All Saints' Church Bells, Winthorpe.

Bells have been around since the dawn of history. Over the years they have been refined from hollowed out logs to precision tuned musical instruments, cast in bronze. Whilst this evolution has been taking place so has the manner in which they have been rung. If you were to give a set of bells, tuned to a musical scale, to almost any race on this planet their first instinct would be to try and “pick out a tune” on them. So, why do the English try and pick out mathematical combinations on them instead? This is all to do with the way that the bells are hung. In this country bells are hung for full circle ringing. That is, each bell is suspended from a pivot and made to turn full circle (end over end) each time a note is required. Obviously it takes a certain time (usually about two to three seconds) for this to happen, and during this time the note cannot be repeated. This makes tune playing rather awkward so change ringing was invented so that the order of the bells could be varied in a more suitable manner. We will look at this style of ringing later. Some countries hang the bells in basically the same way that we do but rather than ringing them one after another they ring them all together in a random fashion. Although this makes a lot of noise it can get a bit wearing on the ears. When you next visit France have a listen to the church bells on a Sunday morning and you will hear what I mean. Around Verona in Italy a slightly different style of bell hanging has developed using large counterweights to minimise the sideways forces on the towers. Their ringing style is also different with a conductor telling which ringers to pull when. It is similar to our call change ringing apart from the fact that it uses chords with two or three bells sounding at the same time. In other countries the bells are hung dead (i.e. they remain stationary) and small hammers strike them when a note is required. Obviously this lends itself to playing tunes, and this is exactly what is done. If taken to the extreme, the bells can be played from a keyboard arrangement by only one person. This is very popular on the continent.

The first thing we learnt to ring was rounds. These are where the highest note bell sounds first, followed by the next highest, and so on all the way down to the lowest note. This is referred to as a change or a row. The next thing we learnt was call changes. This starts in rounds and then the conductor calls out instructions to change over adjacent pairs of bells to arrive at a set pattern that sounds interesting or tuneful. He may then call the bells into some other set patterns before calling them back into rounds. Throughout this exercise only adjacent pairs of bells are swapped over. The next thing we learnt was the beginning of change ringing (sometimes called scientific change ringing) known as plain hunt. Again you start from rounds and in the next change all adjacent pairs of bells swap place. The bell at the front and back of the row now stay still and the remaining pairs swap over. This whole process is repeated until you get back into rounds. Every bell will sound in every possible place in the change twice, but the order that the bells are sounded is not repeated. The grand aim of change ringing is to devise rules (or patterns) for the way that the bells change place so that you can vary the position of all the bells so that all possible permutations of the order of the bells can be achieved without repeating any of the changes. On a set of six bells there are 720 unique changes that can be rung, this would take about ½ an hour. The ultimate aim is to ring seven consecutive sets of these changes (possibly using different methods, or patterns) over about a three-hour period. This is termed a Peal and consists of 5040 changes. If any single change is rung incorrectly, or any change repeated, then it does not count as a peal and you have to start all over again. It must also be rung entirely from memory for it to count as a peal.

Our “band” of bell ringers at Winthorpe was formed in 1999 as part of the Millennium celebrations and we only have one original member left in the band. We practice on Thursday nights (7:30 till 9:00) and we regularly ring for Sunday service at Winthorpe. We also ring for some services at South Scarle, South Collingham, and North Collingham, as requested. As you will no doubt have heard we are still learning so sometimes things don’t quite go as we would like them to, but we are gradually getting better. The Winthorpe band has not attempted a Peal yet, but we have rung several Quarter Peals (of Plain Bob Doubles, Plain Bob Minor, and St. Clements Minor) which as the name suggests is a quarter of the length of a peal, or 1260 changes. Currently there are just seven ringers in the band and one learner. For half of the year two of our members are not available to ring so there are only five of us. Ideally, we would like to have at least eight people in the band and preferably more, so there are vacancies for anyone that may be interested. I have met ringers in other towers from the ages of 7 to 85 so all ages are welcome (training is provided). You don't have to be strong or musical, but a good sense of rhythm helps. If you are interested in joining us, or just coming for a look around, then drop me an e-mail. If you are looking for a new hobby and you can spare an hour and a half on Thursday evening then why not give it a go? Not only would you be learning a new skill and meeting new friends, but you would be helping to keep alive centuries of tradition. If you can’t mange Thursday, but are interested in ringing then please get in touch and I'll put you in contact with a tower in our area that practices on a night that suits you.

The six bells at Winthorpe range in weight from 3½cwt to 7cwt. 20cwt makes 1ton, which is approximately equal to 1tonne (if you prefer metric measurements). This means that 5cwt is ¼ of a tonne. With the generous financial help of people in the village and various organizations we have been able to re-hang our bells on modern fittings to make them easier to ring. We have also recently been able to add weather proofing to the tower which should help to preserve the wooden wheels on the bells and the wooden bell frame that the bells hang in. An added benefit of the weather proofing is that it stops the ropes from getting wet when it rains. When the ropes get wet they shrink in length and become very stiff which makes the bells difficult to handle.

We are currently training a new band from Averham how to ring on Friday evenings. We started the training at Winthorpe, teaching them how to handle a bell. The sound that this makes can best be described as annoying. In order to spare our neighbors this cacophony we silenced the bells by strapping the clappers in the bell so that they could not move. Once they mastered basic handling skills we moved to North Muskham (which is part of their group) to ring on open bells. They can now ring rounds and call changes and most of them can plain hunt. Some of them are starting to take their first steps in method ringing. One of them has already rung a quarter peal during the Newark District (of the Southwell and Nottingham Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers) quarter peal week last year (2009).

Ian Hasman. July 2010.

Bell Ringers Success, 21st March 2010.

The Winthorpe ringers came second out of four teams in the Newark District heat of the Crawford Cup, which is a competition to perform a piece of ringing with as few striking faults as possible. The heat took place at Norwell on Saturday 21st March 2010, and the team members were Elizabeth Harrison, Christine Hasman, Ian Hasman, Paul Raithby and David Woodcock, plus Lindsey Arkley from Coddington in place of Jon Higgins, who was unfortunately unavailable.

Further readings can be found in:

The Bells of All Saints' Church in Volume 3.