Bell ringing at St Lawrence

As the year races with seemingly ever-increasing
speed towards its close, we start to think about Christmas ringing. Although at the time of writing, the programme of Christmas services has not yet been announced, we know that it will be our busiest time of the year, as we try to ensure we have a band to ring
for all the special services that St Lawrence will hold
in the weeks before Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we will be in the bell tower at 11.00 pm, to ring for Midnight Mass and then back again on Christmas morning at 9.30.

Most clubs or associations organize some sort of social event at Christmas. Hungerford tower does hold an annual dinner, to which we invite partners, friends and guests from other towers but this is never held at Christmas (when would we fit it in?) Instead, we hold ours in “Holy Week” – between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, when traditionally all church bells are silent.

One of our ringers was recently asked “Are you busy practicing for Christmas?” Well, unlike choirs or brass bands, which plan their programme well in advance and practice each piece to perfection, we have to wait to see who turns up. There are less than 10 core members of the Hungerford band and, although ringers from other towers can often be called upon to ring at Hungerford if needed for special events, at Christmas they will invariably be busy in their home towers.

So, because of the wide range of experience amongst our ringers we have to ring to the highest level of the most inexperienced member of the band. This should not lessen the impact for anyone listening. Well-struck call changes are as pleasant to listen to as a complex method that might take years to master.

When you hear the bells, you will know we are ringing call changes if a sequence of notes is repeated several times. The order of the bells is determined by the conductor telling the ringers which bell should follow which. It is not possible to ring tunes as such, as bells must keep moving and in each sequence a bell can only swap places with the bell it has just rung before or after. However, the conductor can work the bells into sequences that sound particularly musical or tuneful.

In earlier centuries, bell ringers were sometimes paid in beer and a cask would be kept in the tower. Today, only wedding ringing is paid for and we prefer cash as we generally like to keep a clear head when ringing. However, if there are enough of us available to ring in the New Year on 31st December, this is one occasion when we will raise a glass in the tower (as much as anything to give thanks for having survived another festive season!).

Sarah Chatters


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