A potted history of Bell Ringing to the early 1900s

9780747803263_lIf you want to find out more about bell ringing, a good place to start is “Discovering Bells and Bellringing” by John Camp (Shire Publications Ltd).

Here are a few little snippets from that book which may whet your enthusiasm to read the whole thing.

The oldest bell in St Peter’s tower Goldhanger dates from 1627, but bells have been rung long before that date, mainly associated with churches but also at times to signal warnings or disasters.  In 1552 Bishop Latimer wrote that “If all the bells in England were rung at one time, there would scarcely be a single spot where a bell would not be heard.”

Up to the fourteenth century bells in England were usually hung on a simple spindle and chimed by pulling a rope attached to the spindle.  But as time went on, ways were found to improve control of the bell by mounting it first onto a wooden quarter- wheel and then a half –wheel, with the spindle as the axle.  By the reign of Henry the Eighth most churches had two or three bells, while the larger churches and monasteries had eight or ten.  With the coming of the Reformation and the destruction of the monasteries, many bells were silenced or completely removed.

After the Reformation these same bells had to be rehung, this time using a whole wheel.  This allowed greater control of the bell, and with the introduction of the slider and stay which allowed the bell’s movement to be halted at will or restarted quickly, the way lay ahead for the development of change ringing, a practice generally unique in England and countries with British connections.

Many churchwardens’ accounts of the time show the costs of repairs to bells and the payments made to bell ringers.  The records of St Margaret’s Westminster show that in 1586 ringers were paid one shilling each for “ringing at the beheading of the Queen of Scotts,” and less than twenty years later paid ten times that amount for ringing “at the time when the Parliament House should have been blown up.”

More and more laymen were now becoming involved in bell ringing, and societies of lay ringers were set up from the early seventeenth century.  By the late 1800s diocesan and county associations of ringers were formed, including our own Essex Association of Bell Ringers, set up in 1879.

In the eighteenth century ringers became notorious for bad behaviour – possibly because ringing was a chance to earn a little money which could be spent afterwards in the local inn.  The situation seemed to be worse in rural areas where every opportunity was taken to ring, and cursing, swearing and smoking were common, with some ringing chambers having their own private supply of beer.

Bequests could be made for ringers to give thanks on behalf of local people.  In 1813 Thomas Nashe of Bath left £50 to the Abbey ringers to ring “solemn and doleful changes” every 14th May, the anniversary of his wedding.  But on the day of his death he requested “merry mirthful peals in commemoration of my happy release from domestic tyranny and wretchedness.”  Poor man!

As the connection between ringers and the church became more tenuous, rifts developed between clergy and ringers; in one Devon parish the rector was locked out by the ringers, and some rectors turned down livings when they heard who controlled the tower.  But with the Victorian enthusiasm for church restoration, ringing came back more under the control of the church, and ringers’ behaviour was required to improve.  In some churches this was achieved by taking out the floor of the ringing chamber and lengthening the ropes so that they came down to the floor of the tower and ringers had to ring in full view of the congregation.  Although some clung on to old ways – an article printed in 1865 advised on how to deal with “an ungodly set of ringers” – standards rose and by the end of the 1800s women were also taking part in ringing.

How the Bells are Maintained

bells‘HOW BORING’ was the reaction from my family when I said I had been asked to write notes on the maintenance of the Church Bells. Well, if you’ve read this far that’s a good start.

The picture shows four of the bells in our Bell Tower. In all, there are eight bells on this frame, which makes the area very congested and very dynamic when all eight are ringing. The bells weigh up to half a ton each, so you can imagine a lot of vibration forces when all are being rung enthusiastically.

This presents the first major maintenance problem. That of fatigue of the steelwork, their fixings (nuts and bolts) and indeed the tower brickwork itself. All these have to be checked regularly for any fatigue fractures, loose nuts and crumbling structures. The photo shows extensive brickwork repairs in the corner. Indeed, three local towers have had to stop ringing recently for tower repairs. St Mary’s and All Saints in Maldon, and St Mary’s Tollesbury.

The bells are shown in the UP position, that is with the open mouth facing up. They are held there by a wooden Stay. The bell rope is attached to the large wheel that rotates the bell. When pulled firmly, the bell rotates down and round 360 degrees back to the UP position where again it can be held by the Stay. The skill of the bell ringer prevents the Stays being hit too hard, but we’ve all broken Stays at some time during our learning! Maintenance ensures a ready stock of Stays for speedy replacement.

