WANT TO BE A BELL RINGER?
The church possesses a fine ring of six bells. Four of them were cast in 1779, one in 1776, and the No. 3 bell was recast in 1925, when all the bells were rehung in a new metal frame.
Ringing is a fascinating pastime and anyone who thinks he or she would like to learn will be very welcome. It is not something which happens overnight. It demands application and practice over a long period of time. First you learn to handle a bell and then to ring with the others. After that comes method ringing. The first methods you learn can be difficult but as you progress the process becomes easier.
Having written that, it should be noted that established members of the band who have been ringing for years are still learning!
Ringers are part of a very sociable community and there are opportunities for ringing at different towers and making many new acquaintances.
If you are interested, here are two contacts for you:
Tower Secretary: John Reid, Apps Farmhouse, Hook Green, Lamberhurst TN3 8LL
Telephone 01892 890672.
Tower Captain: Miss Catherine Heathcote 3, Halls Cottage, Sparrows Green, Wadhurst - 01892 785577.
Practice night is Wednesday from 7.45pm to 9.00pm and service ringing on Sundays is
usually from 8.45 for the 9.15 service on the second third and fourth Sundays of the month.
CATHERINE HEATHCOTE TELLS OF HER FIRST EXPERIENCE OF BELL RINGING
I began bell ringing as a student after passing a church in Oxford city centre where I saw a yellow, handwritten sign on the church notice board announcing ‘Bellringers wanted’ along with a telephone number to call. It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t a bell ringer or that I actually might want to learn to ring, it was more of ‘Ahh, at last, now I can get started.’ I don’t remember ever consciously making a decision to investigate bell ringing; somehow it was more a case of ‘I will learn to ring when I find out where you can do it.’
So, the following Wednesday, I waited in great anticipation at the north porch to St Giles Church at half past seven in the evening. Very soon I was joined by more students, a blind gentleman, who was an Oxford Don, a clergy man from a nearby church, a librarian, a stonemason, two sixth formers doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and a lady I recognised from a local choir . We proceeded through the darkened church, manoeuvred ourselves around the back of the organ, climbed up a medieval ladder that passed through the organ casing, and at last found ourselves in the ringing chamber. The rest of the evening is a blur now, but I emerged after what seemed only a short time, but was in fact an hour and a half later, totally fascinated and buzzing with adrenalin and nervous excitement. I was invited by my fellow ringers to join them for a welcome drink and a chat in the nearby pub. And so my ringing began. I’m not sure how long it took me to learn to handle a bell or how I ever mastered ringing ‘changes’, but I did… and I’ve loved every minute of my ringing ever since over the last twenty-five years! (Although I no longer live near St Giles, I still visit when I can and will remain friends with my fellow ringers for life).
THE HISTORY OF BELL RINGING
Bell ringing is, of course, steeped in history. A little research will reveal that bells are mentioned in Exodus; the Spartans had bells rung at their funerals; the Chinese and Japanese were ringing bells long before the birth of Christ and the Venerable Bede mentions bells being rung at Monkwearmouth Abbey in 735 AD. We hear of the Angelus bell, the Seeding bell, the Harvest bell, the Gleaning bell . . . Ringing full circle, with bells turning on wheels, seems to have its origins in the 16th century, with ‘change ringing’ developing in the 17th century. Originally a pastime of the aristocratic, belfries soon became the meeting place for all the parish riff-raff and were notorious places soon associated with heavy drinking and riotous behaviour. Local Incumbents dismissed the ringers and appointed, and paid, their own bands. Rules were drawn up and ringers were expected to attend practice sessions, ring for Sunday services and attend other duties such as: weddings, feast days, sounding death knells and more. Ancient rules and evidence of ringing survive in many belfries and church records to this day, not to mention the inscriptions on medieval frames and historic bells themselves.
THE LAMBERHURST BELLS
At Lamberhurst Church we have 6 bells, cast for ringing in 1779, the heaviest bell weighing 14 cwt (just under three quarters of a ton). Some towers have as many as 16 bells but most towers would have between 6 and 8 bells. The bells are named according to their position in the ring – ‘second,’ ‘ third’ . . .etc with the first bell or ‘Treble’ being the lightest bell with the highest note and the ‘Tenor’ being the heaviest bell and key note of the ring. When the bells are rung sequentially, down the scale in the simplest pattern, this is called ‘rounds.’ More complicated patterns of ringing, called ‘methods’ always begin and end with ‘rounds.’
|Treble||4cwt 3qr 3lb||1776||Pack & Chapman|
|2||6cwt 0qr 24lb||1779||Pack & Chapman|
|3||6cwt 3qr 26lb||1925 (Recast)||Gillett & Johnston|
|4||8cwt 1qr 4lb||1779||Pack & Chapman|
|5||10cwt 2qr 19lb||1779||Pack & Chapman|
|Tenor||13cwt 0qr 17lb||1779||Pack & Chapman|
All the bells were originally cast at Whitechapel. The foundry at Whitechapel was started by
Robert Mot in 1574 although the succession of the firm can probably be traced back to
1420 when Robert Chamberlain was casting in Aldgate. The No. 3 bell was recast in 1925
by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon.
HOW DO WE RING THE BELLS?
Well, ringers stand in a circle with one rope each. Each rope has a coloured woollen grip called a ‘sallie’ or ‘sally,’ the end of the rope is doubled over to form the ‘tail end.’ The ropes rise from the ringing chamber, through the ceiling and sometimes, possibly, through another two chambers (clock room, for example) to the bell chamber. The rope is tied to a large wheel on which each bell is securely mounted. When rung, each bell has two strokes. To ring the bell, the ringer pulls the sally to the floor causing the bell and wheel to turn full circle, the rope winds around the wheel and raises the sally to the ceiling of the ringing chamber – the ‘hand stroke.’ The ringer then pulls the tail end of the rope down causing the sally to return, the ringer then catches it – the ‘back stroke.’ Very little effort is needed but learning to work the bell so that the sound can be precisely controlled is a practised skill.
Learning to handle a bell is only the start of the fun. Ringers begin by learning to master ‘rounds.’ Once rounds have been learnt, a ringer is ready to move onto ‘changes’. A Change is the term given to one row, that is the sequence of ringing in which every bell rings once. Changes can be altered by swapping the order of adjacent pairs of bells. This swapping of the order is ‘called’ by a conductor, who directs the ringers through the process. ‘Methods,’ of which there are hundreds ranging enormously in complexity, are pre-arranged patterns of changes learnt by the ringers in advance. For example ‘Plain Bob Minor’ will give a pattern of 60 changes before returning to rounds.
WHY NOT HAVE A GO?
If any of the above has made you a little curious, there are many more attractions and features of ringing that might whet your appetite further. Whilst calling the faithful to worship and making our contribution to church life, bell ringing is a team activity involving people of all ages, from 10 upwards to 80 and beyond. Ringers come from all walks of life and as soon as you become a ringer at your local tower you are automatically a member of the whole ringing community. Turn up at any tower on a Sunday or ringing practice night and you will immediately be made welcome and invited to join in. If you enjoy photography or are interested in architecture or just like visiting historic churches, then there are plenty of opportunities to indulge your hobby or passion. Then of course there are the lovely, picturesque villages that are home to our wonderful, historic churches that have their fair share of strange legends and numerous ghost stories from the past. But the best thing of all for me is…the glorious, enchanting sound of the bells themselves. Why not have a go?
(Lamberhurst Bell ringers)
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