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Barrow Bells - FAQs and Introduction to Ringing

This introduction tries to answer questions like:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is church bell ringing?
Who rings church bells, and why?
Who can learn, and how?
When do we ring the bells?

Information about bellringing

Questions and answers to some frequently asked questions, and some myths dispelled.

Bellringing Q&A print format tri-fold leaflet: download here
thumbnail of Church Bell-ringing leaflet page1 thumbnail of Church Bell-ringing leaflet page2

Isn't it just pulling a rope?
There's a lot more to ringing than 'pulling a rope'. To control a bell in full circle ringing requires considerable skill, and change ringing adds an extra layer of mental skill that can provide endless fascination. Ringers often get hooked on it
Do ringers need to be strong?
Not at all. When you have learnt how to do it, controlling a bell is easy. The more skillful you are, the easier it is. Most church bells are within the range of anyone of average build who learns the necessary technique.
Is ringing hard work?
Not normally, unless the bells are very heavy or there is something wrong with them. Watch a skillful ringer, and you will see a smooth, almost effortless performance. Bell control is all about feeling and timing, not brute force.
I'm not the right type of person?
Ringers are male and female, old and young, and from all walks of life. The status of ringers reflects their ringing skill, not their age or their job.
Am I too old or too young to learn?
You can learn at any age. Teenagers probably find it easiest to learn, but some very young children learn too, and many ringers these days learn in their 50s, 60s or 70s. Whatever age you learn, you can ring for the rest of your life.
Monks swinging on bell ropes?
If you ever see anyone swinging on a rope, they are not real ringers. Don't believe everything you see on TV! … read the next two facts
Being lifted off feet and taken up by the rope?
It can happen, but it is so rare that most ringers have never seen it, let alone done it. When properly handled, a bell is perfectly safe - just like any other heavy equipment
Is it dangerous?
Compared with most activities, ringing is very safe. When learning, new ringers have one-to-one supervision from an experienced ringer until they have mastered safe bell control. Bells & ropes can be dangerous, but only if you don’t know what you’re doing. So if you should ever come across a real bell-rope, don't be tempted to swing on it, or even grab or pull it, until you are trained!
Going to Church / Are all ringers Christians?
You don't have to be a Christian to ring.
Some ringers are members of the church where they ring, but others aren't. You can belong to another church, or believe in another faith or none.
Those who are not members of the church ring for church services or other events in return for the pleasure that they get from ringing.
The modern Church supports many activities that involve the community outside its own members.
Are ringers a bit 'Nerdy'?
Bell-ringing may not sound like a mainstream hobby, but ringers are just a bunch of ordinary people who enjoy the combination of learning skills with friends, just like other forms of sport, music and hobbies. Some ringers are happy to learn the basic skills, and others get ‘hooked’ and go on to explore more advanced ringing
How Social?
Ringing is a team activity so you are always with others who share your interests. Ringers are also part of a much wider community – a ringer walking into almost any tower in the world (where English style ringing is performed) is welcomed and invariably invited to join in the ringing. Find out how sociable ringers can be, and join them in the pub after ringing. :)
Ringers rarely call themselves campanologists; usually we just call ourselves ringers. Campanology literally means ‘the study of bells’
A closed shop?
Not at all. It takes time to learn, as with any skilled activity, but ringers are very welcoming to those who want to learn, as well as to people who are just curious to know what it is all about. Try visiting your local ringers
Bells rung by machine?
The bells at Barrow have automated chiming mechanism for hourly clock chimes (8am to 8pm) and can also be chimed in the style of change ringing for services, but sound different to because the bells are struck by a small hammer rather than a clapper, and the bells do not swing at all.
Normally when you hear English style ringing, there is a band of skilled ringers in the tower, helping to carry on a 400 year old tradition and bring you that special, unique sound.

What is Church Bell Ringing?

The sound of church bells is often associated with a wedding or funeral. Sometimes the sound of church bells can be heard over the hubub of traffic and shoppers in a town or city. The archetypal English rural or village scene is often one of rolling hills and fields, thatched cottages, a cup of tea or pint of beer, a game of cricket, and the sound of church bells. Behind the scenes is a group of people enjoying the challenge of ringing bells together in much the same way that bellringing has been performed for hundreds of years! It is a friendly and social activity where people of all ages can feel that they belong together as a team.

A brilliant web page with video and audio clips
describing the hobby of bellringing
can be found at Discover Bell Ringing

Bells in the UK (and an increasing number abroad) are rung in a very characteristic and traditional style that dates back as far as the 16th century. The bells ring out evenly spaced apart, one after the other, and sometimes the sequence of the bells changes (e.g. 1-2-3-4-5-6 change to 1-3-2-5-4-6), giving rise to the term 'Change Ringing'. The bells 'music' is not a conventional melody, but just a changing sequence of notes, usually following a 'pattern' which is known as a 'method'.

animation showing ringing 6 bells

Changing the sequence the bells ring requires more control of the bell.
The bells are hung so that the bell starts from an 'upside-down' position with the mouth of the bell facing upwards. The ringer pulls the rope and the bell swings round in a full circle back up to the upside-down position, at which point the bell slows and the clapper catches up to strike the bell. The ringer finishes that pull of the rope, and prepares for the next.

