Church bell ringing is often portrayed (Christmas cards come to mind) as people flying up and down on the end of ropes. In reality, bell ringers aim to keep their feet firmly on the ground. Ringing is all about technique and requires little strength or effort although a ringer is controlling a bell weighing from a few hundredweight to several tons. What is required of a ringer is an ability to count, a sense of rhythm and a willingness to ring for Sunday services and to join us for practice nights whenever possible. 

We in Saffron Walden are always looking for new ringers - adults or young people (young people must attend with a parent on their first visit and should be at least 12 years old - we have a Child Protection Policy). Ringing helps keep you fit and provides good mental exercise - ringers often continue ringing into their '80s and beyond. Bell ringing is a social activity and is all about being part of a team - there are no soloists.

Once a learner is able to control a bell, which we teach on a 1 to 1 basis before the beginning of our weekly practice, and can ring rounds (the bells descending, from the lightest bell, down the musical scale), the next step is to learn to ring call changes - this is likely to involve the use of our new simulator. In call changes the ringers continue to ring the same repeating sequence until the conductor makes a change by swapping the order of two bells. These calls provide a bit of variation but the overall repetitive nature of call changes is pleasing to listen to. As a result and because of their relative ease to ring well, call changes are often rung for services and for weddings.

In the 17th century, church bell ringers began to develop the art of change ringing. Realising that if you had six bells, there are 720* different combinations of those six bells that could be rung and that if you could change the order at every pull of the rope (stroke) you would produce a continuous series of changes and make the sound of the bells much more interesting. This however required each ringer to know when and how the order changed at each and every stroke, and to have a way of remembering how they changed; thus change ringing methods evolved. Many methods, including those still popular today are hundreds of years old but new ones are being composed all the time. The challenge of change ringing is one of the key attractions of bell ringing. We strive to learn ever more complicated methods and ring them to quarter peals (>1,250 changes; around 45 minutes of ringing) and peals (>5,000 changes; around 3 hours ringing).

In becoming a bell ringer you are joining a worldwide, although English biased, community. Bell ringers regularly visit each others' towers. There are over 5,000 churches with rings of bells in the UK and as a ringer you will always be sure of a welcome at another tower's practice night - just turn up, introduce yourself as a ringer and join in! Local towers in the Saffron Walden area include:

Help us keep this traditional art alive - come up the tower on practice night (access into the church is via the small door to the south-east and then via the spiral staircase to the to the north of the west entrance) or contact us to arrange a visit. We will show you round the ringing chamber and belfry, you will see what we do and meet the ringers. Hopefully you will find us friendly, like what you see and want to be part of it.

*the number of changes possible on 8,10 and 12 bells is 40,320; 3,628,800 and 479,001,600 respectively!

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