We’ve all seen the adverts - bell ringing monks jolted out of their miserable, slow routine into jumping fun-loving, ringers in a bite of a chocolate bar. But what is bellringing really about? Reporter Alex Johnston joined the Harrogate Bellringers to find out.
In the advert the ringers are seen leaving the ground, gripping the rope of the bell as the tune sounds out.
The truth is, if they really attempted that, in some bell towers, at least, they would be squashed on the ceiling.
A person simply cannot fit in the small hole in the ceiling through which the rope is fed.
Hanging on to a rope at full whack could result in a true mess.
This happy advice was related to me when I joined the Harrogate Bellringers for an evening practice session at St Wilfrid’s Church.
And ringing, I can safely tell you, is far from easy. It is a skill, you need to give it time and not expect to be left alone with a bell for a number of weeks, possibly months.
It is also thoroughly enjoyable.
Bell Tower Captain Mike Woodhall invited me along, and Hannah Beck stood alongside, to make sure I didn’t kill anyone, or myself, wielding the bell.
Mr Woodhall said: “The bells were installed in 1974, and before we can get ringing, we have to get the bells moving so they are upside down and ready to ring.
“On a practice evening, we will ring the bells in a round. Then, we change the order of the bells.
“There is a music to what we ring, the sequences are called queens, or ti tums, and the ‘tunes’ we play are known as methods.”
“There are eight bell ringers together, and some of our ringers come along even if they are not churchgoers.
“There’s no obligation to go to church if you want to ring a bell.”
Ms Beck stood me by a bell, and gave me a series of instructions, all of which I failed to follow.
I have been ringing twice now, and still cannot get the hang of letting the bell stand, that is, come to a stop,
You stand quite close to the rope, called a sally, clutching the end of it before bringing another hand up to grab the sally, keeping in time with the ringer next to you.
It is all about timing, and letting the bell do the work.
Practice makes perfect, I am sure, but my early taster of ringing suggests this is a much more precise activity than many would give it credit.
Ms Beck said: “People think it is like the Mars Bar advert, it has been tarnished by that!
“We ring bells to let people know when prayer is about to take place, so they know it is happening.
“People enjoy taking part. The Boys’ Brigade, Brownies, Scouts, and youth organisations come to have a go.”
Father Gordon, Curate of St Wilfrid’s, comes along to ring after learning the skill for a special occasion.
He said: “I first learned to ring bells for the new millennium.
“There was an appeal, called Ring 2000, which encouraged people to tkae it up so they could ring in the new millennium. I did that in Leeds, and get involved with the Harrogate Bellringers most weeks.”
Lauren Woodhall, 15, is the youngest member of the group.
She said: “I only know one other young bellringer, so it is quite unusual.
“We ring on Sunday mornings, for weddings, funerals when requested, and on other special occasions.
“They are muffled for funerals, and if there is a national disaster or big event, we will ring backwards.
“People will be able to hear the difference, so they know something has happened.”
Getting to the bell tower is a feat in itself as it involves climbing up 83 narrow steps.
And the ascent is just the start of the fitness benefits.
“The actual bell ringing is good upper-body exercise and there is also a mental workout element as the ringing requires mental agility in order to follow the other bells in a “round”, or to play methods,” said Mr Woodhall.
“Our oldest member is 85, he started when he was 80.”
Harrogate Bellringers meet at St Wilfrid’s every Wednesday from 7.30pm to 9pm, and at St Peter’s Church, on Cambridge Road, from 7pm to 9pm on Friday nights.
Anyone over the age of 11 is welcome to come along, no experience is necessary.
Contact Mike Woodhall on 01423 501193.