Bell ringers meet in the bell tower at 7.30 pm each Wednesday evening to practise and they ring the changes prior to our 9.45 am service, a reminder to the community at large of the presence of the church and a call to worship God. The bell ringers are also available for wedding bookings. The Bell Captain is The Rev’d Wendy Tyrell and always welcomes new members to the team.
Church bells are a very audible presence of church, ringing out over the surrounding community and countryside. They call all people to worship God. In times of local and national celebration they ring joyfully. In times of grief or disaster they are muffled and sombre. Places of worship for many faiths and in many countries use bells to call to the people. The particular pattern of swirling sounds made by our bells is unique to England and a few other English-speaking countries. It is called Change Ringing. In New Zealand there are just seven towers with bells able to be rung in this way.
At the Waikato Cathedral Church of St Peter we have 8 bells hung for change ringing, with 5 of them able to be connected up to the clock to chime each quarter hour and/or the hour. The clock is mechanised but all other ringing is rung in the traditional way with one person at the end of each bell rope.
The bells were cast by Messrs Mears & Stainbank of Whitechapel, London, England. The tenor was purchased in 1931 from the Annie McPherson bequest and placed in the bell tower in 1933.
The remaining six bells were added following fundraising initiated by the Very Reverend C. W. Chandler, Th.L. in October 1948. Within two months the order was placed with Whitechapel. The two existing bells were sent to Whitechapel where the tenor was re-tuned with the new seven. Mr Athol Caldwell was instrumental in the successful completion of the project, culminating with the blessing of the six bells to complete the ring of eight in 1950.
||This treble bell, given by the Junior Ladies’ Guild through the efforts of Miss Molly King.
||Given by the Children of the Diocese of Waikato.
||Given by the Auckland and Christchurch Hebrew Congregations.
||Given by Mr and Mrs A. C. A. Caldwell and family.
||Given by the Church of England Men’s Society throughout the Diocese of Waikato.
||Given by the Citizens of Hamilton.
||Given by the Citizens of Hamilton.
||This tenor bell was purchased from the Annie McPherson bequest in 1931.
This gives a total weight of over 4 tonnes. Despite the weight of the bells, ringers do not need to be immensely fit and strong. It’s all technique! The bells rotate on ball bearings so only the friction has to be overcome. Some quite small children and elderly people ring perfectly well. A hobby that can last a lifetime!
Ringing a Bell
There are two ways of ringing a bell – chiming and full-circle ringing.
Chiming is quite easy and can be safely mastered by anyone in a few minutes. It is used when a single bell is needed, for example the ‘service bell’.
To chime a bell, the rope is pulled a short distance and then checked. The bell swings through a small arc and hits against the heavy clapper. When chiming, the speed is relatively uncontrollable and the sound fairly quiet.
Many churches around New Zealand have bells that can be chimed. They are usually fixed to a level or to a quarter wheel or half wheel.
Full Circle Ringing This is the traditional English bell-ringing style. First the bell must be ‘rung up. Starting from chiming, the angle of the swing is gradually increased until the bell is swinging in a full circle through 360 degrees. Then the bell is balanced mouth upwards (set). From this point, with hours of practice, it is possible to swing the bell first one way, then the other, thus controlling the speed of the striking necessary to produce the ‘change ringing’. The rope’s up and down movement is equal to the circumference of the wheel, which is why a soft sally is needed for the pull one way. The bell’s sound is richer and carries further.
The bells at the Cathedral range in size from just over 5 cwt (250kg) to 20 ½ cwt (1 tonne). Despite the weight of the bells, the ringers do not need to be immensely fit and strong. Our youngest ringers began when they were just 8 years old. Ringers can continue to ring until they are in their eighties.
About 300 years ago full-circle ringing was developed, giving greater control of ringing speed and allowing complex patterns of sound to be invented. The bells start by ringing down the scale 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (This is called ‘ROUNDS’). (Ringing UP the scale is reserved as a sign of invasion or disaster.) Every bell sounding once is referred to as a row. New ringers are first taught to control their bell and then to ring their bell correctly in the row called ROUNDS.
Once Rounds is mastered new ringers are taught to ring CALL CHANGES. To vary the tune from Rounds, one of the ringers, (the ‘conductor’) will call a change in order, for example 2 to 3. Two bells will alter their position in the row producing 1,3,2,4,5,6,7,8. The next call could perhaps be 4 to 5 giving 1,3,2,5,4,6,7,8. This continues until the desired row is reached or group of rows have been completed. The bells are then called back to Rounds again before they stop (STAND is the term for stopping). Some of the rows have special names.
