Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - February 2017 Report

In the last report, I wrote about our outing when we rang at other towers in October 2016. Although in essence all belfries are the same – a number of bells hung in a frame, attached to a full wheel round which a bell rope is attached before going down to the ringing chamber – each is different in character, sound and behaviour. Consequently, ringers need to adapt their style when ringing. The nearest analogy is to driving different cars.

At St Mary’s, our 6 bells are of medium weight, on axles with ball bearings in a metal frame and hang about 20 feet above the ringers. They are well in tune with each other and the harmonics within each bell are also fairly true. They go well, sound good and are joy to ring. Donhead St Andrew’s 4 bells are of similar weight to St Mary’s, on axles with plain bearings in a wood frame and hang about 12 feet above the ringers. The ceiling is not sound-proofed, and so the bells are very loud. As the heaviest bell (the tenor) is almost the same weight as at St Mary’s, and on plain bearings, they are heavier to ring. Semley has 6 bells in a very solidly built tower, and they show the West Country preference for really heavy bells with a 26 cwt tenor (almost 3 times heavier than Donhead). The ringers stand in a “minstrels’ gallery” at the back of the church, so you can turn and watch them ringing from your pew. As they are so heavy, they have to be rung slowly and steadily. If you really want to see ringers in action, you can go to Chilmark, or Dinton. Their ringers stand in the body of the church at the front of the pews, just in front of the pulpit. Both these churches have central towers and the ringers need to be adroit to manage the long ropes. The longer the rope, the more it can move about and magnify any technical weaknesses in controlling them. And, of course, all in public view! The bells themselves hang fairly high up the tower and are not any lower just because the ringers are at ground level.

So, even in a small locality, the variety is really interesting.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - December 2016 Report

The Bell & Crown at Zeals did us proud for our Christmas Dinner, in October, which we had at the end of a day’s ringing and exploring round churches in Purbeck. Unfortunately, quite a few people could not join us due to illness but we still enjoyed the evening with ringers past and present. The social aspect of ringing is extremely important and is one of the things that make it so much fun.

During the day we had been to Spetisbury, where the ringers stand round the font at the back of the church. The bells are heavier than ours, so are a bit more stately. Then it was on to Sturminster Marshall, with even heavier bells, and again at the back of the church in full view. The tower is large so we stand in a wide circle. It is very imposing. Although it was the 22nd of October, the weather was warm and fine enough for us to have a picnic lunch at Kingston with a magnificent views across the fields to Corfe Castle in the sunshine. Kingston Church is known as the Cathedral of Purbeck. It was built in the 19th century by Lord Eldon and designed by George Street, who also did the Law Courts in the Strand and Cuddesdon College. It is an exemplary building, and looks and feels as if it has materialised straight out of a textbook. There are 10 bells here and this extension over our usual 6 is for me very musical. For two in the band it was the first time on this number of bells. We closed the day’s ringing with a visit to Corfe Castle and rang these beautiful bells well. As it is so busy with visitors, parking can be a challenge and the ringing has to be as good as possible.

Christmas Eve Midnight Mass is at St Mary’s so we hope to ring before that and also to keep up the tradition of ringing out the old year at 11.35pm on the muffled bells and ringing in the new just after midnight with the bells open. \We wish you all a happy Christmas and New Year.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bellringers - October 2016 Report

Some of you may have the seen the recent BBC item, also picked up by the Daily Telegraph, headlined “Church bell-ringers shortage prompts concern”. In the clip, which you can find via Google, the band at Sheffield speak about why they enjoy ringing, and also say that they find it harder to recruit new ringers these days. These views mirror the results of a survey carried out earlier in the year that showed that whilst over 75% of towers find it “hard or fairly hard to recruit young ringers”, 60% of those surveyed reported that the demand for bell ringing had increased in the last 10 years. It has been my experience in this village that our youngest ringers have generally tended to have relatives who can ring bells.

It is said that people have “less time to do things” nowadays. There is more choice of hobbies, it is easier to travel (to do anything from Pilates to choirs, from hiking to golf, and so on) and people have more spare cash and spare time than they had 70 years ago, when most were limited to a walk to the pub, an evening in front of the telly or something they could go to on the bus. All societies and hobbies are reporting that it is generally harder to attract new members. It cannot all be blamed on tablets and mobile phones; even bell ringers have got an ‘app’!

