My Ringing Career
The First Ten Years
Published 17th December 2006
As you might expect, on these pages I have mentioned various churches ("towers") and their bells, and I wanted to give readers an idea of the size of each tower's largest ("Tenor") bell. Where the exact weight of the Tenor is known it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is approximately equal to 50.8 kilograms); otherwise it is estimated to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.
As you will have read on the Home page of this section, I started learning to ring on the eight bells (Tenor 7-1-16) at St James, Mangotsfield on 8th March 1993. It's widely accepted that the best way to progress in ringing is to visit other towers, so just over four months later (by which time I could probably handle a bell on my own), on 26th July 1993, the Tower Captain took me for a ring on the light six (Tenor 4-1-03) at St John the Baptist, Frenchay. My memory from the age of ten isn't able to tell me whether we visited Frenchay again, but I do know that my next new tower wouldn't be for another two years.
The date was 27th August 1995, the Sunday of one of our first annual family holidays in Bournemouth (we had always visited Sidmouth in the past). Towards the evening we found ourselves in nearby Christchurch, at the Priory Church of Holy Trinity which posesses a rather heavy ring of twelve (Tenor 27 cwt) – considerably greater in both the weight and number of bells than I was used to. Nevertheless, the opportunity arose for me to have a go before the evening service, and so I had my first experience of ringing on twelve bells. Needless to say I didn't attempt to ring the Tenor!
Following that holiday I continued to ring only at Mangotsfield, with possibly an occasional visit to Frenchay, until the time came for me to attend my first proper meeting – an Association Annual General Meeting, no less! I had been ringing for five years by this time and was to become a member of the Association. So on 25th April 1998, after trying out the six bells of St Anne Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Siston (Tenor 9-2-12) – only my fourth tower – we retired to the Church Hall for the meeting at which I was elected a member of the Bristol Rural Branch of the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers (known locally as the "G&B"), attached to Mangotsfield.
It can safely be said that my ringing career took off at this point. Every year on the May Day Bank Holiday Monday the Bristol Rural Branch organised an outing. The first of these that I attended was just nine days after the meeting at Siston and in that one day I managed to more than double my total number of towers. I had rung at only four towers (including Mangotsfield) in the five years since I started learning, but here I was ringing at five in one day! The Branch AGM in November added another one, a similar Branch Outing took place the following year, and on 12th June 1999 I helped the Mangotsfield band come last in the Branch Striking Competition at yet another new tower. Young Ringers' Outings started in the summer holidays of 1999, and thus began a pattern that would continue for another four years. On 8th March 2003, the tenth anniversary of my first lesson, a Branch Training Day on the eight bells at Coalpit Heath (Tenor 10-0-06) brought my total to 63.
I feel I should break up the potential monotony of grabbing towers here with some actual ringing, this of course being what we ringers do on all these bells. And what better place to start than with my first regular visit. The bells at Mangotsfield tended to fall silent over the summer holidays, though they did try to keep Sunday service ringing going, so in July 2002 I decided to start visiting the eight-bell tower of St Mary, Bitton (Tenor 14-2-11). I mentioned earlier that the best way to progress in ringing is to visit other towers, and that certainly proved true in this case. Apart from ringing with a completely different band of ringers, at Bitton I learned new methods I'd never even heard of before! I continued to visit Bitton even after the summer holidays ended, and before long I added another regular tower to my list with a return to St Anne, Siston.
All good things must come to an end, however, and my regular visits to Bitton did just that in February 2003. One of the Siston ringers also rang on the sixes at St Thomas à Becket, Pucklechurch (Tenor 12-1-14) and St Mary, Yate (Tenor 20-0-25), two towers that shared one struggling band of ringers, so I offered to go along and help out. Unfortunately for me, both the Pucklechurch/Yate and Bitton bands practiced on the same night of the week so a decision had to be made. To cut a long story short, at the time of writing I still ring with the combined Pucklechurch and Yate band, but I'm afraid we're still struggling too!