The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Ringing out the church bells in Drayton and Wymondham

Last year Raymond Harwood from Hellesdon took up bell ringing as a hobby, and now assists in ringing the church bells for services at St Margaret’s Drayton and Wymondham Abbey. Raymond writes about his new passion and its appeal. 

60-year old Raymond Harwood from Hellesdon in Norwich has been learning bell ringing at St Margaret’s Church, Drayton for just over a year.  He now assists in ringing the bells for the Sunday morning service at the church, as well as the evening service at Wymondham Abbey.

During the past twelve months Raymond has rung the bells at over 20 other towers in the area and left a fid, a wooden tool used to untie knots, at each to commemorate his visit. 

Here Raymond writes, in his own words, about why he finds bell ringing so compelling and invites others to take up the traditional British pastime.

The hobby of bell ringing is something in my late age that I have decided to take up, firstly for the exercise, given that you are swinging a bell weighing a few hundred weight above your head (secretly, it is in fact gravity that is doing most of the work), secondly for the simplicity, given that you only have one note or one bell to have to contend with unlike most musical instruments and thirdly for the comradery as you learn, which incidentally is free.

In truth, life is a little more complicated, bell ringing involves coming to grips with the precision timing involved in controlling your bell as part of a band of six or more and memorization of the method or “tune” being played. 

The weekly practise nights at a church bell tower are relatively short given that the evening is divided into time for each ringer to concentrate on their practise needs. So progress is slow and looking back over how I started learning I would say that it takes about a month to gain control of a bell sufficiently well to be able to ring in rounds - rounds being the most basic of ringing sequences.

Bellringing Diagram1Not content with my achievement in ringing rounds and call changes (step two in ones learning programme) my tower captain is constantly pressuring me to progress further.  This brings me on to why I am writing this article.  The “tunes” or methods have to be learned off by heart and played from memory.  Numerous books are available on the subject which are written in such a way as to display methods in a format that aids memorization called the Blue Line.

Since time immemorial this has been the traditional and standard way of displaying methods.  One example (pictured right) is a method called Plain Bob Doubles.  Without going into too much detail each row represents the sequence of the order the bells are rung.  As each row is rung the bells take the opportunity to swap places with the bell beside it, either before it or after it.  So slowly a changing sequence takes place row by row until the bells are back in the starting sequence. 

In this method bells 2, 3, 4 and 5 follow the same pattern but rather than rewrite the sequence four times with a blue line shown for the appropriate bell it is simpler just to indicate where each bell begins the pattern on the one blue line. 

Now the fun begins!  What I have discovered recently is that the same method can be displayed on polar graph paper with spectacular results (diagram below).
Bellringing Diagram2

What is absolutely remarkable is the beauty of the method when it is written out this way is clearly visible.

It also neatly illustrates what is known as “the circle of work” where bells 2, 3, 4 and 5 have to juggle position each time bell 1 leads.  But that is getting a little too technical.  What I want to illuminate is the wonderfully attractive butterflies created when drawn on polar graph paper.

Here is an example of a 6 bell method.  I'm not sure if following the blue line when displayed this way make it any easier in learning the method but it sure looks pretty (diagram below).
Bellringing Diagram3
Encouraging new people to take up the hobby of bellringing and continue the tradition of this quintessentially British pastime is ultimately the aim.  On polar graph paper you can now see the beauty of the method - now come to a church and hear the magical sound being made! Stay and become addicted to serving your community in this small but enjoyable way as a bell ringer like me!

Photo: 360 degree photgraph by Raymond Harwood of his bellringing group in the Church of St Peter Mancroft tower

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