Both our towers in the Donheads are affiliated to the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers, which exists to promote ringing. In August, I helped out on a Young Ringers’ Day, organised by the Guild. The 6 teenagers who went on it had a great time. We took a minibus to Zeals, where there is a colour CCTV set up so you can see the bells swinging in the belfry, and then to Motcombe for further ringing, where everyone was amused by the floor mats hand-made by the ringers, that no one may walk on! For variety, we had a midday trip to Haynes Motor Museum and then finished up at Cucklington, where the ringers ring in the porch! By the end of the day, the teenagers were confident enough to organise themselves and they benefitted hugely and had a good day out.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bellringers - August 2016 Report

July 2016 saw national commemoration of the Battle on the Somme. How did the Great War affect bell ringers in the Diocese and in the Donheads? We can turn to the Annual Reports of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (the ‘Guild’), which showed 6 members in St Mary’s; St Andrew’s had not joined the Guild then.

The Annual Report for 1914, issued in May 1915 for the AGM, has a Roll of Honour for “Ringers who are serving their King and Country”, including W. H. J. Sansom from DSM. The report says “the war has inevitably curtailed the activities of the Belfry and that for two main reasons. In the first place, the ringing fraternity, always alert to interpret the proper sentiments of a Christian people, have rightly felt that in a time of such intense public anxiety the joyous tones of the bells should be little heard except on occasions of religious observance or national celebration. And a second reason redounds to the credit of ringers even in greater measure than the first. So readily has this great body of Church workers responded to the call of duty, that the ranks of the Guild are considerably depleted by the absence of many of its most energetic members on the service of King and country”. A year later, it reported that 23% of Guild ringers were on war service. The Roll of Honour is now in Gothic Script. No report was issued for 1916 but in the 1917 report the Roll of Honour is for the fallen, and there is a Roll of Service, which shows W. Sansom, F. J. Sansom and F. Bridle from St Mary’s. At the end of the war, all 3 returned home safely. The Guild reported that “525 out of a normal membership of a little under 750 [had] responded to the Country’s call to arms, the great majority in the days of voluntary enlistment”. Ringing had been greatly reduced “due to restrictions on travelling and other difficulties created by the War”.

Donhead was lucky. Berwick had 6 ringers (out of 8) in service, of whom one fell. In the Guild, 69 fell.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bellringers - June 2016 Report

Celebrations for the Queen’s 90th Birthday continue, and the weekend of June 11th-12th is the Official Celebration, as you will know. In the last Digest, I wrote about our intention to ring a Peal of 5,040 changes on April 7th. I am pleased to say that we succeeded. The ringers came mainly from outside the parish; they included the Ringing Master, the next President and the Treasurer of the Guild, the Ringing Master of the Salisbury Branch of the Guild, a ringer from Sherborne and myself, who conducted it. It was the first time I have conducted a peal and could not have done it without such an experienced band of ringers to help me along. The quality of the ringing was good, and I hope that all who heard it enjoyed the sound of the bells on this special occasion.

On June the 12th, there will be a national initiative to ring all the bells in the country during the Patrons’ Lunch, that is, between 12 and 2 pm. (It seems to me no ringers have been invited to the Lunch!) As there are other celebrations going on in the village, and as we shall be ringing for the 6 pm Evensong on the same day, we have decided to go for a quarter peal attempt at 5 pm before the service and to dedicate it to the occasion (if we succeed). This time, it will be mainly our own ringers in the band.

Our next local celebration will be ringing for Livi Coward’s wedding on 30th July. In addition to our regular Wednesday practice, we shall be hosting a practice of the local branch on Tuesday evening, 21st of June.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bellringers - April 2016 Report

A date for your diary: Thursday, 7th April. That morning, we shall attempt to ring a peal on the bells, starting at about 9.30. The band are all experienced peal ringers, so the ringing should be of good quality. To ring a peal is one of the highest achievements in bell ringing. Over 5,000 changes are rung, without any major errors, and it takes about 3 hours. If you find it a bit too much, then it may be a good day to go out for a long walk!

The peal is an early part of the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday, and Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. Some of you will remember what I wrote in 2002 about the celebrations for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. At the risk of repeating myself, we – being myself and 5 other ringers from the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers – shall try to ring 5,040 different changes without repeating any (*). At an average 28 changes a minute, this will take about 3 hours. Sometimes, a mistake happens right at the end, which means that, despite our best efforts, the performance will not count as a peal. However, I hope that we shall succeed and count it as part of the national celebrations this year.

(* As we have only 6 bells in the tower, there is a maximum of 720 different possible combinations, or ‘changes’. To ring 5,040, we shall need to ring 7 separate blocks of 720s. All of the ringing is done by memory and without a script before us. Each ringer knows sets of pre-defined sequences of bell orders, called ‘methods’, and there is a conductor who directs the ringing and calls out which method is to be rung at what time and also any variations to the method as we go along.)

