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Widecombe History Group Talks
Michael Pascoe gave an illustrated talk on 'The History of Bell Ringing and the Bells of Widecombe Church.
Michael Pascoe is currently the Captain of the Bell Ringers at Widecombe Church, and has been a Bell Ringer for the past 35 years. The Pascoe family have been Campanologists for generations and he has two Uncles (Henry and Herbert) who both rang bells until they were over 90 years old. The first thing he showed us was an illustrated light hearted look at the 'Rules of the Tower':-
THE ALTERNATIVE TOWER RULES
1. THE TOWER CAPTAIN ALWAYS MAKES THE RULES
a.) The rules are subject to change at any time without notice
b.) No Bellringer can possibly know all the rules. Tower Captains are born with this knowledge.
2. a) The tower Captain is never wrong. If the Tower Captain is wrong it is because of a misunderstanding which was a direct result of something the Bellringers did wrong.
b) If rule 2a applies, the Bellringers must apologise immediately for causing the misunderstanding.
3 a) The Tower Captain can change their mind at any given point in time.
b) The Bellringers must never change their mind without express written consent from the Tower Captain.
4. The Tower Captain has every right to be angry or upset at any time.
a) The Bellringers must be calm at all times , unless the Tower Captain
wants them to be angry or upset.
b) The Tower Captain must under no circumstances let the Bellringers know if he wants them to be angry or upset.
5. ANY ATTEMPT BY THE BELLRINGERS TO CHANGE ANY OF THESE RULES COULD RESULT IN RINGING PROPERLY
Bells are made from bell metal, 22% tin and 78% copper. It is possible that the tin used in our bells was produced locally, the copper would have been brought by packhorse. Early bells were cast in the local churchyard or in a field nearby. The field where our new churchyard is situated, is known locally as 'sentry', which is a correlation of the word 'sanctuary', meaning a holy place. A pit would be dug with a brick foundation (sometimes this led to the field being named 'Brick' field). A core of loam (clay and horse dung mixed together) lined the pit, a pattern board used to shape it, the molten metal would be poured into the mould, allowed to cool and the bell would then need tuning. This was done by chiselling away the metal inside the bell until obtaining the right note. In 1552 it was said 'If the bells in England were all rung at once there would scarcely be a single spot in the land where a bell could not be heard'. Bells were used to warn of invasion from the sea. There were an enormous number of churches with bells, most parish churches had two or three bells, with larger towns having eight to ten. Bells were used as a means of communication up to 6000 years ago and in most countries are associated with churches and places of worship. Bells were simply chimed by pulling a rope making the bell swing on a single spindle. For many years Widecombe has had a peal of six bells but since 2002 they have a peal of eight bells. The tenor bell weighs 12 cwt. and is tuned to the key of F, bells 5, 7 and 8 were cast by Thomas Pennington of Exeter in 1632, No. 6 was cast in 1774 by Thomas Bilbie. Nos. 3 and 4 were cast from an old cracked tenor bell, by Mears of London in 1848. The current No's 1 and 2 are recent introductions, they were cast in Whitechapel in London, in 2002.
No.1 to celebrate the Ruby Wedding of John and Mary Mousely of Norleigh, Widecombe.
No.2 dedicated to Ern Pascoe and brothers, Bellringers, by the Pascoe family.
No.3 inscribed ' Hear Me When I Call'
No.4 inscribed 'Attend O Ye People'.
No.5 inscribed 'Robeart Hamlyn, sonne of John Hamlyn, Chittleford T.P. 1632' Gathered of the Young Men and Maid Fyfteen pounds'.
No.6 inscribed 'Mr. John Hext and Mr. George Leaman Ch. Wardens Thomas Bilbie Fecit 1774'.
No.7 inscribed 'Soli Deo Deter T.P. 1663'.
No.8 inscribed ' Draw Near Unto God and God Will Draw Near Unto You T.P. 1632'.
The back six bells when rung as a peal are held in high esteem by the bell ringing fraternity throughout Devon. They are rung in August of each year for the Bill Miners Rose Bowl Competition. Bell ringing as it is heard in this country is unique, as in other countries the bells are hung in a different style. The exception to this, is where ex-pats have had an influence, e.g. New Zealand, USA, Australia and Canada. Michael stated how he and his wife Jennifer, were invited to ring in Vancouver while on a recent holiday, much to their pleasure. In the fourteenth century, bells were chimed, but ringers started experimenting with wheels so that the bells could be rung through almost 360 degrees. At the time of The Reformation, bells were silenced and in some cases removed. After The Reformation came an opportunity to restore and re-hang bells, complete with a wheel, which led to a change in ringing to develop, mostly in England. 'Change' ringing then developed, where the Tower Captain would call the changes, thus by changing the order of sequence of how the bells were rung, thus altering the tune. Bell ringers became important people in the community, and c.1856 they started to be paid. It is recorded in St. Margaret's, Westminster, ringers were paid one shilling each, for ringing at the beheading of the Queen of Scots. It is also recorded twenty years later, that the same ringers were paid ten times that amount, for ringing when Parliament should have been blown up. (Was this to celebrate the failure?) In the 18th century it was said that ringers were lay-a-bouts and drunkards. Standards of behaviour were poor, locals saw it as an opportunity to earn an extra shilling or two. Ringing being thirsty work, that money was soon transferred from Church to the local Inn. Bells were rung to mark the arrival of the Mail Coach, for Births, Marriages, Deaths and Fairs. In fact the standard of behaviour in most towers was appalling, and a barrel of beer was always on tap, as water was not fit to drink, and tea and coffee were only for the wealthy. Cursing, swearing and smoking were common in the tower, needless to say this caused rifts between the ringers and the clergy. In about 1868 a 'spring clean' of churches took place. Ropes were extended down into the church. Things started to change, proper behaviour returned, and in 1896 ladies were allowed to ring. By the early 1900s new ringers were difficult to find, caused by a feeling of superiority that had crept in, by those, that were supposed to be the teachers. Then came the Wars, ringing stopped completely during W. W. II, they were only to have been rung at a time of invasion - luckily this did not happen. When 'peace' was declared the bells were rung here in this parish on V. E. Day, much to the joy of parishioners. In the 1950s a revival took place, and regular Sunday ringing began and still flourishes in this parish - the purpose being to call the faithful to prayer. This is when the Widecombe Bell Ringing Team really began and took off.
