Many people have braved our ladder up to the ringing room on one of our tower 'open days'. They have been surprised to find a very cosy, fully carpeted ringing room complete with pine furniture, heater and even a shelf for drinks'. The eight ropes are always hoisted on a "spider" up to the ceiling when not in use.
We have two windows to the outside - each has a curtain which we cleverly hook up when needed, especially when the low winter sun blinds the No. 2 ringer on a Sunday morning! There is a window into the church which enables us to see when a bride and groom walk down the centre aisle at the end of their wedding service - we then know when to start ringing! There is a small invisible circle of carpet that is connected to the rope in the church porch - we lift the carpet to tie this rope to the number two bell rope so that the bell can be chimed before weekday services. The belfry is on the next level, accessed by a perpendicular ladder from the ringing room - even many ringers do not like to climb up to the bells.
........and what goes on in belfries?
At St Mary's we have 8 bells - one octave. Most towers have 6 or 8 bells. However, some have 10 bells - and Cathedrals or large churches usually have 12 - all varying in size and weight. The treble bell is always the lightest, whilst the tenor bell is always the heaviest. Our tenor bell weighs 12.5cwt - about the same weight as a small car.
Each bell is usually left in the 'down' position for safety reasons: i.e. the bell mouth faces downwards. Before we can ring, each bell has to be 'rung up'. This is done by pulling on the rope attached to the wheel, so that the bell 'is gradually swung higher and higher until it is brought to rest with the bell pointing upwards - it is then ready for ringing. When we ring, with each pull of the rope the bell rotates a full circle, first one way and then the other (hand-stroke and back-stroke). When we finish ringing, (e.g. 9.30am on a Sunday morning), the process is reversed as we have to ring 'down'.
We prefer to ring with all eight bells: but if we don't have enough ringers, they still sound good on six. (Sometimes we have seven ringers, in which case we leave out the number two bell and hope no-one notices!)
We start by ringing down the scale: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 - this is called 'Rounds'. To vary the tune, one of the ringers, the Conductor, will call a change to the order - e.g. "7 to 5" This would produce 1 2 3 4 5 7 6 8, then perhaps "5 to 3" producing 1 2 3 5 4 7 6 8 and so on. This is known as calling 'Call Changes'. After many changes, we always end back in 'Rounds'. We usually ring 'Call Changes' on a Sunday morning.
Over the years, ringers have devised patterns such that each bell changes its position by no more than one place every time it rings - this is called 'Method Ringing'. Bell ringing has a language all of its own - sometimes we ring a 'Method' called 'Bob Doubles'.
Most ringers have a preference as to which bells they like to ring. Some prefer light bells - others like ringing the heavy ones!
........access to the Ringing Room?
Every bell tower is different.
- In many churches a spiral stone staircase leads to the ringing room (e.g. Godstone).
- Some churches have the ringing room on the ground floor (e.g. Merstham).
- At St John's in the Valley the bells are rung from a gallery overlooking the nave.
- At Limpsfield Chart, the ringers climb up the outside of the tower to enter the ringing room!
- At Leigh, the ringers stand on pews to ring on a small balcony at the back of the church - some ringers do not like ringing the 3rd or 4th bell there, for fear of falling backwards!
- At Pershore Abbey, the ringing room is suspended from the ceiling high up - you can feel it move when you ring!
- At Southwark Cathedral, getting to the ringing room involves climbing a stone spiral staircase high up into the Cathedral; you then follow along a narrow open passage-way looking down into the nave before climbing up more steps to the ringing room.
- The belfry in Liverpool Cathedral is large enough to drive a double-decker bus around the circle of bells!
February 2004 - Tower Captain