I was seriously "bitten by the bug" when I was seated at the console of an organ in Portsmouth with my father. He was there to practise for an upcoming service. The "Tower Captain" came down to us to say the Church was going to be locked up for a couple of hours, because the bell-ringers were about to have their weekly practise. My father said "why don't you go up there to see what they're doing?" This I did, and after a probation period, I was one of their number!
Bell ringing is physically a lot more involved than most people seem to think. The physical aspects of this art is that you have to swing a really heavy object (maybe in a small village church the heaviest bell could be 10 cwt. [half a ton!]) These bells rotate 360+ degrees while they are being rung. The heaviest bell hung for "full circle ringing" is one in Liverpool Cathedral. This weighs 82 cwt. (just over 4 tons!) This bell is so heavy that two people have to control it!
As I hinted earlier, these bells are rung through 360 degrees (a bit more so you can hold them just beyond the point of balance for a while, so you can control them.) Because the lighter bells of a "ring" move a lot quicker, the ringers of these bells have to wait and hold their bells just beyond this point of balance a lot longer than the heavier bells to allow the heavier bells to rotate, especially if you are ringing a lighter bell, moving one place back in the sequence. More of sequences now....
Bell-ringing is also a lot more technical than most people think. Ringers use what are called methods to remember the sequence that the bells have to be rung. When a method is started, the bells ring in what is called "rounds". That is to say 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 (for an eight-bell "ring".) In each further change, any bell can move no further than one place (the next change could be 2-1-4-3-6-5-8-7)
There are a set number of combinations in which 8 bells can be rung. This equates to 40,320 changes. For the mathematically minded of those reading this, yes --- you may have it --- that's the factorial of 8!
Anyone who read the Dorothy L. Sayers book "The Nine Taylors," or saw its subsequent series on TV would know this amount of ringing (40,320 changes) would theoretically be spread over a couple of days! I have an entry in my guest book by Dr Peter H Mackie, that says this extent has actually been rung at the Loughborough Bell Foundry in 1963, taking just over 19 hours.
Okay, divide this figure by 8 and you get the "real world" time for a peal!
Peals are 5040 changes long (yes --- you possibly have it again --- that's the factorial of 7!) A peal is the longest time the bells are normally rung for.
During this time, you have to remember what's commonly called "the blue line" for that particular method. This is your bells' path through the method. There are various "calls" from the "conductor". This is the person who has the responsibility to call various changes in order to continue the method to its proper conclusion. I'm just guessing here, but if someone "calls the changes", this may originate from this bell-ringing thing? Sounds reasonable.
12 bells is the normally accepted maximum for a ring. The different number of combinations on that number of bells is 479,001,600. Theoretically, this would take about 37 years to ring!
A peal (5040 changes) normally takes about 3½ hours to ring, more-or-less, depending on the weight of the bells. During this period you cannot allow your mind to wander at all, else the peal would be lost. If this happens, you then also have seven other very angry ringers to answer to, especially if it's lost after 3 hours! Change-ringing can be an extremely good way to master concentration!!!
I rang my very first peal at Cathrington (about 7 miles outside Portsmouth.) This day will stay in my mind for the rest of my life. The peal was successful, and we went to the local pub to celebrate afterwards. You can't believe how good that first pint tasted. I didn't have too much on that occasion, because I had to cycle back to Portsmouth!
Peals are rung for a variety of reasons:-
1-They could be rung to celebrate a marriage (normally between two ringers.)
2-They are sometimes rung to celebrate a big national occasion (normally involving Royalty.)
3- More than likely though, they are just rung for fun, and the ringers' self-indulgence!
Church bell-ringers have a hierarchy system, as do most organisations in life. The Chief person in charge of a tower is called the "Tower Captain", the second in charge is the "Deputy Tower Captain". For some time, I was Deputy Tower Captain at a Church in Essex. I once had a rather embarrassing experience during this time. Click here to read about this!
The only place in the World that change ringing is implemented to any degree is Britain. There are a few other places in the the World, notably the USA where this happens, but it's the exception rather than the rule.
Most other countries don't employ "full circle" ringing. They seem to embrace an "every one for themselves" attitude (pull that rope at your convenience). These bells swing only slightly; just enough to make their clappers touch the sides of the bells.
Some Continental clocks however sound brilliant, and seemingly take forever to announce the Hour. I wish that were more the case in Britain (even though in the main, that's not personally controlled as with change ringing.)
If you've made it this far, how about listening to some bells being rung? Here are a few MP3 samples.