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Birthday bells and ‘candles’

For centuries, bells in church towers have been rung for national celebrations (far longer in fact that they have been rung to welcome parishioners to church services). Bigger celebrations tend to be accompanied by more ringing – for example Queen Victoria’s DIamond Jubilee was marked by ‘ringing at 6am, and at intervals throughout the day’ here in Wokingham.

The Queen’s 90th birthday was a pretty big event – not only has she reached a ripe old age but she is also our longest reigning monarch. Since she has two birthdays, ringers nationwide had two bites at the celebratory cherry. Over 600 performances were dedicated to her real birthday in April, including a dozen of a method appropriately called ‘90th Birthday Surprise Major’, and nearly 500 performances marked her official birthday weekend in June.

At All Saints we rang a quarter peal for her real birthday and a peal on her official birthday. Which brings me to the reference to ‘candles’ in the title of this article. On a birthday cake it is customary to make the number of candles match the person’s age. It doesn’t affect the quality of the cake but it is nice touch linking the cake to the event. Ringers often do something similar when ringing a peal for a birthday.

To qualify as a peal a performance must have at least 5000 changes, and for practical reasons the actual number is somewhat more, largely dictated by the nature of the method being rung, for example lengths of 5024, 5056 or 5088 for methods based on a unit of 32 changes. But when celebrating a birthday there is an obvious attraction in trying to make the ‘extra‘ length equal the age, ie 5090 for a 90th birthday.

Thirty of the peals for the Queen’s real and official birthdays were 5090s, including the peal that we rang here on 11 June. It requires a more complex composition than the ones we often use, which makes the conductor’s job of memorising and calling the composition harder. Our peal was ably conducted by our Ringing Master Nigel Mellor on what turned out to be a rather sticky June afternoon.

John Harrison (June 2016) 


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