St Mary’s Bells

News from the Bell Tower by Liz Griffith-Jones

Church bellringers cannot ring tunes on their bells because the mechanics of ringing make it too difficult to get each note in the right place. If you do hear a tune coming from a bell tower it is being played on a carillon which is a set of bells connected to a set of keys like a piano.

Instead of ringing tunes, we ring sets of changes called ‘methods’. These methods are given names, for example Grandsire Triples or Yorkshire Surprise Maximus. The first part of the name, eg Yorkshire Surprise, is the method name and the last part, eg Triples, tells you how many bells it is rung on. Five bell methods are called ‘doubles’, six bell methods ‘minor’, seven bell methods ‘triples’ and eight bell methods ‘major’. Nine, ten, eleven and twelve bell methods are called caters, royal, cinques and maximus respectively. Method names are part of the history and romance of bellringing.

Simple mathematics tells us that if you have five bells, there are 120 different orders, called changes, that they can be rung in. There are lots of different ways to get these 120 changes; but to qualify as a valid method, certain rules have been laid down. The most important is that any bell cannot be moved more than one place in the order each change. For example if the bells are being rung in rounds, 12345, the next change could be 21435 but not 35421. This takes into account the mechanics of ringing tower bells.

Repaired bells returning

Here at Henham church we have a lovely set of six bells. There is a tradition of ringing previously unrung methods and naming them after towns, villages, counties, etc. No method has ever been named ‘Henham’ so it has long been my ambition to ring and name a new method after my home tower. A couple of weeks ago we noticed that a band, unconnected with our villages had rung a new method and named it ‘Elsenham Surprise Minor’. We were worried that they might soon name a method after our village so we thought we ought to get in first.

A set of previously unrung changes was identified and six of us met on Monday 3rd February 2014 to attempt a quarter peal in the new method. Ringing is full of rules and one of them says that you can only name a new method if you have rung a certain number of changes in it. On six bells there are 720 possible changes and you must ring them all to name the method. We chose to ring a quarter peel of 1320 changes which came round successfully in 43 minutes. We are delighted to name the new method Henham Surprise Minor.The picture is the return of the bells in October 1985 after repair.

I hope the above has given you some idea of the fascination of bellringing. It is a wonderful physical and mental exercise. You don’t need to be strong or mathematical or musical to become a good ringer. Here at Henham we have a friendly band and we would like to recruit a few new ringers. Come and see us in the tower any Thursday evening between 7.45 and 9.00pm.

Click here to read more articles about bellringing.

The following images were taken by Dave Cutts and ably assisted up the ladder and into the tower by Bill Griffith-Jones