QUEENS ............... 1 3 5 7 2 4 6 8
WHITTINGTONS ......... 1 2 7 5 3 2 4 8
TITTUMS .............. 1 5 2 6 3 7 4 8
Once Call Changes is mastered then HUNTING is learnt. When hunting the row alters on each bell pull, handstroke and backstroke, with every bell either staying in the position they were in last time or swapping places with one of the bells that was next to them in the previous row.
It starts like this (on 6 bells)
1 2 3 4 5 6
2 1 4 3 6 5
2 4 1 6 3 5 This is the pattern for
4 2 6 1 5 3 Plain Hunt on 6
4 6 2 5 1 3
6 4 5 2 3 1
6 5 4 3 2 1 Can you fill in the rest
5 6 3 . 1 . of the grid?
5 3 . 1 . .
3 . 1 . . .
3 1 . . . .
1 . . . . .
1 2 3 4 5 6
Each bell alternates between moving towards the front of the row (hunting down) and moving towards the back of the row (hunting up), with two blows at the front and two at the back in-between these two types of hunting.
How long would you take to ring all the possible rows?
Obviously the more bells, the greater the number of different possible combinations. The total can be calculated by a simple multiplication.
On 5 bells 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 rows are possible and would take about 4 minutes to ring.
On 6 bells 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 720 rows takes about 25 mins.
On 7 bells 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 5040 rows takes about 3 hours (a ‘peal’)
On 8 bells 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 40,320 rows takes about 24 hours (it has been done once!)
The plain hunt on 6 only produces 12 of the possible 720 rows on 6 bells (6x5x4x3x2x1 = 720). To get the other possible rows there are lots of other patterns followed, usually with the Treble, (or lightest bell) following a simple pattern while the other bells follow a more complicated pattern. To add further variations, the ‘conductor’ may add calls that alter the patterns, but only for one row. The bells then resume the pattern they had previously been following.
These patterns have complicated names that can be very confusing initially. The last part of each name tells the ringers how many bells are to be included in the pattern.
SINGLES - 3 bells MINIMUS - 4 bells
DOUBLES - 5 bells MINOR - 6 bells
TRIPLES - 7 bells MAJOR - 8 bells
CATERS - 9 bells ROYAL - 10 bells
CINQUES - 11 bells MAXIMUS - 12 bells
The first part of the name tells what actual pattern is to be used. eg. GRANDSIRE, PLAIN BOB, CAMBRIDGE, APRIL DAY, STEDMAN.
The middle part of the name tells the ringers what type of method is involved, eg. SURPRISE, TREBLE BOB, PLAIN, DELIGHT, ALLIANCE. A language of their own, in fact.
Put them together and you get names like Stedman Doubles, Plain Bob Minor, Grandsire Triples, Cambridge Surprise Major, Kent Treble Bob Minor, Little Bob Major.
This all sounds very complicated, but it doesn’t mean ringers have to be musical or good at maths. They do need to have a sense of rhythm and to be well co-ordinated. In saying that, musicians and mathematicians do seem to find a particular fascination with ringing.
Peals and Quarter Peals
For a really special occasion a PEAL may be rung. Rung on any number of bells, it consists of at least 5040 changes if on seven bells or less, or at least 5000 changes on a higher number of bells, These are rung non-stop and without unnecessary repetition, starting and ending in rounds. On other occasions a more modest and practical QUARTER PEAL is rung, being a quarter of the size of a peal ie. 1260 changes, and taking about 45 minutes.
A Ringer’s Involvement
The main purpose for ringing is to ring before Sunday Services. All ringers must be prepared and able to spend about an hour ringing on most Sunday mornings and some evenings too. For training, a weekly evening practice is essential (Wednesdays in Hamilton). There may also be weddings and special occasions. Any more is optional.
The Hamilton bell ringers are members of the Australia New Zealand Association of Bellringers (ANZAB) and there is an annual gathering for bell ringers each year held at one of the bellringing centres in Australia or New Zealand. Attendance is voluntary, but it is a great way to learn to ring more complicated pieces, and to ring on different bells. There are also bell ringing friends to catch up with. ANZAB have their own website at www.anzab.org.au.
Visiting ringers are welcome any time at our tower, a practise common to the majority of bell towers, and each year visitors come from all over the world to ring the Cathedral’s bells. Our ringers also visit other towers while on holiday or away for work.
||7.30 – 9.15 every Wednesday
||9 – 9.45am every Sunday5 – 6pm on the fourth Sunday of a month