The Bells Part 2

Bells and Bell Ringing at St Oswald’s (Part 2)

Visitors to the ringing chamber at St Oswald’s can hardly fail to notice the wall mounted peal boards recording 15 of the 68 peals known to have been rung in the tower.  Pride of place must go to the earliest (1731).  This board is so significant that it was re-gilded in 1889 and again in 1991.

So what is so significant about it, what is a “Change” and why were 5040 of them rung?  English Change Ringing was gradually developing for a period of maybe 100 years before our 8 bells were installed in 1717 but could not be tried in Oswestry until the bells were hung for full circle ringing.  The significant ideas involved were that the bells should ring according to a strict steady rhythm and that each time they sounded they should ring in a different order without any repetition; indeed the rules of the radio programme “Just a Minute” apply quite well!  It became common to ring with the heaviest and deepest toned bell sounding last in each row, or “change”, which probably helped maintain the steady rhythm.  To change the order of sounding bells between rows some bells need to slow down whilst others speed up.  It was found that this worked best if bells were only allowed to stay where they were or move one step forward or backwards between rows.  Thus pairs of bells can swap over and when ringing on 7 bells 3 pairs can swap at any time – hence the term Triples. 

Since most early bell installations had 6 or 8 bells there would be 5 or 7 “working” bells that kept changing the time between successive blows during ringing.  With 5 working bells there are 120 orders in which they can ring and records show that ways of ringing these changes developed quite quickly.  With 7 working bells the number of possible changes increases to 5040 and this became a challenge within ringing circles called a peal.  A peal takes about 3 hours of continuous ringing and rules were established stating that they must be rung without a break or change of ringers.  It is generally recognised that the first peal ever achieved was rung in Norwich on 2nd May 1715.  As can be seen from our peal board Oswestry ringers were emulating this just 16 years later, almost to the day.  Making allowance for the poor communications which existed 300 years ago and that our ringers probably could not try this style of ringing until the new bells were hung in 1717 this is quite a remarkable achievement.  Further research shows that it was only the 22nd peal ever rung anywhere and only the 16th using the method of producing the different changes called Grandsire.

No wonder our ringers ensured their achievements were recorded in such a splendid manner.  If you would like to know more, or learn to ring, then do join us in the tower one Thursday practice night at 7:45.

Richard Major.

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