This technique allows the ringer to balance the bell in the upside-down position and precisely control when the next swing of the bell begins. Ringers learn to listen to their bell, and use this to adjust when they pull the rope so the bells are evenly spaced. The balance point also allows a ringer to wait longer, or ring early while another bell waits on balance, so that the sequence the bells strike changes.

Animations created by fortran.orpheusweb.co.uk

Ringing does not need much strength or musical ability, but all ringers need to learn the skill and technique. The ideal person is someone who is natuarally curious to learn, and has some patience to persist until they master the next skill. It can also be helpful to be able to listen and sense the rhythm of the bells. Such individuals have the potential to become very accomplished ringers in a relatively short time. The rest of us fall short on several counts but this does not stop us from enjoying the hobby, and we still manage to improve, albeit a little slower.

St James the Great in Barrow-in-Furness is just one of over 5,000 churches and secular towers with bells that can be rung in this way, but it is the only such ring of bells in Barrow-in-Furness, a town of nearly 70,000 people [census 2011: 69,087].

Who rings church bells, and why?

Just about anybody can ring bells if they set their mind to it, so the team of ringers at a church can be a varied bunch of people with all kinds of personalities, from all walks of life, and any age from 10 to 80 or older!

People can ring the bells whatever their race, religion, gender, education, and most ages (a 10 year old would normally have sufficient height/strength/coordination to ring a bell safely). There are competant ringers in the UK with sight or hearing impairment, so it is possible to overcome these and other difficulties, and we would support anyone who wanted to learn to the best of our ability.

It is often a sign of a healthy tower when there is a very diverse group of ringers, and they all enjoy ringing the bells together.

There are plenty of reasons why people ring church bells. Here are a few:

To summarise: Bell-ringing at St James is enjoyable, friendly, entertaining, sociable, challenging and rewarding.

Who can learn, and how?

Everyone who is interested or curious about ringing bells is very welcome!

You do not need to be very tall or strong, but it is normally recommended that youths below the age of 10 wait until they are older. You also need to be sufficiently mobile to be able to climb a spiral staircase to the ringing room. Otherwise, it does not matter what gender, race, religion, background, or age.

As a result, ringing can be a superb activity to bridge generations and get people of all ages to share a hobby and work together, respect one another, and make lasting friendships.

If you are a youth, a pensioner or anywhere in-between... you can start to learn to ring and become an accomplished ringer! So you are are very welcome to come and 'have a go' and see if you catch the change ringing 'bug'.

Learning the basics of ringing a bell doesn't take very long, although everyone learns at their own pace. Each learner is tutored under close supervision from an experienced ringer, especially when learning the basic technique.

Most people can comfortably learn the basic technique for ringing a bell in under 8 sessions (some as few as 3 or 4). After this they can learn to ring together with the other ringers as a team, and may be able to ring confidently in the group for services from about 2 - 3 months after they start to ring. Part of the fun and interest of ringing is that there is so much more you can learn after the basics, and even the most experienced ringers have something new they can learn. We can feel a real sense of satisfaction when we ring something new, or ring something very well (with no mistakes)

St James' tower is back in action, and we are very excited and looking forward to growing our friendly group of ringers, so we would love to hear from anyone, young or old, who would be interested in giving it a go. It doesn't matter if you have never touched a bell rope before, or leart to ring some time ago and fear you will be a bit 'rusty', come along and have a go and surprise yourself!

The more people we can recruit to 'have a go' the more lively and thriving the group will be.

When do we ring the bells?

SUNDAY SERVICESRingers with a Christian calling who want to ring the bells to call people to worship and raise a joyful sound in praise.
Secular ringers or those of another faith may choose to ring for Sunday service for other reasons (for their own deity, or simply another opportunity to ring together, or to give something back to the church which houses the bells they enjoy ringing)
WEDDINGSIt can be emotionally rewarding to feel that you have contributed to the happiness of newlyweds and their family/guests.
FUNERALSIt can also be a priviledge and emotional to commemorate the life of someone at their funeral. The bells can be rung 'half muffled' so that every second time the bell strikes, it makes a softer sound in contrast with the other stroke.
PRACTICEWe practice ringing between 7.30pm and 9.00pm one weekday evening every week (Wednesday), to learn and improve our ringing. Extended or extra sessions (e.g. on simulator) also common... contact tower captain for more details.
SPECIAL OCCASIONSAdditional services (e.g. Christmas Carol Service), for a local event (e.g. carnival, or Keswick to Barrow Walk), or a national event (e.g. Royal Wedding, Jubilee, or Olympic games).
PEALS and QUARTER PEALSA restricted number of times each year, a band of ringers will attempt to ring a peal or quarter peal. This can be the pinnacle of ringing quality; a quarter peal taking about 50 minutes to complete, and a peal usually lasting just over 3 hours.
MEETINGSOccasionally our branch (Furness & South Lakeland) or association (Lancashire) of bell ringers may request to have a ringers meeting or training day at our tower, typically with ringing for about 2 hours on a Saturday.
VISITING BANDSA branch or tower outing from elsewhere may want to ring on our bells, and if permission is granted, they would normally come and ring for about 1 hour.