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We automatically associate bellringing with church services but it was the Victorians who introduced service ringing, along with other reforms that provided a boost to the ancient art of change ringing. It’s hard for us to imagine the austere world where no congregations were welcomed by anything other than a single tolling bell (though even today it is the norm at churches not blessed with bells and a band of ringers to ring them).
Ringing for the community goes back a lot further. Before the Victorian era there was a lot of ringing done expressly for the community to mark occasions of public rejoicing, local and national – often lasting much of the day. Because they expected it, people knew what the ringing was for.
Community ringing is less common now than then – an unfortunate side effect of the close relationship between ringers and the church – so although people still love the sound of bells, the vast majority who don’t go to church assume the ringing they hear is for someone else, not for them.
At All Saints we keep alive the tradition of public ringing – for example we rang to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – though it’s a tiny part of what we do compared with service ringing. Sadly with ubiquitous traffic noise the ringing is less audible than it was in Victorian times, but we put posters outside so that passers by will know the reason we are ringing.
2015 is turning into a ringing year, with the 70th anniversary of VE Day (and VJ Day) and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta all being marked by widespread ringing. On recent trends we can expect the government to request ringing for the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo and the 800th of Agincourt as well so it looks quite busy on the national front.
It’s not all ringing for battles though. We also celebrated a major landmark in ringing history – the first recorded ‘true peal’ (the gold standard performance) at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich on 2nd May 1715.
With a committed band of ringers we can sustain regular ringing – for services and for the community – but several of our ringers have moved away so we need more. All Saints has a strong record for teaching and development, and is an excellent place to learn. For more about the rewards of ringing, see: allsaintswokinghambells.org.uk/
John Harrison (May 2015)
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