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Call goes out to recruit bell-ringers in time for the Coronation

13 January 2023

Young learners needed to keep the ancient art from dying out in the long term

Ring for the King

A NATIONAL call has been made to recruit thousands of new bell-ringers to ring in the new King in May and to keep the ancient art from dying out in the long term.

Church bells rang out across England last June to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (News, 10 June 2022), and many of these were rung again, fully muffled, on her death in September (News, 23 September 2022).

Now, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has established a recruitment drive to ensure that there are enough ringers to go around for the Coronation on 6 May. It has set up a website, Ring for the King, for this purpose, encouraging young people in particular to try their hand.

The website describes bell-ringing as “an activity like no other — a unique mix of physical exercise with mental agility that is a deep part of our history but still practiced and evolving today”.

It suggests that, after ten to 15 hours of one-to-one tuition on handling a bell, using a bell rope, a learner can begin to ring with others. “This will require you to attend a weekly practice from now until the Coronation. By then, we hope that you’ll have got the ringing bug and continue ringing, enjoying a lifetime of different ringing experiences.”

A spokeswoman for the Central Council, Vicki Chapman, said that there were about 38,000 church bells and 30,000 ringers in the UK. “It would be quite ambitious to try to recruit the difference in such a short space of time, as learning to ring competently does take some time,” she said. While a swell of new recruits in time for the Coronation would be “fantastic”, the call was part of a longer-term strategy.

“We would hope that people find this new hobby, skill, and social activity something they would want to continue with beyond 6 May,” she said.

Numbers of ringers have been declining across England in recent years, accelerated by the pandemic, when lockdowns and social distancing made teaching impossible. Recruitment is important, but retention of new learners, the Council says, is crucial, particularly of young people who might stop practising when they move away — to university, for example.

iStockChristchurch Priory, Dorset

Rosemary Rogers has been ringing at Christchurch Priory, Dorset, for more than 55 years, and has been tower captain for many of those. The tower has a ring of 12 bells, plus a flat sixth semitone bell. They date from the end of the 14th century to 1976.

Ringing was continuing at the Priory, Mrs Rogers said, but with generally lower numbers. “We are now ringing regularly on Sunday mornings on six or eight bells; we only ring occasionally on a Sunday evening, if I can organise a quarter peal, calling on some other local ringers from other towers.”

The band used to ring for half an hour before evensong every Sunday night. Ringing practice continues on Monday nights, but again with low numbers. “Our younger ringers are now at University; most are not now ringing.”

Ms Chapman said that this was not always the case, and the hope was that more young people keep ringing throughout their life. “Many universities have thriving societies, and young people have been known to continue or to take up ringing whilst at university,” she said.

“The picture of young ringers is a heartening one, with many young ringing teams in counties, as well as a centralised young ringers’ association, set up by and for young people. These are the people who will carry this skill on; so it is good to have a focus on the next generation.”

The pandemic put a stop to teaching new recruits, but Mrs Rogers is pleased now to be teaching four new learners, “who are all progressing well”, and she hopes to have them all “joining us for Sunday ringing soon”.

Last year had been one of highs and lows for the band of ringers, she said, with a quarter peal for the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s Accession, and extra ringing for the Platinum Jubilee. “Little did we know that, in September, we would be ringing fully muffled for ten days for the sad death of our Queen. As we only ever ring fully muffled for the death of a sovereign, none of us had experienced it before. The band managed extremely well.”

A fully muffled quarter peal was rung on one of the evenings. “It was very moving and something we will never forget. . . We had many positive comments from those who heard the ringing during that period.”

Ms Chapman, like many others, was introduced to ringing by a family member. “It’s a great family and group activity, low cost, and provides an instant worldwide group of friends,” she concluded. “For younger ringers, it helps develop leadership and team working skills — all good additions to a university personal statement or CV.”

The Council ran a similar recruitment campaign, Ringing Remembers, for the Armistice centenary in 2018. It attracted more than 3000 new learners, Ms Chapman said. “Our original target was 1400, representing the 1400 ringers lost during World War I.” Some took part for personal remembrance; others were looking for something new to do. “One lady had been widowed, and was looking for a new hobby and to make new friends.”

To find out how to learn bell-ringing, visit: ringfortheking.org

King’s cypher on new bells. A ring of bells created for St Peter and St Paul, North Curry, in Somerset, is the first to be cast with the King’s newly designed cypher at the John Taylor & Co. bell foundry in Loughborough.

The previous bells had been removed on safety grounds, and villagers raised £150,000 for the new bells. An archivist at Taylor’s, George Dawson, told ITV News this week: “It’s the very first time that Taylor’s have used those patterns, and one of the guys who came was a pattern-maker to see the fruits of his work as well.”

The Vicar, the Revd Simon Bale, who was among a small group to watch the casting, said that it was an “exciting” experience. “It’s quite emotional, frankly. I was able to say a prayer of thanksgiving and of hope and gratitude as well, at the beginning, for all this being done.”

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