As well as ringing before Church services, weddings and for special national occasions (such as the opening of the Olympic Games or the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee), the practice of ringing our ancient Church bells provides a surprisingly addictive hobby for over 40,000 people in the UK alone. Unlike bells in many other countries, English Church bells are commonly mounted on rotating wheels up in the belfry, enabling the ringer below to slow or speed up the pace at which their individual bell rings making it possible to change the order in which each bell strikes and create musical patterns in the ringing (known to ringers as ‘methods’). All ringers start off by learning first how to handle a bell, then ring in rounds (descending scales), and ‘call changes’ where one ringer from the group will give verbal instructions as to which order the bells are to be rung in, creating a musical effect. Many people make a very valuable contribution to the tradition and to the Church by ringing rounds and call changes at practice nights and for weddings / services.
Many ringers also enjoy the mental challenge of traditional ‘method ringing’, setting themselves personal goals by learning to ring increasingly intricate methods as their skills improve. Bell ringing is a team hobby it provides moderate physical exercise but greater mental stimulation it is enjoyed by all types of people of any age from about 9 upwards, of any religion or none. Huge muscles are not required as although bells are very heavy (about the same weight as a small car), ringing them relies more on skill and timing than physical strength. Bell ringers do not need to be able to read music, but they do need to be able to count and a sense of rhythm is helpful. As it’s a highly sociable hobby and group activity, ringers usually make lots of friends and go out visiting other towers together, they hold friendly competitions, training events, social occasions and are usually delighted to welcome and help train new ringers, whatever their level of expertise. To find out more about ringing in general, visit the website of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers
There are six bells in the tower at Marsworth which are easy to ring and many people enjoy learning to ring here. The oldest bell was cast in 1662 and the heaviest bell, the tenor, (or lowest note) weighs just under 11 hundred weight (around 85 stone) - we enjoy taking interested visitors up the spiral staircase to the belfry to see the bells, so please contact us if you’d like a tour! The bells are rung further down the tower from a gallery overlooking the Church, accessed by fixed wooden stairs. The Church has a kitchen and toilet facilities, plus there are two local pubs and a café where food and drink is readily available.
Traditionally, a new learner would approach their local Church and get in touch with the ‘Tower Captain’ (the person who is responsible for the ringing and administration of the tower) and then be invited along to a practice night to observe and spend a few minutes each week learning to handle a bell. In many towers, a convenient time would then be scheduled for some individual bell handling lessons which would continue until the new ringer was ready to join in more with the rest of the team on practice nights. Although this approach is ideal for people who wish to learn gradually, some people do wish to grasp the basics in a shorter amount of time so that they can join in more quickly. It is estimated that learning to handle a Church bell takes somewhere between 10 and 15 hours of tuition and practice although we are all different.
At Marsworth we are happy to offer ringing tuition in a style to fit in with the needs of each individual learner - whether they would prefer 2 or 3 individual lessons each week for several weeks or would like to dedicate a couple of days to a more intensive course.
Because we follow the ITTS Learning the Ropes scheme of teaching recommended by the Association of Ringing Teachers the process of learning to ring at Marsworth is fairly structured, ensuring all the basics are thoroughly covered and good technique is developed early on. We always have trained ITTS teachers on hand to work with new ringers as they build the skills necessary to handle bells and join in with others.
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Although we ring the bells ‘open’ for Sunday services, general practices, quarter peals and weddings, most of our training sessions take place with a bell simulator and a computer programme called ABEL. That means that the clappers in the bells above are fixed so that they make no noise whilst the bell revolves, but a sensor on the bell wheel triggers the sound of the bell through speakers below, which can only be heard within the ringing room - not outside the Church. The use of a simulator means that we can hold practices and teaching sessions at virtually any time without disturbing the neighbours. We are grateful to the Ringing Foundation for sponsoring our purchase of the simulator with a £100 grant towards the cost.
Further information about the Learning the Ropes Scheme can be found here but basically this aims to get the new ringer to the point of competently handling a bell and ringing in rounds with other people - this is the starting point from which ringers can join in with others. Learners who achieve their Learning the Ropes level 1 will be awarded a certificate from the Association of Ringing Teachers and there are even badges!
Everyone is different, but as mentioned above, learning to handle a bell and ring in rounds with others typically takes between 10 and 15 hours. It’s not all hard work though, most people thoroughly enjoy learning to ring and the ringing room is often filled with laughter and good humour.
Absolutely. We are very happy to provide training either on an individual basis or in groups (which is always more fun) for new ringers who live further afield. Once people can confidently ring a bell in rounds with others, although they’ll always be welcome to ring with us at Marsworth, we are equally delighted if they then join their local team and take part in ringing activities nearer to home.
Courses can be run at any time really, although it’s much more rewarding to learn to ring in a group, so we try to co-ordinate dates where several people can make it. If you’re interested in coming with a group of friends or family, we will happily set up a course for you at your convenience, or get in touch to register your interest and we’ll try and fit you into a group. If you’d prefer to learn to handle a bell by yourself, that’s fine too - and we’ll then offer you further support by joining in at one of our new ringers’ practices.
Once you can ring in rounds, you’ll be a valuable member of any bell team for Sunday services and practices. We hold regular new ringers practices at Marsworth where further basic skills (such as ringing call changes) can be developed. Or ringers can choose to go along to other practices, try out a variety of bells and continue to develop their skills elsewhere. It’s always worth telephoning in advance to check, but most towers will offer new ringers a warm welcome.
Yes, absolutely. We are pleased to assist ringers who wish to have a little individual practice time after a long break, or those who are trying to overcome handling difficulties and improve their technique. People who have tried ringing before but were not entirely successful are also welcome and we will try to help them enjoy their ringing and feel in control of the bell at all times.
Although our ringing teachers give their time free of charge, if new ringers coming along on a course would like to make a suggested donation of £20 to the Church for use of facilities (tea, coffee etc), that would be very welcome..and of course, it can be gift aided. Because we register new learners on the ‘Learning the Ropes’ scheme, each participant will be given a personal progress booklet where each milestone can be recorded as their skills improve and the teachers can note down any areas where ongoing tuition may be required. That means if a new learner works with several teachers throughout their course, a quick glance at the booklet will instantly show where each person is up to and what needs to be taught next. These books cost us £2 each, so we appreciate it if that cost can be covered.
Although we provide teas, coffees and soft drinks, many people like to pop out to one of our local pubs or the café in the village for lunch, or bring sandwiches. You might also wish to bring a camera to take photographs of the bells and the view from the roof of the tower is rather good too - just ask if you’d like us to take you up to see it.
How do I find Marsworth Church? Is it easy to park?
Who do I contact about learning to ring?
There is unrestricted parking on all the roads around the Church.
If you would like to discuss learning to ring, please telephone Richard Booth on 01296 662520 or email email@example.com
See our other project here and download our album from itunes or amazon mp3 Profits go towards bell restoration projects, so each download supports a good cause. We even do a ringtone for iphones, it’s in the itunes store under ‘Wedding Bells’.