Welcome to the website operated by the North East Branch, one of the eight geographical divisions of the Guild of Devonshire Ringers founded in 1874.
We are a happy band of slightly more than 100 members and made up of ringers active in North East Devon. As you wander through this site, you will come to appreciate that there is much happening within the membership. If you have never had an exposure to bells or bell ringing but think that you might like to know a little more of the subject, read on. Bellringing is the ultimate team activity in which people of all ages can participate but be warned – this fascinating pastime can become highly addictive!
Bell ringing in many forms and in many cultures has been practiced throughout the world since man discovered that metal could be used for purposes less bellicose than making spearheads! Here we are concerned with the peculiarly English art of Full-Circle Changeringing, the origins of which lie in post-Reformation sixteenth century England when church bells began to be fitted with a fully circular rope wheel. This gave ringers a degree of control of their bell not provided by earlier arrangements which mainly comprised arms to activate swinging bells or ropes to operate the clappers of fixed bells. Thus the wheeled bells were able to be swung in an arc of approximately 365 degrees and so rung, as opposed to the earlier limitations of chiming. This allowed sets of bells (known as rings, usually between 6 and 12 bells,) to be engaged in continuously changing patterns, the number and complexity of which have been developed over the centuries. Hundreds of these patterns are published in a ringing notation and are known as methods. These methods are the lingua Franca of ringing, allowing a competent ringer to be welcomed in any tower in the world and join another band in ringing established and widely known methods. We have members who have rung as far afield as New Zealand, Canada and Australia.
Method ringing involves changing the sequence in which the bells strike with every stroke of the rope. Thus, if the bells are ringing in the order 12345678, (a sequence known as Rounds), the next stroke could have them sounding 21354768 with the following stroke 23145678 then 32416587 and so on. This example is the start of Grandsire Major - there are so many wonderful names! Major means the method is rung on eight bells, all of which will change places. The diagramme below depicts the relative movement of the bells in Plain Bob Minor (where Minor indicates six working bells). Arithmetic progression eventually brings them back to Rounds. With instructions from a Conductor, it is possible to ring for three hours or more on seven bells (Triples) and without repeating the same sequence.
The method style of ringing predominates throughout the country. However, in the West Country, notably Devonshire and Cornwall, we are privileged to enjoy two ringing traditions - being blessed with some 350 working towers in Devonshire alone, there are plenty of bells to go around! Method ringing in Devon is promoted by the Guild of Devonshire Ringers and perhaps half the active towers in the county will concentrate on method ringing. Others prefer to adopt the Call Change system. In the latter style, only pairs of adjacent bells change at any one time and these literally are called into a new place by the Ringing Master. Thus, starting with 123456, the first call might be “Four to Five”, at which bells 4 and 5 swap places to give an order of 123546. The next call might be “Two to Three” – 132546 - followed by “Two to Five” to create 135246, the sequence known as Queens since according to tradition, Elizabeth I was particularly fond of this pattern. These calls can be almost limitless in their variety. This style lays great emphasis on clear striking and is encouraged by competition ringing where every little variation in place or position is marked. The Devon Association represents this style. Most method-ringing towers will employ called changes, particularly to help the less advanced ringer but a Call-Change band seldom is able to ring a method.
“One of the delights of ringing is the endless opportunity to learn new things”. So why not pop along to your local practice night to see what goes on? You will be made very welcome for they will be delighted to see you. No need to be super-fit, no need to be musical (after all, a method is an algorithm and as such, amusical, although a sense of rhythm would be useful); if you can stay on a bike, you can ring a bell! The Tower Captain will take you up to the Bell Chamber and reveal some of the mysteries of this special place. Much emphasis will be given to safety and the development of good technique in early stages of training; bells, some of which weigh as much as a small truck (and have a dynamic inertia much in excess of this), need to be treated with respect. However, this does not mean that they are heavy or difficult to ring – there are as many women ringing as men. Many towers now have dedicated practice bells, often connected to computer simulation programmes which can provide convenient and accelerated learning, allowing the novice to gain confidence and experience ringing with a full band sooner than otherwise might be the case.
To borrow a phrase, “come and join us”. You could be participating in a tradition going back more than 400 years, one which provides excellent (non strenuous!) physical exercise, a continuing cerebral challenge, a wonderful social experience and really is just so much fun. Simply go to “TOWERS” at the top of the home page (by using the links, you will find additional Guild-affiliated rings), find the tower most convenient to you and pick up the phone. You won’t regret it – I promise!