History Group Talk December 2009

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A Demonstration of the versatility of Hand Bell Ringing was given to the group by Ian Campbell and three fellow members of The Guild of Devon Ringers.

Ian Campbell is a past Ringmaster at Exeter Cathedral. 

Ian, Sue, Tim and Geoff brought with them a selection of hand-bells and they demonstrated the skill required to ring changes. Change Ringing is what the enthusiasts ring, but the general public always think of hand-bell teams as ringing tunes. So often teams go around particularly at Christmas playing the tunes for Carol Singers.
The bells are made from an amalgam of tin and copper, known in the ringing circles as bell-metal. Some are made of brass but they all must be handled carefully as it is quite easy to crack them if they are dropped or banged together. The process of change ringing was demonstrated. If there are two bells there can only be rang in two different orders (changes), one and two, or two and one. When there three bells there can be six changes, 123,321,231,132 213 & 312. It is notable that the more bells that are in a  peel the more changes are possible. By using four bells there are twenty-four possible changes and by ringing seven bell it reaches 5040 changes and this can take up to three hours to complete. Add a eighth bell to the equation and it reaches the unbelievable number of 40,320. The ringers, to be recognised as doing it correctly, have to achieve this by memory and  concentration, years of practice are needed to succeed with this.
The computer age has reached this longstanding practice. We were shown a computer screen with two handheld ‘plugs’ wired to the computer, these represent two bells and the machine is doing the rest of the peel,
A mock-up of a church bell was also demonstrated. The wheel with the rope attached, the bell, and the ‘stay’ which allows the bell to be rested in it’s up-right position.
Widecombe with it’s current eight bell peel is a very popular tower in bell ringing circles.
Widecombe has a set of hand bells of its own and four volunteers were persuaded to have a go at ringing a few changes and they did very well. With that set there is still the old cards (Music written in number form) which would enable any enthusiasts to have a go. The Bells of St Mary’s could be one such tune written in that form.  
There are two bell foundries still in existence in Britain, one recently bought back from liquidation by the work force, we wish them well.  
A very interesting talk ended with the four visitors giving an eight bell peel with numerous changes. The concentration of their faces could clearly be seen.  
We were told of an old ringer’s saying:- “Ding before Dong, except after Clang”   Make of that what you will!

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