When the bells are in the UP position it is extremely dangerous as they are unstable and could easily cause serious injury. The bells are almost always left in the DOWN position for safety. Before we start ringing we have to get the bells UP. This involves pulling the ropes to get the bells swinging more and more until they reach the UP position. Hence you will often hear a rather ragged bit of ringing before proper ringing starts.

Health and Safety is a top priority in the bell tower. This is the first consideration with all maintenance work and also with the training and conduct of all ringers, especially learners. So any newcomers are welcome to come in the confidence they will be handling well maintained and safe equipment to enjoy the pleasure and challenge of Bell Ringing.

Bob Christy

Goldhanger bell ringers

The bell ringers held their AGM in October.  Andrew Kelso (Tower Captain) began his report by remembering three dear friends who will be sorely missed – Ken Perry, Tower Captain for over ten years; Ron Cook, a key member of our band; and Christine Drake of Tollesbury, a strong supporter of our tower.  The Essex Association of Change Ringers rang a peal in memory of Ron and Ken in September.

The year began in the traditional way by ringing in the New Year; practices were held every week and the bells rung for all the Sunday services.  During the Open Gardens weekend demonstrations were given which attracted three new ringers to the team, who are all making good progress.  Ringers have also participated in EACR training events, and visiting bands have been hosted on three occasions.

The band has rung at five weddings and nine funerals in 2015.  Whilst charging for ringing at funerals is uncomfortable for many, it is now necessary due to maintenance costs of the bells and the need to bring in outside ringers to make up the team, especially for mid-week ringing.

The sound control policy has initially been successful, and written and verbal notification of extra ringing to church neighbours has been well received.

The ringers held their annual dinner in January, and a tower outing to Canewdon, Basildon, Downham and Little Baddow was also held.  An EACR District Practice was held in June and well attended by local ringers.

Andrew concluded his report by thanking all the ringers for their support, enthusiasm and hard work throughout the year.

Learning to Ring (Part the Second)


‘The Ap-peal-ing Tale of a Novice Campanologist’

by Clare Gebel

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 20.03.15The clapper is tied so that the bell doesn’t actually ring and annoy the neighbours.

For these as all other lessons the movements and techniques are built up in easy stages with the teacher looking after the parts of the strokes that you are not doing. We  started with the bell in the down position, pulling the rope so that it  would chime and gradually increasing the swing of the bell to a ringing position. As this improves the bell moves nearer to the balance point (bell pointing up). It is important to get the idea of what this feels like, so you can control the movement, stop the bell bouncing off the stay or worse still breaking the stay, be able to stand the bell in the up position.

There was some homework to do , I needed to practice the hand movements and making sure that the hands stay touching as much as possible during ringing, for this I used the rope on my washing line/ airer in the kitchen, the pull chord on the blinds a bit bizarre but then you are able to practice the technique in slow motion with the pace not being forced by a moving bell.

Alongside the practical bit in the church I was also registered for the nationally recognised “learning the ropes” scheme which comes with a log on a website with resources and the theory bits. One of the videos that was massively helpful to me was of a ringing bell with a person handling the rope at the bottom and you can see the impact of what the ringer was doing to what happened. It was at this point I had the first light bulb moment as to the actual difference between the hand and back strokes and the fact that the backstroke is started from a much higher point as the rope is wound around the ringing wheel at that point.

Now at the point when I can ring the bell unaided it’s time to join in with the others. Again this is built up and you start with one other and gradually increase the numbers. Each bell in order.

Next stage is to master being able to speed up or slow down the ringing speed in order to change the order of bells. “Call Changes” This is done by adjustments in where you catch the Sally or the length of the tail end.

The rules are very simple but I was having to concentrate so hard on the ringing technique I lacked enough thought capacity for working out the order of the bells and therefore found the really simple rules difficult to follow and would often need to ask where I should be in the order.  As technique improves the ringing becomes more natural and there is now enough brain capacity to concentrate on where I should be. (most of the time)

I was then off for my first outing to another church on this occasion in Writtle. Here there were a number of learner ringers at different stages each with their own helpers/ teachers. I was nervous and worried that I might break something. There was some chaos with ropes being missed and going all over the place which was quite distracting but I used the same skills as the ones to filter out the noise in the office and stayed really focused and managed to ring. I was the allowed to ring with call changes with some of the other members of the band.

