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Bell Ringing - Have you ever wondered what it's all about? 

Have you heard the bells being rung at our local church or anywhere else in England on a Sunday morning, or perhaps at other times too and wondered who’s up that tower, how it works, or what it’s all about?

The way that we ring bells in England is different to that on the Continent or other areas of the world in as much as we have developed a method of ringing “changes” on perhaps 6, 8, 10 or even 12 bells as opposed to the carillon style often found abroad which usually plays tunes on a large number of bells. Consequently, the sound you will hear at home is the result of a quintessentially English art dating back over 400 years, which is also unique to the Church of England.

Bells themselves can be much older than 400 years, indeed there is one bell at St Mary’s Potterne which is so old it cannot be dated accurately and is thought to date from the 16th Century at least. It has been thought that this particular bell may have once been hung at the Saxon Church that was on the site of our current Village Hall on Mill Road. It is still in use today and has since been joined by 5 other bells dating from 1624 to 1820.

In about 1600, bells that had previously only been chimed to call people to worship or to warn of danger, began to be hung for “change ringing”….this is to mount them on a wheel enabling them to be swung in a full circle of 360 degrees in a controlled manner, thereby enabling the ringer to control the speed that the bell swings around in and ultimately therefore the gap of each chime. It was now possible to ring  “changes” which are basically tunes known as a “method” which consist of a set pattern that each bell follows when all rung together producing the familiar sound we hear today. Does the phrase “ringing the changes” mean a bit more to you now?

There are many hundreds of these methods varying in their complexity but they, along with the tradition, art and science of ringing has changed very little in the last 400 years since it was first developed.

Learning to handle a bell properly can take from a few weeks to a few months but after that, it’s pretty much like riding a bike – you never forget - but then the fun can really start with learning, practising and ringing methods. Not to mention the opportunity to visit some of the 6000 churches and cathedrals across the Country that have a ring of bells. It can be a lifelong learning curve that can take you as far and wide as you wish to go in many capacities but always to a warm and friendly welcome wherever you may meet other ringers be it in another tower or perhaps even the pub!

There is always a need and desire to teach new people to ring and become involved in this fascinating hobby and never more so this year. Did you know that nationally, approximately 1400 bell ringers were lost in action during WW1? Being the 100th anniversary of the end of the War this year, there is a national campaign to recruit and train 1400 new ringers across the Country in honour of those lost during 1914-1918. It’s suitable for people of all ages – from about 10 or 11 years old upwards, you don’t need to be musical or an active church-goer to enjoy ringing.

Interested in finding out some more and maybe having a go??

Peter Bushell  724779 or Julian Hemper 727550 for more information.


      All content St. Mary's, Potterne
Salisbury Diocese