Horfield Tower Bell Ringers
Horfield Parish Church, Bristol.
Beginners

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PAGE CONTENTS

 
Beginners Welcome!
Why Ring Bells?
What is Ringing?
Handstroke and Backstroke
Single-handed and Two-Handed Ringing
The Bell Ringer's Knot
Ringing Up - and Ringing Down
Ringing Rounds
More Advanced Ringing
Maintaining the Bells
Safety in the Tower
 

 
Beginners Welcome!
 

Horfield Tower welcomes beginners of all ages, though minors must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Practice for beginners is normally held 7:00-7:30 p.m., before the practice for experienced ringers starts. Additional beginners' practices may also be arranged, by agreement with the secretary. For those interested (and sufficiently agile), an opportunity will be given to climb the ladders to the belfry to look at the bell mechanism. Beginners will be given an introductory booklet on ringing, an a training video is also available on loan (VHS and DVD formats).

 
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Why Ring Bells?
 

Church bell ringing is primarily an English tradition, although there are also some towers hung for change-ringing in other parts of Britain, and in other English-speaking countries. If you become a ringer, you will be helping to maintain this tradition. It is not necessary to be a member of the church, although some ringers are. Either way, you will be performing a useful service for your local church! You will also be taking part in an enjoyable social activity, and will derive benefit from the physical and mental exercise. You will also be able to ring for weddings (small payment made) and take part in visits to other towers.

 
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What is Ringing?
 

So what is ringing? Although there are three basic ways of sounding a suspended bell, in strict terms, only the third way can be properly called ringing:

Striking With the bell stationary, hitting the outside with a hammer (this is how clock bells are sounded, such as Big Ben in London).

With the bell stationary, hitting the inside with hammer, as is the case with a carillon (a mechanism for playing tunes on bells).

Chiming Swinging the bell from side to side allowing the clapper to strike the inside of the bell, using a half-wheel and rope. Many churches without a tower with bells hung for full-circle ringing have a single bell mounted in a turret which is rung to announce services. Chiming a bell in this way requires no special skill.
Ringing Swinging the bell around in a full circle making the clapper strike the inside of the bell once, then making the bell swing back in the opposite direction through a complete circle, using a full wheel and rope. Towers hung for church bell ringing have a minimum of four bells - and some have up to twelve or more. Unlike chiming, ringing needs the services of a band of trained ringers

Although the study of bell ringing is called campanology, those taking part (no matter how expert they may be in this art) never call themselves campanologists. When discussing their activity with non-ringers, they may talk about bell ringers or bell ringing, but between themselves it's just ringers and ringing.

Towers hung for church bell ringing have a minimum of four bells - and some have up to twelve or more. Horfield, with just five bells, is an ideal tower for the beginner. Although only five ringers are needed for any given event, a much larger "pool" of ringers is needed to maintain ringing viability, as there is no guarantee that everyone will always be available.

Bells hung for change-ringing are arranged in their frame so that their ropes hang in a circle in the ringing chamber below. Regardless of its actual pitch, the highest pitched bell in a tower ring is referred to as the treble, and the lowest pitched bell is referred to as the tenor. Bells are also referred to by their sequential number, starting from the treble (bell No. 1.) 

Bells are normally tuned to a diatonic (major) scale, with the tenor bell being the keynote. Thus, in the Horfield tower (a ring of five, with a Bb tenor), ringing the bells in reverse order (not normally done) would give the first five notes of the scale of Bb major:  Bb - C - D - Eb - F.

Safety in the tower is paramount, as failure to control a bell properly may result in injury to a ringer as well as causing damage to the mechanism. For this reason, initial practical training focuses on the handling of a single bell. 

  
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Handstroke and Backstroke
 
Bell-rope sally. When rung, a bell swings through almost 360 degrees, and sounds just once in this cycle. The cycle demands two distinct pulling strokes from the ringer: the handstroke, and the backstroke. From the initial upward-standing position of the bell, the handstroke is achieved by a steady pull on the sally (a tufted hand-grip on the rope), at the same time keeping control of the tail end of the rope by holding it between base of the thumb and first finger. After the bell has turned downwards through 180 degrees, inertia takes it upwards in the opposite direction. The bell rope is taken up around the bell pulley wheel, and the sally moves upwards out of reach. The backstroke is then executed  by means of a a steady pull on the tail of the rope, and the cycle then begins again.
 