After a number of weeks practicing I was allowed to turn up to ring for a service. This just happened to be for Christmas Day – so no pressure. I turned up at the church very nervous , legs and arms both almost turned to jelly as I pulled the rope for the first time. After the first couple of pulls the nerves subside although having to intensively concentrate. Things go reasonably well.

I have continued with this since improving consistency and correcting faults as they have appeared.

The next stage for me is to complete the couple of things left at the level one of the ITTS course and I am now getting to the point of moving on to learn the first of the change ringing methods – Plain hunt.

More to follow in a later edition perhaps ?

So if you feel the inclination and want to give it a try the practice night in Goldhanger is on Wednesday evenings 7.30 – 9 pm you would be welcome to turn up or catch one of the ringing team and have a chat.

Clare Gebel

Learning to Ring


‘The Ap-peal-ing Tale of a Novice Campanologist’

by Clare Gebel

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 20.00.24When I tell people I am learning to ring the bells this is usually followed by – what made you want to do that? (And the look from my work colleagues who now have confirmation that I am a bit mad) So I thought this would be a good place to start.

I had enjoyed listening to the bells ever since we came to Goldhanger particularly as they were ringing as we were walking around the sea wall with the dog or on Christmas Eve whilst staggering home from the pub. Carrying on from there I just felt it was important that they should continue to be heard.

I think my husband may have mentioned this to Caron and this was followed with an invitation to turn up and give it a go.

I had no real appreciation of what was involved. I could imagine the moving ropes and would have doubts about catching them (at school I was useless at any games involving either hitting a moving target or catching) and if I would be strong or fit enough ?

Therefore it took a number of months to pluck up the courage but eventually decided to try and see how I got on.

Everyone was very friendly,  welcoming and very patient. After a visit up the tower to look at the bells and the mechanism, initial lessons were to stand with a helper who firstly explained how to hold the end of the rope and then pull the backstroke (with the helper handling the hand stroke and ensuring that they were ready to catch the rope should anything go wrong)  A similar process is adopted on the hand stroke ( pulling the Sally, the stripy fluffy bit) and then adding in the feeling of keeping hold of the tail end in the left hand while pulling the Sally.

Progress was initially slow ,and I can after all be very impatient, so when Andrew offered the opportunity to have some longer one-2-one lessons I jumped at the chance.

to be continued …

Goldhanger Bell Ringing Tour

Basildon TowerSaturday 21st March saw the ringing band from St. Peter`s Church, Goldhanger embark on the spring ringing tour which was very well organised by Caron Harris to 4 churches in S.E.Essex, namely St.Nicholas, Canewdon, St.Martin of Tours Basildon, St.Margarets at Downham and finally St.Mary the virgin at Lt. Baddow.

Some claimed to know the way to Canewdon without the help of the sat`navs which of course ensured that some had a wonderful tour of the Essex region. However, all arrived safely and in time.

In addition to Caron, Barbara, Claire, Bob, David, Andrew and Rick, Caron had arranged for some very accomplished ringers to join the tour including Peter Smith from Braintree, Annemarie Adams from Gt. Bardfield, Ian Hamilton from Wethersfield, Emily Ashton and young Alexander from Tollesbury and 4 delightful ladies from Marston Bigot and Nunney, Somerset. Vicki, Helen, Margaret and Claire.

Nunney is famous as the estate of Rob Walker, heir to the Johnny Walker whisky comany and who spent his money on formula 1 racing cars for Stirling Moss.

Bellringers at CanewdonBefore ringing at Canewdon, Caron had arranged with Brian Melford for access to the top of the tower which was well worth the 176  steps as the scenery was very spectacular with views over the Thames and River Roach looking south and the Crouch with the Blackwater in the distance when looking north. The climb to the top was by a spiral staircase in a very restricted area which once again reminded us how the human frame has grown from what was then the norm as the churches were built.

St. Nicholas has 10 bells which requires a different technique to the usual 6 bell towers but provided an added interest to the day`s ringing. The next tower was the well known and completely unique tower situated in the midst of Basildon town centre. What makes this so unusual is that the sides are glass which enables pedestrians walking by to view the ringers in action and the sequences of the bells.

