OLD BELL RINGERS NEVER DIE!

As many of my friends  know, I have a great love for the sound of church bells.   They ring  to  call the faithful to worship  and to proclaim joyful events such as declarations of  peace after war.  They celebrate  births and marriages and  toll to commemorate  the dead.   This journey through life has never been more beautifully   expressed than  in the  Edith Piaf song  Les Trois Cloches (The Three Bells) 

I am not at all religious, but one of my favourite songs at Christmas  is  Bing Crosby’s,  ‘The Bells of St Mary’s’.

 I’m delighted to present a guest post from a real live bell ringer, Kate Jennings, from the UK. .

 

THIS WONDERFUL RINGING FRATERNITY

During The 1950’s when money was in short supply, bell ringing became one of my  hobbies and gave me a lifelong circle of friends.  Wedding peal  money was a bonus while I was still at school in London.   Later, there was much socializing after ringing when we all adjourned to the pub near either St Luke’s in Chelsea or St Mary Abbot’s in Kensington, where I had learned to ring.

Parish Church of St Luke’s, Chelsea has a peal of ten bells.

A holiday in Yorkshire in April (still cold in the evenings) was fun.  Ringing hand bells, two each end of a brass bedstead, seemed risqué to a young girl kept cloistered from men.

Training as a nurse made attendance at  ringing sessions  more difficult, but after a year I had digs with the Tower Captain  of St Luke’s and his partner, although my parents were very worried about them ‘living in sin’. Once a year we  hosted  members of the international  College Youths  for a dinner.  The organization was founded in 1637 to promote excellence in bell ringing. My task was to ‘mop up’ any spillages and they could really drink!  They did buy us  theatre tickets  as a reward.

Unlike some  organizations, the great family of ringers welcome all sorts of eccentric people, which is admirable.  As long as they can ring, they are completely acceptable. It is the most wonderful exercise too, keeping the belly flat and the boobs up (not so successfully lately though!)

I lived  in Windsor for 33 years  from  the 1970’s to 2004, and my election to the Curfew Tower was an enduring pleasure, even though the bells are hard to handle.

Inside the  Curfew Tower at Windsor.( Kate in Yellow)

Curfew Tower, Windsor Castle.

 

We were present at all state occasions. During a visit from the head of state of another country  the procession came up the hill  and the clapper flew out of my bell, hitting  another and creating some chaos. The tower captain fixed it back during the service so I could  resume ringing afterwards. The Queen  doesn’t miss much, and  surely would have noticed!

Ringing at the cathedral in Melbourne. (Kate at far left.)

In the early years of my marriage my husband learned to ring. We travelled then, and had the opportunity to ring in Harare Cathedral. It is so good to be welcomed all over the world. Ringing a quarter peal in Melbourne Cathedral where my eldest son lives was a special joy and Perth and Sydney were an equal pleasure.

There have been many funny accidents over the years; trousers falling, teeth coughed out and dropping  through a grating in the floor. Once  a young woman with a cropped top and no bra, brought  the ringing to a standstill as she reached up. One of the places I ring now has a fish shop outside. Part  way through a quarter  peal on a hot day, some chips were thrown through the open window, a measure of someone’s displeasure.

EDITOR’S NOTE – A more extreme protest occurred at the English village of Compton Bassett

Bell ringing can be risky too, what with heart attacks and rope burns.

Moving to Cornwall in retirement 12 years ago, I thought  my ringing days would be over, but on the contrary.  Great enthusiasm exists here and I have learned many more methods, with a weekly surprise practice and regular peals in the district.

I was delighted when The Ringing World published a letter from me looking for people I had lost touch with years ago. Thanks to technology we are corresponding again. This summer saw a reunion of London friends from the 1960’s. We rang at St Dunstan in the West (shared with Rumanian Orthodox) and also performed on The Queen’s Jubilee Bells, now hanging in St James, Garlickhythe.

Today, apart from ringing at Tavistock in Devon and Callington in Cornwall, I belong to Old Codgers (eligibility is to be retired).   It’s not always fine ringing….. sometimes a broken stay, but lots of fun and good lunches as well as reminiscences.

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PAULINE’S NOTE –  here is a little treat;  the sound of bells.

FEAR NOT, THEY DO NOT TOLL FOR THEE.

 FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A MESSAGE FORE KATE IN THE BOX BELOW. MAKE SURE YOU COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’.

 

Kate….message left on the site’s home page.

 

 

6 Comments
  1. Love it!

  2. I love the bell ringing episode in the series MidSomer Murders. Most episodes have a quaint church, churchyard and thatched cottages and of course huge manor houses in them. The series seems to go into different villages to film and of course the local pubs are well advertised. The whole atmosphere is very much old England with all the eccentric behaviors and the privileged classes with their strange antics on display. They take their bell-ringing very seriously in one episode to even include a couple of murders among the bell ringers. The bells look very cumbersome and heavy for the bell ringer to pull down on the ropes. I think it’s not for a light weight person.

    • My sister and her friend Betty started ringing when they’d barely reached their teens. Betty especially was very tiny (she still is) and always had to stand on a box. The individual bells are incredibly heavy, but like everything, there’s a knack to doing it. The Churches in the Yorkshire Dales are currently having a drive to recruit youngsters – so it’s not all beef and brawn required 😉

    • Pauline

      Heather, you should read the murder mystery ‘Nine Tailors’ by Dorothy Sayers. It’s all about bell ringing. I loved it.

  3. I reminded my sister Kate about a very important incident that she hadn’t included in her guest blog on Pauline’s website which I felt justified a mention.
    My sister had said that she went into lodgings during her nursing years in London. The couple she stayed with were John Lott, who had originally taught Kate to ring, and his partner Veronica, who was the outpatient sister at the Royal Marsden. Veronica had a reputation as being a bit of a ‘dragon’ by trainee nurses! I knew her so no doubt that reputation was deserved. Both John and Veronica were regular Ringers in Chelsea and at St Mary Abbots in Kensington, from 1945 onwards. They eventually married when they retired to Wales in 1979. John died aged 91, and Veronica was aged 80 in 1999. At that time, Veronica had travelled to London to stay with an old Medical ‘Ringing’ friend, and they were sitting in the sun on a bench outside Southwark Cathedral, enjoying listening to the bells. Suddenly Veronica’s heart stopped beating! Jean the Doctor realised what had happened, but just sat quietly with Veronica beside her, whilst the congregation all passed by. Nobody coming out of the Cathedral realised anything was amiss. The Blog above was called ‘Old Bell Ringers Never Die!’ Well they do, but on this occasion, it happened just the way that Veronica would have wanted it.

    • Pauline

      Definitely worth adding, Marcia. Rest In Peace Veronica. A fit and proper way to go. I’m sure those cathedral bells tolled especially for her.

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