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Single-handed and Two-Handed Ringing
 
To make things easier for the beginner, these two strokes are taught separately by a process known as single-handed ringing. That is (on a single bell), the teacher controls the hand stroke, whilst the pupil executes the back stroke. Roles can then be reversed, to allow the pupil to learn the hand stroke, whilst the teacher controls the back stroke. When both of these stokes have been learned, the pupil can progress to normal  two-handed ringing, with the teacher acting as a stand-by in case things go wrong. Bell swinging full-circle.
 
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The Bell Ringer's Knot
 
Bell ringer's knot. The beginner will also be shown other aspects of bell control, such as how to increase or decrease the rate of ringing, how to stand the bell at the end of ringing (always done on the hand stroke), and how to tie the Bell Ringer's Knot

If for any reason, a break is taken in between ringing, all of the bells will be in their standing positions, and will therefore be unstable. The potential danger is that someone might trip on a dangling rope, thus pulling the bell from its equilibrium, and allowing it to swing out of control. For this reason, as soon as ringing stops, each ringer takes up the slack in his or her rope, using the Bell Ringer's Knot. The existence of this knot tied in a bell rope also serves to remind all the ringers that a particular bell is up.

 
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Ringing Up - and Ringing Down
 

Ringing always starts and finishes with the bells up (stood) - that is, with the mouth of each bell pointing upwards. However, for safety reasons, the tower is never left unattended with the bells in this position. At the end of every ringing session, the bells are always rung down - that is, left with the mouth of each bell pointing downwards. It follows that before a ringing session can begin, the bells must first be rung up. For this reason, a pupil is also taught how to ring a bell up, and the separate technique of ringing a bell down.

 
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Ringing Rounds
 

When the pupil has achieved a reasonable competency, he or she will be ready to join the team of ringers in the simplest form of ringing - ringing rounds. This begins with all the the bells standing in the upward position. The sequence begins by the ringer controlling the treble (no. 1 bell) giving the command: "Look to!" to warn the other ringers that ringing is about to commence. This command is closely followed by the command "Treble's going!", as he or she begins pulling the hand stroke, followed by "She's gone!" as the bell moves off its equilibrium. (Bells, like ships are female!). The ringer on No. 2 bell immediately follows, followed sequentially by the other ringers until the tenor, then the ringing cycle begins again. The successive interval between each bell sounding is quite small - about 1/10 of a second. The cycle continues until the command "Stand!" is given, then each ringer stands his or her bell on the next hand stroke.

For more information on ringing rounds, please refer to the Ringing page on this site.

 
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More Advanced Ringing
 

Once the pupil has learned to ring rounds in the team, he or she will be able to progress on to the more advanced operations of change-ringing and method ringing.

For more information, please refer to the Ringing page on this site.

 
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Maintaining the Bells
 
Bells, like any other mechanism, need maintenance. Major work needs the services of professionals such as bell founders and bell hangers. However, periodic inspections and minor adjustments are within the scope of amateurs, and most towers (including Horfield) appoint one of the ringers, called a steeple keeper, to take responsibility for this. For those interested (and agile) there will opportunities to help with this work. Muffled ringing is used for certain occasions, such as the Remembrance Day Service. Before such events, a visit to the belfry is need to fit leather muffles to the clappers, with a second visit being needed after the event to remove them.
 
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Safety in the Tower
 

Before going into the bell chamber (or belfry) to carry out any inspection or maintenance  it is vital to check that all the bells are rung down. As it not advisable to work alone in the bell chamber,  two ringers are needed - normally the steeple master and an assistant. A third ringer is also needed to "stand guard" below in the ringer's chamber to ensure that no-one interferes with the bell ropes whilst the work is being carried out.

 
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