Whilst this tower is a “stand alone” the actual church is some 50 yards away. This is probably the only one of it`s kind and Basildon has every right to be very proud of such a unique feature.

St. Margarets at Downham was next with the more conventional peal of 6 bells which, as before were rung by all in the party to a wide variety of ringing methods.

The final stop was at Lt. Baddow with 8 bells and once again a large variety of ringing methods were rung but the star of the show was Alexander who utilised all of his 6 years to ring the treble to the delight of all concerned.

The day ended with dinner at the Chequers, Goldhanger which always goes down well to end a most enjoyable and rewarding day.

The Sunday morning ring was made more complete when the 4 ladies from Somerset joined the resident band which again completed the whole proceedings.

Rick Anstey

Bellringing at St. Peter’s

Bellringing activities for April

The bells will be run on Sunday mornings thirty minutes before the services.

Regular practices are on Wednesdays 7.30 – 9pm.

On Wed. 8th April at mid-day there will be a bellringing demonstration for Goldhanger W.I.

AM on Sat. 11th April a peal organized by Essex Association members.

On Sat. 18th April ringing for a wedding at 2pm.

No other special activities are planned in April.


Peal Ringing

By Andrew Kelso – Tower Captain

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 18.17.46Change ringing developed in England in the 15th century, with developments in bell technology, which meant that bells could be swung through 360 degrees, controlled precisely, and with minimum of effort. Rings of bells were tuned into diatonic scales, and initial change ringing comprised “plain changes” – changing the order of the bells one at a time from the basic sequence “rounds” (123456).

As ringing became more sophisticated, the positions of more than one bell could be changed at a time, and “methods” (different combinations of bells in a pre-determined order) were developed. There are now thousands of different methods, with names such as Cambridge Surprise, Plain Bob, Stedman, or Bristol Surprise.

Within a method, each different combination of bells (e.g. 123456, 132456,134256) is called a “change”. The maximum number of changes (or “extent”) that can be rung on 5 bells is 120, on 6 bells is 720, and on 7 bells is 5040. On 8 bells it is 40320, which takes around 24 hours to ring!).

Initially, the term peal was used to mean any extent of a method, but over time it has evolved to mean any uninterrupted ringing of more than 5000 changes, with the minimum number of repeated changes (e.g. on 7 or more bells no changes should be repeated. To do this, without error, requires sustained concentration and skill.

The first true peal was 5040 Plain Bob Triples, rung at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, on May 2nd 1715, by the Norwich Scholars (a prominent ringing society of that time). A few crazy individuals have rung more than 3000 peals, but most bellringers will content themselves with less stressful ringing pastimes.

On Saturday 11th April 2015, a peal will be attempted at St Peter’s Church Goldhanger. This has been arranged by a notable local ringer, Yvonne Towler, who has herself rung more than 1400 peals, and this attempt is to celebrate her first peal, Plain Bob Major, rung here on 9th April 1965. Ringing will start at around 9.30am, and will last for no more than 3 hours. We wish her and the rest of the band every success in their attempt.


Ken Perry

ken perryRetiring Bell Tower Captain, Ken Perry was presented with a painting of the bells in St Peters by the new Tower Captain, Andrew Kelso, at the Bellringer’s annual dinner in The Chequers on the 16th of January.

ken perry 2Ken was Tower Captain for 15 years and during that time has taught many new ringers, introduced many local children to hand bell ringing and to playing the chimes, organised many bellringing tours and has represented the village on Essex Bellringing Association matters.


Bellringing at St. Peter’s

bell-ropesYou will be pleased to hear that the Bellringing at St. Peter’s page is back in the Parish Magazine.

The sound of the bells is very much a part of the village; ringing out on Wednesday evenings for practise, announcing weddings, funerals, christenings, and calling parishioners to Sunday services.

The monthly update on what our local bellringers are up to is highly entertaining and informative. We not only get a glimpse of the history of the bells in the tower but how they were made and when, and how they work – a mystery to some of us.

It is also very interesting to hear about the ringers themselves and their progress, sometimes from novice to experienced ringer.

If anyone would like to have a go at ringing handbells please contact Ken Perry through this website.