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National 12-bell contest at Southwark Cathedral

Bellringing has competitions, like many performing arts. Teams compete to to ring the test piece best. In Sonning Deanery they are low key with a few teams, and the winner going on to compete in the Oxford Diocesan competition. Similar events are held across the country, but none are in the same league as the National 12­Bell Striking Contest, which attracts around twenty entries from centres of twelve bell ringing nationwide.

The heats are held at three different towers in March, with ten teams going forward to compete in the final in June. It’s a major event, with up to eight hundred ringers present – eating a prodigious amount of food and consuming a couple of thousand pints of beer. This year the final was at Southwark Cathedral.

Each team has half an hour to get into the tower, have a short practice to get used to the bells, ring the test piece which lasts about 15 minutes, and then get out to make way for the following team.

The whole event is streamed (broadcast) live on the Internet, so hundreds more ringers worldwide (including me) who aren’t there in person can feel part of it, and can follow progress during the day.

Listeners can try to decide which teams are better, though it’s hard to be consistent over a period of many hours, especially if you are doing other things between the ringing.

As well as broadcasting the test pieces, the compere interviews competitors who have just rung, and it’s interesting to hear them talk about the challenges they face, and how they try to overcome them. As you can imagine, in June a lot of the comments are about the heat. Ringing bells of up to 2½ tons is hard work, and with twelve people in an enclosed space it can get very sticky as the day wears on.

Few of us at All Saints have much experience of 12-bell ringing, and none of us are at the standard achieved in the national competition, but in the same way that the Olympics inspired many participants in local sports, listening to teams at the pinnacle of ringing can inspire ordinary ringers.

For more information, see: www.12bell.org.uk 

John Harrison (July 2017) 

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