This aspect of local history may be hidden, but it is certainly not silent! Bell ringing, where bells are rung through a full 360° circle to carry the sound a considerable distance, originated in Britain, and has spread to parts of the Commonwealth, especially Australia and Canada.
Chiming is where the bell is stationery and just the clapper is moved to strike the bell. But in bell ringing the bells are rung manually through a full circle, with each person ringing one bell. The bells are hung in a frame in the belfry, each with a wheel attached, around which ropes run to bell-ringers standing in the ringing chamber below. That is usually reached by ascending spiral steps inside the church tower, as in Sketty and St Mary’s
Bells are usually made in the proportion of four parts copper to one part tin. At
Ringing is not a matter of strength, since bells are hung now on ball bearings, rather than on plain bearings, as in the days of John Bunyan. Children can ring the lighter bells once they develop the necessary hand-eye co-ordination, though the skill of ringing a bell takes time and perseverance to master. Careful instruction should ensure that no learner is pulled up to the ceiling! Instead of tunes, what are called “changes” are rung – which alter the order of the bells in prescribed ways, so that 123456 changes to 214365, and to 241635, etc. Besides being rung for Sunday services and for weddings, church bells are rung for special occasions like the 70th wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip, when a peal was rung on Westminster Abbey’s 12 bells. A peal is high-quality ringing of 5,040 changes that usually takes three or more hours, rather like a marathon in running terms. Shorter lengths such as quarter-peals can be rung, similar to a 10k run, taking about 45 minutes. Ringing chambers in many towers display boards that detail occasions on which particular peals have been rung, and listing the ringers. In Sketty the name of former railwayman J. Arthur Hoare is prominent as conductor of several peals in the 1960s. Dorothy L Sayers’ detective novel “The Nine Taylors” features bell ringing, though with some inaccuracies.
Any hymn or carol heard on church bells will not be rung but chimed, probably by one person: when bell ringers are in action the difference is apparent, and many peals will be rung throughout the country at the time of the next royal wedding!