Hooked on bell ringing in Essex
The following is written by Carol and Andrew Knott, who are learning to ring for Ringing Remembers at St Mary’s with St Leonard church in Broomfield, Chelmsford, Essex. Read more learner’s stories here.
Carol and Andrew: We moved to Broomfield a couple of years ago and live close to the church. It is a beautiful church, parts of which date back a thousand years. We first became interested in bell ringing when the bell tower was open at the church fayre and you could go along to give it a try – it seemed pretty easy… but we didn’t realise then that we were just having a pull on a bell that was ‘down’ as opposed to the bells being ‘up’ for full circle ringing which is very different!
It has a round tower and the bells are rung from the ground floor. This makes it very accessible, however it also means the ropes have a longer draft and therefore are more difficult to learn to control – well that’s the excuse we’re sticking to as to why it has taken us as long as it has to learn the ropes! Our Tower Captain, Chris Marcus, first told us about Ringing Remembers and we signed up, that really gave us a target to aim for… and he is constantly reminding us that we need to attend as many practice sessions as possible as November is really not very many weeks away now!
Back in April, The Essex Association of Change Ringers were running their annual 3-day bell ringing course at Coggeshall and they kindly put on an extra group for beginners registered with Ringing Remembers and we were lucky enough to be offered a place. Despite feeling nervous about our lack of prowess and experience, we were warmly welcomed as a valued addition to the course and the wider bellringing community.
We were a group of 6 new ringers, ourselves from Broomfield plus others from Baddow, Great Totham, Goldhanger and Suffolk. At the start of the course we were reassured by our lead tutor, that ‘nothing would be our fault’ ie any clangers (pardon the pun) would be down to our tutors – wait until we try that one on our tower captains back home we thought. Simon who looks after the bells at St Peter’s ad Vincula also assured us he had some spare stays, but thankfully we didn’t break any.
Day one began with a session on practising separate backstrokes and handstrokes and then joining both together – having had varying degrees of success in ‘joining it all together’ on practice nights in Broomfield, it was great to have more rope time to refine our techniques and to understand what goes wrong and why. By the end of the course we were having a go at ringing in rounds. Over-pulling was a common problem but we were assured that is quite usual to begin with. There were moments of panic when all the fundamentals suddenly deserted us when we were trying to follow another bell – a lack of spare brain capacity we think. Fortunately we were ringing on bells with tied clappers so we couldn’t upset the neighbours; with the sound simulator switched on in the tower it wasn’t always melodious, however our tutors were endlessly patient and calm which enabled us all still to have fun. With calm and patient tutoring we all grew in confidence and finished the course with a tremendous sense of achievement and no longer found it scary.
Since then we have continued to attend weekly practice nights. We’re ringing in rounds, having finally developed some muscle memory and have started learning called changes – now that’s testing the grey matter! It’s a great exercise in mindfulness because it’s totally absorbing, you cannot think of anything other than the feel of the rope and the bell, how it’s handling and where you are in the round, whether you need to speed up, slow down or maintain the rhythm. Although we tend to get a little bit lost after a few call changes Chris is helping us along giving an extra bit of instruction with every call change to let us know which bell which should be following. It’s a constant learning process and I think we’re at the conscious incompetence stage at the moment! However, it was a great sense of achievement ringing at our first Sunday service. We made a couple of mistakes, but a few members of the congregation who congratulated us on our debut didn’t seem to have noticed! We can now dare to believe we’ll be ready for 11 November.
It’s been great learning a new skill together as husband and wife, giving each other encouragement and reassurance when we felt like we would never get the hang of it. There’s a good bit of gentle barracking and good humoured banter that goes on in the tower and it’s all finished off with a pint in the local at the end of the evening. Our fellow ringers at Broomfield teaching us continue to display endless patience and encouragement for which we owe them a great deal of thanks. They have become our friends and we have a social night coming up in a local tapas bar. The bell ringing community in general are a very sociable and welcoming bunch and we’re hooked on this bell ringing lark now: we’ve booked a cottage in Devon for a week’s holiday in September, the cottage is opposite a church and we’ve already looked up on the Dove’s app which night is their practice night, we intend dropping in to join them.
Throughout history, bells have been rung on significant occasions: weddings, the passing of a monarch; coronations; and of course remembrance days. We hope to continue this tradition, in fact the England football team’s semi-final World cup match fell on a Wednesday… so practice night was held at the Kings Arms watching the footie and we had agreement from the Vicar at our church that if England won, we could ring the bells in celebration….alas it was not to be!!
It will be an absolute privilege to ring on Remembrance Sunday this year, particularly for the centenary, a chance for us to honour the fallen; and how special it will be to ring in unison with all the other churches across the nation, something to be proud to be a part of and a memory to cherish. There’s still time if you want to get involved, even if you only get as far as assisted backstrokes on the day you will have taken part and started something you can continue with afterwards.
We’ve been encouraged to experience ringing at other towers and the photo is of us at Chelmsford Cathedral. There are 12 bells, as opposed to just six at Broomfield, so it’s quite different and it was very kind of the experienced ringers to accommodate us. Listening to the methods they ring on 12 bells was delightful. Our thanks to Vicki Chapman who was instrumental in organising the course in April; providing general encouragement; and facilitating our sessions at the Cathedral.
The Ringing Remembers campaign is recruiting 1,400 new bell ringers in memory of the 1,400 who lost their lives in World War One. All new recruits will have once in a life time opportunity to ring on Armistice Day (11 November) this year to mark 100 years since the end of the war. Find out more about the campaign and signup by visiting our Ringing Remembers project page and read more leaner’s stories here.