sequence in which they ring.
How long ago did bell ringing start ? ‘Full circle’ ringing with bells attached to wheels rather than a simple lever mechanism developed from about the early 17th Century, so the ringers of St Teilo are continuing a tradition that was started centuries ago!
What do we ring? The simplest sequence of ringing is called ’rounds’ where the lightest bell with the highest note (the ‘Treble’, or No.1 bell) is made to strike first, followed by the other bells in descending order down the scale finishing with the heaviest bell, the tenor. A ringer can only change his bell’s position in the striking sequence by one place at a time. So at each pull of the rope he can make his bell strike one place earlier, one place later, or in the same place as the previous ’round’. The simplest way in which the bells can be rung in different sequences is by the changes being called out by a ‘conductor’ (‘called changes’). Ringers then usually progress to learn by heart set patterns of ringing, referred to as ‘methods’. Some are simple but some of them are very complicated and require a great deal of skill, usually gained over a number of years.
|A very simple method Plain Hunt. Each row, starting from the top, shows the sequence in which the 6 bells are rung. In this example, five bells change their position up and down the sequence until they get back to ’rounds’. The tenor bell stays in 6th place. The changing position (or ‘path’) of the No.4 bell is picked out in Bold and if referred to as ‘the blue line’.|
|One of the easier methods, Bob Doubles. Starting from the top left row and work down each column in turn, each row shows the order in which the bells are rung. The changing position of the No.4 bell is picked out in Bold. Ringers learn these methods by heart.|
Where else can you go to ring bells? Most bell ringers belong to a local bell ringing society. The ringers of St Teilo belong to the Llandaff and Monmouth Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers [L&MDACBR] whose website is: www.llanmon.org.uk The majority of churches in Monmouthshire and South Wales that have bells, belong to this Association and ringers can keep in touch through its quarterly newsletters, attending monthly ringing practices, or just organising a social ringing visit to other churches. Ringers often get asked to help out by ringing in other churches for weddings, flower festivals etc. and the St Teilo’s band often rings at St Mary’s Abergavenny, Llantilio Crossenny, Llanarth, Blaenavon, Grosmont and further afield. In the same way that a church choir or organist will practice to improve the quality of their music for the congregation, and look on these skills as God’s gift, ringers who want to progress to ring more rhythmically, or on a higher number of bells, or more complicated methods, often attend other practice nights as well as their own.
Where can you find out more information on bell ringing? The national organisation The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has a website covering every aspect of bell ringing and is a useful place to start if you are thinking of learning: www.cccbr.org.uk
Who can learn to ring, and how do you go about it? Bell ringing is an activity that can be learnt by people of all ages. The minimum age is probably about 10 years, depending on the size and strength of the youngster. Many ringers are able to continue the activity into their 80s, and many actually start to learn in their 50s or 60s although generally speaking, those who learn young make better ringers. The skill does require a reasonable degree of coordination in order to control the bell but an instructor will always be on hand to assist a learner until they can safely ring by themselves. New ringers are always welcome. If you are interested in learning, please contact the Tower Captain, David Salter on 01873 853611, or email the Tower Secretary on email@example.com.