Early in the 15th century it was recorded that St Mary’s had four bells. The tower now houses eight bells that with their hangings weigh nearly seven tons. They are all dated, the earliest being 1606. More historical details are included in our tour of St Mary’s.

The bells are rung for Sunday services and for weddings and other special occasions as they have been for several hundred years. Historic events celebrated, included the fall of Quebec 1759 (for which the bell ringers were given six shillings) and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1887 (when they received only five shillings for ringing for three hours!). During the Second World War the bells were silent, but were rung to celebrate Victory on 5 May 1945. There was a special peal for the coronation in 1953 and more recently the bells were rung as part of the nation-wide “Ring in 2000″ at mid-day on 1st January 2000. A full peal was rung to mark the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday and 2000 changes were rung in November 2000 to celebrate the millennium.

About bells

Church bells are cast from an alloy of copper and tin, which enables the bell to produce a resonant sound whilst also making it strong enough to withstand being struck repeatedly by the clapper.

A ring of bells in a tower ranges in number from 3 to 16, although it is usually 6 or 8. The lightest bell is called the treble and the heaviest the tenor. The weight of bells varies between towers. In the Surrey Association area, the lightest tenor bell, at St Andrew’s Lambeth is 3cwt, whilst the heaviest at Southwark Cathedral is 48cwt (the same as three small cars). The highest and heaviest ringing peal in the world is in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, with 14 bells. The largest, Great George, weighing nearly 14.75 tons is not used for change ringing!

Bell ringers

Bell ringers are a true cross section of society. All backgrounds, ages and occupations are represented, bound together by their common interest in ringing. In addition to exercising the mind and body, bell ringing is an excellent social activity.

No qualifications are necessary; ringers do not have to be big, strong or musical, although a sense of rhythm helps. Ringers do not have to be church members, although many are. Many ringers belong to one church and ring in another.

Most ringers enjoy the social side of meeting friends at least once a week at practice (and in the pub afterwards!) and many towers arrange ‘ringing outings’, to visit and ring at other churches.

The Bell Ringers

New ringers are always welcome. Practice (and training) is on Friday evenings from 7:30 to 9:15pm and ringing on Sundays is 10:30-11:00am and 6:00-6:30pm.

For further information, contact David Misdeldine (01276) 505923

About church bell ringing

Church bell ringing is a thriving ancient English art that still plays an important part in community life.

Nationally there are about 40,000 ringers who regularly ring for Sunday services as well as for special occasions, anniversaries and weddings. But more ringers are always needed. Everyone is welcome to learn, no matter what their age or abilities. So if you are interested, read on.

The present method of ringing began in England in the 17th century. Before this bells were rung randomly, as still happens on the continent. Now bells were mounted on full wheels, allowing them to rotate through a full 360 degrees to produce each sound. This revolutionary approach meant that heavy bells could be precisely controlled with minimal physical effort. This heralded the start of ‘change ringing’, the ringing of bells in pre-defined patterns

How a bell is rung

Initially the bell mouth faces downwards. In this position the bell is said to be “down”. By pulling on the rope, which is attached to the wheel, the bell is gradually swung higher and higher.

When the bell swings round so far that the mouth faces upwards, it can be brought to rest or “stood”. Now the bell is said to be “up” and is ready for ringing.

With each pull of the rope the bell rotates a full circle, first one way and then the other. These two pulls, or strokes are given different names, the “backstroke” and the “handstroke”. At the end of each revolution the bell sounds once. (See a bell ringing.)

Call changes to methods

The bells start by ringing down the scale 1 2 3 4 5 6. This is called “Rounds”. To vary the tune, one of the ringers, the Conductor, will call a change in the order e.g. “3 follow 1″ would produce 1 3 2 5 4 6, then perhaps “5 follow 2″ giving 1 3 2 5 4 6. This is known as “Call Changes”.

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 system of arranging the changes is called “Method Ringing”.

There are many methods which vary from the simple to the very complex. Ringers memorise these methods by learning the “line”.

The maximum number of changes possible on 5 bells is 120 which take about 5 minutes to ring. On 12 bells there are 479,001,600 different changes. To ring all these would take 37 years, so you can see that method ringing can present some interesting challenges!