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Learning the Ropes of Bell Ringing

Belper Bell Ringers

The origins of ‘change ringing’ go back to the 16th century when church bells began to be hung with a full wheel, allowing them to rotate freely through 360 degrees. This gave
ringers control of their bell so that sets of bells (rings) could be rung in a continuously changing pattern. To create such a pattern (also known as a method), you move the
bells up and down the ringing order.

Ringing is well within the capabilities of most people. The initial teaching takes several weeks, after which a learner can begin ringing with the rest of the team. And you can develop your new hobby to whatever level you like. As with anything, ithas its own jargon: there are rounds, peals, stays, a sally and, of course, the backhand and forehand pulls (eat your heart out, Wimbledon!).

But before you get into all that, there’s also the sheer delight of creating a familiar sound that can be heard all over the village when the bells are in full voice. Fortunately, there are also talented local people, such as ART (Association of Ringing Teachers) qualified instructor Peter Jenkinson, available to demystify all the jargon. Most ringers practise once a week and ring before or after church on Sunday. Being able to count is all that you require and you can become a good bell-ringer without knowing anything about music.

‘When the bells sound well and are ringing like clockwork, there’s really nothing better.’

Peter Jenkinson got into bell-ringing when his voice broke as a young man and he wanted to remain involved in the musical life of the church – a family friend suggested
bell-ringing. Moving around the country from his native Lancashire, he found others who share his passion and now he rings bells all over the county. While on holiday in New Zealand, he found himself reading a local advertisement for bell-ringers and was amazed to find the ‘typical’ church featured in the ad was none other than St Oswald’s, Ashbourne!

half muffled bell

That church was in fact poorly designed for bell-ringers, as they have to stand in the middle of the nave while the service or commemoration happens around them. More
usually, the bell-ringers will be at the back of the church where their exertions are less distracting.

The normally joyful sound of ringing bells can also be given a melancholy quality by muffling the bells with special leather casings on one side – a technique that’s often used at funerals. The result is a more mournful effect (similar to a brass-player fitting a mute to their instrument) where the bells have a softer ring than the familiar bright sound.