Church bellringing can be a very rewarding hobby. It is a tradition dating back centuries. Bellringing combines a unique blend of mental and physical prowess.
Membership of Swanage Bellringers
Membership is free and tuition is provided free. In return, members are expected to help ring the bells each Sunday morning from 9.45 am till 10.25 am, and for other services such as Evensong as and when required.
Members are encouraged to join the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers.
To join St. Mary’s Bellringers, simply turn up on a Wednesday evening. To talk about bellringing and to enquire about joining the bellringers, ring 01929 423203, and speak to the Tower Captain, Matthew Pike.
Existing ringers, on holiday or moving to the area, are always most welcome.
What’s involved in ringing?
Am I too old or too young? Young people may join St. Mary’s ringers from the age of 11 to 12. This is the lowest sensible age and ensures that the young people are tall and strong enough to manage the bell rope comfortably.
Young adults usually find it easier to develop the necessary co-ordination to control the bell rope and the mental agility to ‘ring the changes’.
There is no upper age limit but mature adults may have to consider health-related issues. Bellringing involves climbing a flight of stairs, lengthy periods of standing - you cannot sit down to ring church bells - and gentle muscular exercise. In the past it has proved to be a useful and effective therapy for those recovering from minor heart complaints and for exercising damaged arms and shoulders.
Learning to ring
During the initial training period a separate learners practice is held for people who are new to bellringing, so that they can master the basics and to learn basic bell handling skills. These are usually held on Wednesday evening between 6.30 and 7.30, before the main practice starts at 7.30. Once the basics have been mastered, the new ringers transfer to the main practice which starts at 7.30 p.m.
Not sure if it’s for you? The first three or four beginner sessions give new ringers the opportunity to sample what is is involved. If during those first few weeks, it turns out that there is more to learning to ring than the new ringer had expected, then there is no obligation to continue.
Teaching basic rope control. At first the tutor controls the rope and guides the new ringer through the mechanics of how to pull. Gradually, control shifts over to the learner and, when the tutor is satisfied of the learner’s confidence and competence, the new ringer takes full control of the bell.
The Basic Skills involve learning how and when to pull the bell rope. This usually takes three to five weekly sessions. How to pull is important, as it is more ‘knack’ than brute strength.
Knowing when to pull is essential in order to make the bell sound its note at exactly the right moment. Bellringing is very much a team activity in which all the ringers must co-ordinate their efforts to produce a pleasing musical sound.
The next steps: Once the new ringer is able to ring simple scales - it is called ‘ringing rounds’ - the next step is to learn about ‘ringing the changes’. This is a form of music-by-numbers that needs a certain amount of mental agility. Once mastered there is considerable satisfaction in getting it ‘just right’. From this point the ringer can continue to learn new ways of ‘ringing the changes’ or can stick at whatever level is comfortable.
Child safety policy
The Child Safety Procedures as recommended by the Central Council of Church Bellringers are applied at Swanage. This means that the tower leaders are checked as being appropriate people to be responsible for the tower and training young people, that is, they have been checked against the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) and approval certificates have been produced. At all times a certificated adult is present when young or vulnerable people are in the tower. At no time will a young or vulnerable person be exposed to any physical or emotional risk. When a young person begins to learn to ring a Permission to Ring form needs to be completed by their parent/guardian.
In return, all visitors, young people in particular, are expected to accept the advice of tower leaders and to observe the safe-working practices of the bellringers’ group.