English Bell Ringing

bell ringing at St Matthews Chapel Allerton

Peter Oldfield is currently the ‘tower captain’ at St Matthews Church, Chapel Allerton

Change ringing at Leeds Minster

One of the pleasures of Rotary is that the Club meetings provide a forum for speakers on a very broad range of subjects: subjects which we may not have considered before, but on which the speakers inspire us with their enthusiasm. This was certainly true on 30 January when Peter Oldfield, a friend of our club, came to talk to us about his passion for bell ringing.

Peter has been ringing church bells in his spare time for 36 years, and is currently the ‘tower captain’ at St Matthews Church, Chapel Allerton.  He began by taking us swiftly through the history of bell ringing, from the handbells used by the early Christian missionaries to summon the people to worship, to the multiple bells attached to a wheel of the 1800s when bell ringing had become a secular  hobby, and the Church had problems with riff raff in the belfries drinking beer, smoking and swearing. He gave us some arcane facts: The bell ringers at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots were paid one shilling, whereas the going rate for celebrating the failure of the gunpowder plot in 1605 had risen to ten shillings; women joined in bell ringing in Victorian times after the bearings for bells had improved, the bells were better balanced and the task was less physically demanding; bell ringing was suspended for the duration of World War II although Winston Churchill permitted an exception after the victory at El Alamein; there are 5,000 bell towers in the UK  [40 of them in the Leeds area] but only 100 elsewhere; and there are currently some 40,000 bell ringers in the UK.

Peter then explained the mysteries of making the music. When bells go down the scale they are ringing rounds; a change is when the bells ring in an order other than rounds; a touch can be as few as 24 changes and takes but a few minutes, whereas a peal consists of over 5,000 changes and takes 3 hours to ring.

The highlight of the evening was when Peter got some volunteers in the audience to take up some handbells and under his skilful direction, successfully ring a peal. It was beautiful, but I don’t think they could have kept it up for 3 hours. 

Peter Oldfield gives a bell ringing demonstration with the help of volunteers

Volunteers demonstrate a peal with hand bells

Kathy Short thanks Peter Oldfield on behalf of the Rotary Club of Roundhay

Kathy Short thanks Peter Oldfield on behalf of the Rotary Club of Roundhay