Issue 147    Sept 1st   to December 1st 2020

The Bells of St Lawrence    

Well, what can I say…The last time the Hungerford Bellringers were able to ring the bells at St Lawrence Church was on Sunday 22nd March 2020. Four months now since Boris locked us all down in our homes to stop the spread of Covid-19.

What has happened since then now seems like a bad dream, but of course it is not a dream at all, because the church has been closed and we have been barred from ringing the bells in any way shape or form from that date on! There is however much discussion ongoing at the CCCBR (now there’s an acronym for you) and I think it stands for Central Council for the Confusion of Bellringers…oops that should read Church Bellringers. It almost competes with the DDCMS which I think is a Government Department for Digital, Cultured Muddlers and Swindlers

So…There are now, or course, copious health and safety guidelines to be followed! These include restricting the number of ringers in a tower to comply with social distancing requirements. Restricting the length of time they can ring and the need to take many other precautions to keep ringers safe from this and any other viral contaminations. There is also (dare I even speak the word!) probably a Risk Assessment to be done. Arghhhhh

However, in case you weren’t aware, ringers are of course energetic, enthusiastic and inventive people, if nothing else, and there has been a veritable plethora, apparently, of remote handbell ringing and online “Ringing Room” activities as some ringers continue to hone their skills and continue to develop this mysterious art! These are the ringers who will return to church bell ringing with energy and probably enhanced skills.

Is this your local band I hear you ask? Well we did indeed meet up for many weeks on our traditional practice night, using “ZOOM”, with Andrea and Mark’s IT skills, to discuss the issues and complexities of lockdown and even tried our hand in the “Ringing Room” (a computerised interactive program, which allows a group of individuals sitting in their own homes to ring bell methods online) with varying degrees of success! What we could see on the screen is shown opposite and once assigned a bell you simply press that number key to ring your bell at both handstroke and backstroke at the correct time. EASY!!

So…we are all looking forward to the day when we can again ring out the bells of St Lawrence on a Sunday morning and charm you all with our sometime indifferent ringing on Wednesday evening as we practice our art. However, there are 8 ropes in our tower ringing circle, and each rope is no more than a metre apart maximum, so no social distancing there then. The ringing chamber is also no more than 4 metres square! So, only God knows how many ringers would be allowed in the tower and, each ringer would only be allowed to ring one rope for the duration. Do we wear masks? Do we wear gloves? As you can imagine this will change the whole aspect of bell ringing for the foreseeable future I think. At the time of writing we have been given no date for commencement of ringing although some towers (Speen for example) where the ringing chamber is huge, and there are only six ropes, are preparing to ring very soon, even as I write this.

Sadly, and inevitably, there will be bands where ringers will not return; the habit may be broken, interest declined, other activities prioritised. I hope that Hungerford is not one of these towers.

The ODG does have an ageing membership and many weeks of inactivity may have an impact on physical abilities and therefore prohibit further ringing by some participants.

In the meantime, I have been doing some necessary maintenance work to our own dormant bells, to capitalise on the lack of activity and as a case in point Mark Robins and I spent a day at Lambourn Church assisting the Bell Hanger in lowering four of their very heavy bells, some 70 feet to the floor, to be taken away for repair. The picture opposite shows the 20 cwt (1 tonne) tenor bell being lowered, down three floors above, through the access hatches.

So finally, we hope you are all keeping safe and well, and as soon as we can safely ring those bells again we will be up there doing it rest assured.                              

David Thorpe