Bell Ringing

Change Ringing in Newport Pagnell

The tower of SS Peter & Paul’s church contains a ring of eight bells. They were cast in 1911 and are among the finest in the area. To ring them requires a band of eight ringers with the experience needed to perform change ringing on them.

In “normal times” our practice night is on Wednesdays, between 7:30 and 9:00. Anyone who would like to learn to ring is welcome to get in touch or come along to have a look. On Sundays we ring for half an hour before the services.

 

About change ringing

Change ringing is a performance art. It requires practice and effort to become proficient. Like all forms of art, it includes many interesting aspects besides the actual ringing so there is much to attract all sorts of individuals. Change ringing is unusual among the performance arts in that virtually everything that is rung is a public performance. As a result, there is an overlap between “practice” and “performance” such that ringers tend to regard all ringing in the same way. That is also the case for the audience so ringers have to take care about the effect of their ringing in the vicinity.

 

About bell-ringers

Bell ringers come from all walks of life and are of all ages and backgrounds. They don’t have to be “church people” but it can help in the early stages if you have a bit of a head start. The strength of a band comes from its diversity, as it does in congregations. Having a range of skills and abilities that can be drawn from when needed will make the success of a band much easier to achieve.

We have to consider that ringers have busier lives than they would have had 100 years ago. Some have time to ring every Sunday, some can only manage that occasionally. Those who only attend practices, and the visitors from other towers, contribute to the progress of the rest of the band and so are valued equally. An ideal size for a band of ringers is generally thought to be about twice the number of bells in the tower. That provides enough of a backup when things get busy during the wedding season. So, at Newport, an ideal number would be about 16.

 

Community

The ringing community can be found throughout the world, mainly concentrated in Commonwealth countries. Ringers tend to be quite a sociable bunch so it is not unusual for visitors from other towers to help out at Newport. In return, we even help out at Olney. The development of social media has resulted in regular contact between ringers and best practice in many fields is regularly shared, along with a lot of nonsense.

 

Teaching and Learning

Learning to ring has much in common with other activities and sports in that the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert is probably about right. However, it doesn’t take long to become a useful ringer. The recent creation of the Association of Ringing Teachers has resulted in widespread sharing of experience and resources. Teaching in Newport makes use of this as well as many years of practical teaching on bells throughout North Bucks.

 

Health and Safety and all that

As might be expected, ringers are always aware of physical safety. As a result, ringing is quite a low risk activity. Provided everyone pays attention and does what they are told, accidents are very rare.

In recent years, other important aspects have been addressed such as the protection of vulnerable people, insurance and GDPR.

 

About money

Because change ringing has been associated with the church for a long time, it has become an entirely voluntary activity and tends to be organised on a very low cost basis. There is no cost for lessons or teaching and most ringing societies have very small membership subscriptions. There is often more discussion about increasing annual subscriptions by the cost of a pint of beer than almost any other subject. At Newport, subscriptions for the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers are paid out of tower funds which are mainly topped up by wedding ringing fees.

However, a ring of bells is a large and expensive musical instrument so restoring or upgrading a ring can often cost a more than a church can afford. Ringers have become accustomed to gaining support from the wider community and charitable bodies. A significant amount of the money raised for bell projects would not be available for other church needs so bell projects often succeed in some unlikely places.

 

Bells and The Church

Bells have been associated with the Church in Europe for many centuries.  Churches are where we find most of our bells and the ringers recognise that the ringing of bells has a place in the life of the church.

In this country, the art of change ringing developed following the Reformation and various other events. By Victorian times, the ringers seem to have got a bit of a reputation and were in need of reform, or so the propaganda at the time went. That might not actually have been true. However, The Church took the initiative, and a number of Guilds, Associations and Societies were formed by members of the clergy. This worked well where most vicars and rectors only had a single parish to look after.

Many of these societies survive now but the Church no longer influences or controls them. The clergy now have too many parishes to attend to. As a result, the societies are becoming more secular and outward looking. As congregations dwindle, recruitment from within the church family becomes less viable and the task becomes one of outreach. Many see ringing as a gateway drug to Christ. That will be true for some as ringing provides an opportunity for anyone to become familiar with their local church and The Church more widely. Ringers can often recruit more effectively than congregations and it would be interesting to investigate why that is.