Thursday, 30 November 2017

133 Church Bells and ringing

133 Church Bells and ringing 
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 Swansea, or it may be on the ground floor at the back of a church.  Swansea has churches with eight bells hung for ringing at St Mary’s in the city centre and at St Paul’s, Sketty, with other eight-bell rings at St Catherine’s, Gorseinon, and St Elli’s in Llanelli.  There are rings of six at Cadoxton and at St Thomas’s in Neath.  Llangyfelach’s four bells are rung from the ground floor of the detached tower, as at St David’s Cathedral, where the heavy eight hang in the detached belfry overlooking the Cathedral, not in the central tower.  St John’s in Morriston had six bells that stood idle on the ground for decades, since the movement of the bells had caused too much stress on the tower. 
Bells are usually made in the proportion of four parts copper to one part tin.  At St Paul’s Church in Sketty the ring of eight bells with a tenor (the heaviest bell) weighing 13cwt were cast by Mears and Stainbank of London, and re-hung in 1950 by their successors, the Whitechapel Foundry.  This closed in May 2017 after 250 years on that site.  The country’s principal bell-foundry is now John Taylor of Loughborough, who cast the eight bells with a 20cwt tenor in E for St Mary’s Swansea in 1959.  Older bell-founders were Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester (1684 to 1835), William Evans of Chepstow (1710 to 1767), and there were local small bell-founders like Thomas and David Davies of Oystermouth (1714 to 1722).
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!                                                                                                                    

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