Bells and Belfries at St Botolph Aldgate
George Dance the Elder
- Original design
- George Dance the Elder, 1744
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme on 21st August.
• Traditionally bells have been rung from the earliest times to mark the ‘comings and goings’ of human lives and the passing of the hours – warning bells, harvest bells, curfew bells and, of course, calling people to worship.
• Originally bells were either struck by a hammer or chimed. During the Reformation a new idea was developed – that bells could be mounted on a complete wheel with the rope passing around the circumference to the ringer below. With the bell ‘mouth-up’, it could be swung clockwise through 360 degrees until it is mouth-up again; and then 360 degrees anti-clockwise back to the original mouth-up position. At this point it could be held in its place (at the balance) and its momentum then controlled to rotate and strike its note.
• From the 17th Century onwards, this ‘full circle’ ringing accomplished the twin aims of control and maximum noise. Ringing then developed as a folk art with ringers developing skills in changing the order of the bells and thus ‘ringing the changes’.
• Societies of bell ringers were formed; the two oldest being the Ancient Society of College Youths and the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. The societies today, which are mainly geographical (e.g. The Middlesex County Association and London Diocesan Guild), are affiliated to the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (www.cccbr.org.uk)
• Although change ringing was historically a ‘gentleman’s recreation’, nowadays ringers can be men or women, young or old. There are about 5,000 towers with bells hung for full-circle ringing and about 40,000 bell ringers in the country.
• Most towers teach ringing on a one-to-one basis until a learner is competent to handle on their own. Most learners will be able to control their own bell in about six to twelve weeks but, like learning to play a musical instrument, handling is just the start and there is much more to learn even if you’ve been ringing for thirty years.
• Most people can become a ringer – you don’t have to be particularly strong or mathematically minded, nor do you need to be able to read music. It helps to have a sharp eye, a keen ear, a sense of rhythm and a sense of humour!
• The tower has a ring of eight bells which were first installed in 1744.
• All the bells were cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (formerly in Whitechapel Road).
• The weights of the bells go from the lightest (called the treble bell) at just over 6 cwt to the heaviest (called the tenor) at just over 25 cwt – a ton and a quarter!
• St. Botolph’s Bell Ringers ring regularly for church services and practise each Friday evening from 7.30 pm to 9.00 pm. We have some learners and some experienced ringers and do everything from teaching basic handling to ringing some of the more advanced methods, quarter-peals and full peals.
• Come along to ‘Open House’ to hear more about bell ringing and to see a short demonstration.
• There is a national shortage of ringers and new ringers are needed and made very welcome at any local tower. A ringing chamber is a friendly place on practice nights and ringers are very social people, enjoying striking contests, outings to other towers and social get-togethers!
• Apart from joining and becoming part of a team, ringing is a physical exercise which will help keep you fit and alert by co-ordinating your ear, eye, hands and brain.
• To take it further, make contact with your local Tower Captain at any church with a tower and bells and ask to go along on a practice night. In the London and Home Counties area, the local associations with lists of towers are:
• The Middlesex County Association – http://www.bellringing.london/
• The Kent County Association of Change Ringers – www.kcacr.org.uk
• The Hertford County Association of Change Ringers – www.hcacr.org.uk
• The Essex Association of Change Ringers – www.eacr.org.uk
• The Surrey Association – www.surreybellringers.org.uk
Also of interest:
•Central Council of Church Bell Ringers - www.cccbr.org.uk