1950-1960's. During this period Bill Miners was Captain, and even after he had his leg removed and replaced by a wooden one, he still continued to go up the tower and lead the team. Ringing became a serious business and Widecombe had two teams.
Team. A . - Bill Miners, Ern Pascoe, Frank Dowrick, Reg Norrish, Geoff Hannaford & Les Edworthy.
Team. B. - Bill Miners, Ern Pascoe, Herbert Pascoe, Henry Pascoe, Gerald Lamb & Ned Northmore
Photographs of the teams and certificates that they won still exist. Every Saturday there is still a ringing competition somewhere in Devon, beginning at Ide in Mid April, ending at Stratton & Kilkhampton at the end of November. Over the years the Widecombe teams have been very successful and this is partly due to their ‘mid week’ practice sessions. Sometimes they would visit the 'away tower' during the week leading to a competition, to get a 'feel’ of the bells. Their determination to do well, led to only a few trainee’s being taught. The few that did, included Bill’s two sons Bernard and Fred, Michael Lamb, Brian Harris and the Addison Brothers.
6 bell competitions last 15 minutes a peal and 8 bell competitions last 20 minutes. Some competitions are by invitation and the Annual Rose Bowl competition at Widecombe in August, is a firm favourite for many teams. The present Widecombe team still compete and in 2009 won the Moretonhampstead Deanery Competition, the last time Widecombe won was in 1969, they are rightly proud of this. Bell Ringers Outings is the highlight of the year, travelling around the south-west and ringing at several, generally 5 or so towers, and ending the day by going to a show in the evening. A crate of beer was loaded onto the coach at the beginning of the day - was this a ‘homage’ to the beer in the tower? Widecombe ringers have rung in many prestigious towers including both Cathedrals in Dublin, St. Patrick’s & Christchurch. One has 14 ring able bells, the Tenor bell weighs 45 hundredweight.
Bell ringing is a serious business and needs concentration. In 1694 it was written:
“All You That Do Intend To Ring You Undertake A Dangerous Thing”.
Ringers have been known to be pulled up to the ceiling by their bell ropes, ropes sometimes break with the result that the bells turn over and break the ash stays that hold the bell in an upturned position, and also on record are times during competition ringing when men have lost their trousers but kept ringing so as not to spoil the peal! Sometimes in competitions there is a ‘draw’ on the first peal leading to a ‘ring-off’. This is a great strain particularly for the tenor ringer, as he has to rise that bell again. In Ashburton for example, the tenor is 21 Hundredweight and this takes considerable strength and skill.
The Inscriptions on the Widecombe Bells are recorded in page 59 of the book “Widecombe-in-the-Moor” ISBN 0- 861149-08-4 The heaviest bell in Britain is ‘Great Paul’ in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It weighs 334 hundredweight and can only be chimed. The heaviest ‘rung bell’ is in Liverpool Cathedral and weighs 4 ton. The next heaviest is at Exeter Cathedral and weighs 72 hundredweight. The oldest bell is at Caversfield in Oxfordshire, thought to date back to 1250. Devon has 371 towers with 5 or more bells hung for ringing. Somerset has 254, Cornwall 150, Norfolk 199 & Northumberland 14. It appears that the farther north in England one goes, the less bells there are.
Bill Miners died in 1971, and then Graham Pascoe took over for one year after which Ern Pascoe, Michael’s father, became captain. When he died in 1994, Michael succeeded his father and Widecombe still has a very enthusiastic group of ringers and long may that continue.
The current ringers are:
Michael Pascoe (Captain)
Simon Tame (Vice-captain)
The evening ended with the showing of a DVD, compiled by Roger Whale, showing the bells being removed from Widecombe Church in 2001, taken away for cleaning and tuning, their return in 2002, and the re-hanging. We heard a recording of the first peal of the newly restored bells.
The meeting then sang from S. Baring Gould’s ‘Songs Of The West Book’ pages 168/9.
“The Bell Ringing Song” - ably accompanied by Jane Russell on the keyboard.
There is song entitled "Widecombe Bells" that was recorded on tape by Widecombe School Children and it has also been sung by The Devon & Cornwall Constabulary Police Choir. The song Widecombe Bells, words and tune by Sylvia Sayer, Harmony by Lily Hambley. It was broadcast by Bernard Fishwick in “Songs of the West”, on B. B. C. West of England Home Service.
The minutes of our group meeting dated June 7th 2000 refer to a talk by Rev. Preb. John Scott being given the next day Thursday 8th June 2000. A write up of his talk is in the minute book.
Attached to our minutes of Wednesday 6th June 2001.We have a photocopy of a sheet of paper found by W. Radcliffe in 1997, in a copy of Carrington's Dartmoor. It appears to be in the hand of Rev. J. H. Mason. It appears to refer to Widecombe Bells. We also have a transcript of it by Dr. Tom Greeves done in 2001 and given to the group.
After a most interesting and entertaining evening the meeting closed at 10.20 p.m.
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