Welcome to the website of the Wokingham St. Paul’s Bell Ringers.
We have put this site together to provide information about the bells and bellringing at St Paul’s Church Wokingham, for both bell ringers and non ringers alike. There are pages describing the history of the bells along with information about ringing times and pictures from within the bell tower are available at https://www.facebook.com/stpaulsringers.wokingham/. Alongside these are pages for existing bell ringers including information for visitors. We hope you find the content informative and helpful.
There is also a Contact Us page which can be used to message the bell ringers. Please feel free to use this if you want to find out more, would like to arrange a visit to the tower or are interested in learning to ring.
This page was last updated December 3, 2017.
Bell Ringing History
Have you ever wondered, as you walk along the path leading to the Church just before the service begins, how the bells are rung and how they produce their sound? You might feel that bell-ringing is shrouded in mystery, that visitors to the tower are not welcome, and that our church always has enough ringers. This is far from the truth. I hope to give some insight into the fascinating activity of bellringing, and explain why ringers find it so challenging and rewarding.
The history of bells extends back almost to the dawn of civilisation, when crude metallic objects were sounded to ward off evil spirits, to alter the weather, or to mark festive occasions. In medieval times the craft of bellfounding began to develop, and bells were hung in towers specially built for them. To begin with bells were hung mouth downwards, but it was soon realised that by swinging the bell through a wider and wider arc a progressively fuller and richer tone was produced. To enable a bell to be swung in this way a wheel was attached and a rope tied to the wheel, so that the ringer could control the swing of the bell to some extent.
In the sixteenth century ringers developed a system of full-circle ringing, so that the bell starts from a mouth upward position, swings through a full circle and comes to rest mouth upwards again, before swinging back again full circle in the opposite direction. It was realised that a ringer had some control over the bell’s movement by varying the time during which it was held on the balance with mouth upwards. By this means the sequence in which the bells in the tower were sounded could be altered, this is called change ringing.
Bellringing in those days was mainly a secular activity, practised largely by the squires and nobility. In the nineteenth century ringing became increasingly identified with the Church, with most ringing peals being hung in church towers, and rung to mark Sunday services, weddings and so on. With improvements in bell hanging, ringing ceased to be physically arduous and ladies joined the ranks of ringers around 1900. More complex methods of producing changes (the permutations of the order in which the bells strike) were developed and many challenging possibilities were opened up.
Nowadays, bellringing is firmly established as a church-based activity, although many ringers pursue their hobby at other times as well – on practice nights, ringing for special occasions and so on. The bells’ primary function is to call the faithful to worship and to proclaim the church’s gospel far and wide. However, would-be ringers should not be put off if they are not themselves active church-goers!
What is bellringing?
When a bell is rung it rotates through a complete circle; it then rests on the balance, mouth upwards. The ringer can vary to some extent the time during which the bell is held on balance. This slight variation enables a change in the order in which the bells sound each time they are rung, but it is only practicable for a bell to change places with its immediate neighbour – a bell cannot “jump” two or more places, so tunes are not possible on bells hung for full circle ringing.
How does this work in practice? The bells begin by ringing a downward scale, i.e. they strike in order from the lightest to heaviest. This sequence is known as rounds and on eight bells would be written as 12345678. From this point, one of the ringers (the conductor) can call out the numbers of the bells which are to change position to obtain a new sequence – e.g. by calling “three to four” the sequence 12435678 is produced, and so on. This is known as call changes and is very useful for introducing learners to the bell control they will need to ring changes accurately.
If you are listening to the bells you will recognise call changes easily, as the bells strike in almost the same sequence, with only slight variation in order, for some time. This is because the conductor allows the bells to settle down in their new sequence before calling another change.
Call changes give the learner the opportunity to listen to their own bell striking after another for several blows, and to realise that they must leave a larger gap when following a heavier bell as the latter has a larger wheel and so turns more slowly.
A more experienced band will progress from call changes to change ringing, where the sequence of the bells alters at every stroke according to a predetermined pattern learned by all the ringers.
The patterns, known as methods, vary a great deal in complexity.
If when you listen to the bells you notice that they strike in a different order every time they sound, this means that a method, rather than call changes, is being rung.
Peal: The ultimate ringing performance is a peal which entails approximately three hours continuous ringing and is undertaken on special occasions
Quarter peal: As its name implies this is one quarter of a peal and takes approximately 50 minutes. This is normally for special services.
Half muffled: This is to create a special effect where alternate strokes appear to be an echo and is used for funeral and in memoriam ringing.
Learning to Ring
The first skill a ringer has to master is known as bell handling. This means the ringer must be able to control the swing of the bell so that it rings with the correct rhythm. The first steps in learning bell control are always done under individual tuition with constant supervision by an experienced ringer to avoid any mishaps.
The next stage involves ringing a bell to rounds (the downward scale sequence) with other members of the band. This always generates a sense of achievement in the learner, akin to joining a team in sport. He (or she) must not only be secure in the technique of rope handling, but also be able to control the bell so that it rings at the correct rhythm in time with the rest of the band.
Most people pick up the basics of bell control after about half a dozen individual coaching sessions. As with most skills, youngsters seem to learn faster!
Most ringers find call changes of limited interest and progress to method ringing. This involves the bells striking in a different order at every stroke according to a predetermined pattern.
The Bells at St Paul’s
Our church of St Paul has eight bells. The original eight bells were cast in 1864. This work was carried out by John Warner and sons Ltd. a Cripplegate bell foundry. These bells were destroyed in 2004 when lightning struck the church; the subsequent fire destroying the bells and interior of the tower. The replacement bells were cast in 2005 by the Whitechapel bell foundry.
We now have a very fine ringing peal with the lightest bell weighing 4½ cwt and the heaviest (known as the tenor) 15½ cwt (790kg); the ring is tuned to the scale of F. The bells are popular with visiting ringers and are also very suitable for beginners, as they are particularly easy to handle.
The ringing room is reached by means of an internal stone circular staircase which is accessed outside, from the base of the tower.
Sunday Service Every Sunday 9.00 to 9.30am
Practice Tuesday 7.45 to 9.00pm
Christmas Eve Service 10.30 to 11.00pm
Christmas Day Service 9.00 to 9.30am
Other ringing Weddings as required
Additional or changed ringing
Peal Saturday December 9th 10am to 1pm for the Feast of St Nicholas
No ringing practice Tuesday December 5th
Our band has 10 members of varying ages and professions and ringing experience. Our current officers are;
Tower Captain Ken Davenport
Deputy Tower Captain Chris Cole
Secretary Sue Davenport
Treasurer Ian Smith
Social Secretary Liz O’Brien
Our AGM is normally held early in the year when these positions are filled.
Ken Davenport Tel: 0118 978 6554
Want to learn more?
We always welcome anyone interested in seeing bell ringing in action. It is much easier to demonstrate the technique in action than to describe it in words. You can contact Ken Davenport on 0118 978 6554, or come to watch the ringing on Practice Night (from 7.45 pm on Tuesdays). Once they have started, most people find it is an absorbing and challenging pastime which has enormous scope for progression and variety.