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The bell is attached to a beam known as the headstock. The headstock has bearings at each end that are attached to a frame so that the bell and its headstock are free to swing backwards and forwards. There is a wheel attached to the headstock and a rope attached to the wheel that passes over pulleys to the bell ringer who stands below. By pulling on the rope, the bell can be made to swing. Eventually the bell can be rung up to a position with the bell opening uppermost. A wooden stay prevents the bell rotating beyond 180 degrees. From this starting position the rope is pulled (hand-stroke) such that the bell swings in a full circle. Pulling the rope again (back-stroke) enables the bell to swing back to its starting position.
Full circle ringing is not unique to the UK. Doves Guide for Church Bell Ringers is the authoritative source for current information about rings of bells.
The simplest ringing of bells is in rounds when the bells are rung in a descending scale i.e. the treble or lightest bell commences and then each bell is sounded until the tenor or heaviest bell is rung thus the scale is 1(treble) 2 3 4 5 6(tenor).
The conductor can call the bells to change the pattern of ringing. One bell to called to change place with another adjacent bell in the scale. Thus the pattern could change from 1 2 3 5 4 6 to 2 1 3 5 4 6. This way of ringing is therefore known as Called or Call Changes. This is a pleasant and effective way for the entire band to ring successfully.
If only ringing was that simple as there are two ways of calling the change either up or down.
From rounds 1 2 3 4 5 6 the conductor may call 2 to 3 which becomes 1 3 2 4 5 6.
From rounds 1 2 3 4 5 6 the conductor may call 3 to 1 which becomes 1 3 2 4 5 6
The progression from Call Changes is Plain Hunt which is the basis of all method ringing. Bell 1 the treble hunts to the back and then returns to the front. Every bell changes one place on every stroke except when it reaches first and last place where it stays for two strokes. Follow the path of the bells on the diagram. The “b” denotes backstroke and the “h” handstroke. Regardless of the number of bells the method is the same, the even bells hunt to the front and the odd bells to the back. The method shown is Plain Hunt Doubles as there are five "working" bells. Bell number six, the tenor, does not hunt.
Having mastered call changes and plain hunt the next step is normally to ring Methods. There are thousands and the surname, see table indicates, the number of working bells.
For example "Plain Bob Doubles" can be rung on five bells or six bells in which case the tenor covers behind as in the example of Plain Hunt above.
The extent is the number of changes that can be rung without repeating the order of the bells. This is calculated by n factorial where "n" is the number of bells. For three bells it is 1x2x3=6 and so on.
Each method has it's own diagram. The "Red line" shows the path of the treble and the "Blue line" one of the working bells. There are books of method diagrams and also method diagrams on-line. What does a diagram look like? Click Grandsire Doubles and a pdf file will open to show the diagram.
The tone of the bell can be changed by wrapping the clapper in a leather jacket causing the tone to be dulled, thus producing a more sombre tone. Muffled bells are normally only used for the death of a sovereign.
|Number of Bells||Name||Extent
|Time to Ring|
|3||Singles||6||about 12 secs|
|4||Minimus||24||about 48 secs|
|5||Doubles||120||about 4 mins|
|6||Minor||720||about 25 mins|
|8||Major||40,320||about 24 hrs|
|9||Caters||362,880||about 9 days|
|10||Royal||3,628,800||about 90 days|
|11||Cinques||39,916,800||about 2.75 years|
|12||Maximus||479,001,600||about 27 years|
The leather jacket is on one side of the clapper only so that hand strokes ring normally and backstrokes ring quietly. This produces the effect of a clear bell tone with a returning echo and is used very effectively on Remembrance Day to reflect the emotion of the occasion.
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Updated April 2021