24th February 2016

The Tower Handbook – Ringing History

For our next dip into The Tower Handbook we will look at “ringing history”. It is one of four sections of “General Ringing Knowledge”, with answers to 17 questions. It doesn”t attempt to compete with the history books, but covers a broad range of topics which can be followed up elsewhere if desired. Here is a selection.

a. What is the oldest ring of bells?

The ring of five at St Lawrence, Ipswich, are all medieval bells, but from several foundries. The six at Martley, Worcestershire, were cast by Richard Keene of Woodstock in 1673 making them the oldest complete ring of bells. Horham, Suffolk, has the oldest complete eight. The tenor dates from 1568. The treble was added to complete the octave in 1673. Complete rings from the 18th century are fairly common eg the ten at Wrexham, all cast in 1726-8.

d. What was belfry reform?

In the 18th and early 19th centuries ringing was rarely a church activity and many ringers were unruly. The Church grudgingly tolerated their use of church bells. In the late 19th century, the Oxford Movement in the Church of England inspired clergy to reform the ways of ringers and bring them more actively into the church. Many diocesan and county societies were founded around then, often by clergymen.

i. What was the first periodical devoted to ringing?

Ringers have always been keen to pass on and receive news of performances and developments in method ringing. From 1676 methods were recorded in books, with news passed by word of mouth or in newspapers. Bell’s Life, an early 19th century sporting newspaper sometimes included items on ringing, and from 1870 there was a “Bells and Bellringing” column in Church Bells. In spite of its name this covered a wide range of news and current affairs. In February 1881 Bell News and Ringers’ Record became the first journal devoted entirely to ringing. It appeared monthly for 15 issues and then weekly for 33 years. It was joined for 26 weekly issues in 1896-7 by Campanology, and nine issues of The Bellringer in 1907. Bell News only lasted a few years after 1911 when John Sparkes Goldsmith founded The Ringing World. He remained its proprietor until his death in 1942. It was then run by The Ringing World Committee of the Central Council until 1983 when the Council set up The Ringing World Ltd as a Company.


The Ringing World logo shows
the silhouettes of famous London churches

o. What were plain changes?

Plain changes developed in the seventeenth century and gradually evolved into method ringing as we know it. Only one pair of bells changes place at once, unlike modern change ringing where most bells change most of the time. One of the simplest schemes was the “twenty all over”. This involved each bell in turn hunting from the front to the back while the others did not move except to get out of the way of the hunting bell when it passed them. Other schemes were more complex and could produce an extent. For example there were rules such as “when the hunt bell is at the back or front, the half hunt bell moves one place”. The half hunt bell is usually the bell left at the front when the treble begins to hunt, and is progressively moved to the back and down again. This can be varied further by swapping the pair of other (known as extreme) bells furthest from the hunt bell whenever the hunt bell and half hunt bell are both at the end (front or back). This is quite demanding to call as call changes.

Double Court Minimus

Double Court Minimus is one of the few modern methods that is an example of plain changes. The court places can only be made in 2nds and 3rds and this prevents dodging on the front and back. Making six consecutive blows in the same place is contrary to the spirit of modern method ringing.

Opinions differ about whether method ringing as we know it evolved because it was easier than plain changes, or just because it was more interesting with all bells moving. Modern method ringers may find plain changes difficult.

Other questions include:

  • What is the oldest bell foundry?
  • What is the oldest ringing society?
  • Why are ringing chambers where they are?
  • What is the oldest university ringing society?
  • What is the Central Council?
  • What is the origin of the Central Council?
  • What is the origin of bells?
  • Have metal bells always been the same?
  • Why are there fewer bell founders?
  • When was the bell-wheel invented?
  • When was the handstroke invented?
  • When was method splicing invented?
  • When was the first peal rung?

Where can I get it?

The Tower Handbook is available from: Central Council Publications

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