has been practiced across the world for thousands of years, in a variety of forms. By 1600 this had developed into the style that remains in use in most of Europe today: chiming by randomly swinging the bells through about 45°. However, in Britain bell ringing evolved into change ringing about 400 years ago.
is practiced in Britain, mainly, but also in those parts of the world with British influence - Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and also Northern Italy. The bells are rung in an equally spaced sequence, from the highest note to the lowest. This order can be altered by adjacent bells swapping the position that they sound in, following a predetermined pattern.
Change ringing requires much greater control of the bell then random chiming. If a bell is hung for chiming, it is hung mouth down, and swung from side to side to make the clapper strike the bell. As a result, it is almost impossible to control exactly when the bell strikes.
Change ringing needs each bell to be struck at an exact moment in a sequence: if the bells were hung mouth down, this would not be possible. Therefore the bell is hung mouth upwards, and rung with a rope around a wheel. The ringer is attached to the other end of the rope, in the ringing room downstairs; they pull the rope to start the bell moving, and check it to stop the bell - this is only a very gentle force, as the bell does most of the work through its own momentum and some clever laws of physics beyond me. The bell moves through 360°, the clapper striking the bell once in the process: this is known as 'full circle' ringing (can you guess why?). Now in the opposite position to its' starting point the bell is swung back through 360°, again sounding once, to end up as it started. With practice, the ringer learns to make the bell sound at the exact time needed to be in the correct position amongst other bells for the sequence that they are ringing.
Combinations of changes are called methods; every bell does the same thing, but starts from a different position on a 'line' -
In this case (one of the simplest) the path of the treble is highlighted as the position in which it sounds moves through the other bells. This line effectively tells each person which order to strike in; there are thousands of different lines, with new ones being worked out all the time. And I know them all. Yeah right
As a part of ringing, peals are sometimes rung. These are (at least) 5040 different changes, and can last for over four hours. Quarter peals are more common, and as the name suggests, a quarter of the length of a peal - lasting about 45 minutes (far more reasonable). At a practice, the average piece of ringing lasts about 5 minutes (even better).
Having waded through all of that you're probably ready to go and murder a ringer (I can supply a few addresses). It's not really as tricky (or as tedious) as it seems: it just takes a bit of practice.
You don't have to be strong, musical or mathematical to ring (which is good, or I would be in severe trouble), &, though this may be a disappointment, it isn't dangerous. Best of all, it costs nothing to learn! (Just what a student needs.)
If you're so foolish as to be interested (or just want a laugh at someone else's expense), contact us; or come to a practice and see us in action. We are friendly (only Catherine bites), and even if you don't like it, there's always the pub afterwards.
Don't spend the afternoon in the bar and then turn up to the practice. One of our number (mentioning no names - Michael) recently did this, and while it improved the sound of the ringing to him, it didn't have a great effect on what everyone else heard. And having to keep going outside for fresh air every five minutes was not too good either. Neither were the steps up the tower for that matter. But the pub afterwards was fun. However, being introduced to one of the ringer's housemates later in the term, and then having her say "The one who got drunk?" was a kind of infamy that he was perhaps not looking for.