Previous peals were in June 1935 for the King’s Silver Jubilee and two more on the 25th and 50th anniversaries of that first peal; June 2002 for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and October 2004 by an elite band from Oxford.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bellringers - February 2016 Report

Commemorative ringing has been a feature of the sound of the bells in the Donheads recently. Frequently, a special ring is organised to mark an occasion, an anniversary or special event. However, from time to time, a ringing performance can be dedicated to commemorate something, although the ringing had been organised separately.

In one week in November 2015, the Donhead villages lost three people: David McLean, Angela Roberts and Marian Stephens. A visiting band of ringers had arranged to ring the bells at St Andrew’s when they would attempt to ring a quarter peal. As it turned out, the date coincided with the day of David’s funeral at St Mary’s. Rather than cancel it, Chris Kilner and I asked them if the ringers would dedicate their ring to commemorate the life of Angela Roberts. Angela was a major figure in the village, and played an active part both in the WI and in the creation of Amity. Their ring was successful and the commemoration has been published in the ringers’ magazine ‘Ringing World’.

I then also arranged with the band that they would come and ring St Mary’s bells later in the afternoon, with a dedication to both David and Marian. David was Life President of the Village Hall in honour of all the work he had done for it, was well known for his ‘Then & Now’ pictorial history and closely involved with much of village life. As part of his record of village activities, he took a series of photos of the ringers in action.

Marian was one of the bell ringers in the late 1980s to mid-l990s and I think rang for our wedding. She always brought a good sense of humour to the ringing chamber. One enduring memory is of her using a length of baler twine to keep her skirt out of the way of any errant bell rope! This quarter peal was successful and has also been published.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - December 2015 Report

It is 20 years since my first article for the 'Donhead Digest'. In November 1995, I wrote:

“We are a small group of people who meet on Wednesday evenings each week to practise bell-ringing. There are 6 bells in the tower, and it takes one person to ring each bell. No, we don't wear monk's habits and nor do we swing wildly around, hanging on with gritted teeth to a long rope! Anyone over 5 foot tall can ring, from the age of 10 or 11 up to 90 or more.

At present, we have 9 ringers in all, including 2 from Charlton, 1 from Donhead St Andrew and 1 who comes from Shaftesbury. Our skills range from absolute beginner to quite advanced. On Wednesdays, we practise to improve our skills in ringing the bells, to learn new "tunes" (the different combinations or changes that are possible with the bells) and to have a good chat and an enjoyable evening. We also ring for the Family Service at St Mary's each month and for weddings or any special occasion. For example, we have rung for all the weddings this year and to commemorate both VE and VJ days.”

We are unusual in that all our ringers are local or learnt to ring at Donhead. Many towers do not have enough, so visiting ringers dash round several parishes on Sunday mornings to ring for their services. Here in Donhead, we help each other out, but sometimes we do not ring all 6 bells if I do not have enough people.

Most of what I wrote in 1995 is still valid. Some ringers have retired, moved or passed away, and some continue or are new. One of our ringers was Michael Clarke, who died in September; he learnt to ring in the 1980s with his wife, and continued after Jean died. He was always cheerful and his humour would illuminate the evenings. We now have up to 7 on a Wednesday night: 3 who live in St Andrew, 1 who comes from Iwerne Minster, and 3 from St Mary. Sunday ringing has also evolved. When I learnt in 1968, we rang on the 1st and 3rd Sundays only. Whereas we rang just once a month in 1995, we now ring for four services.

As traditional, we plan to Ring out the Old Year at 11.35 pm on December 31st and Ring in the New just after midnight on the 1st of January. We all wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - October 2015 Report

Recent special ringing: on 9 August, we rang a quarter-peal before Evensong to welcome The Rev'd Richard Warhurst to his first service at St Mary’s. On 9 September, we rang two special performances. You probably won’t have noticed, because it was during our usual Wednesday evening practice. First, we rang 66 called changes, called “Devon 60 on 3rds”, as a birthday compliment to Roy Jeans. One of the ringers was his son Chris, who learnt with us when he was 11. Chris then had to go, but Roy took his place, when we rang 120 called changes, known as “Plain Changes”, in honour of Her Majesty becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch. The first piece took 15 minutes, while the second lasted half an hour, and included all the possible combinations for 5 bells, with the tenor donging last each time.

In August, we had our annual outing to ring at other local towers. Imber village was open to the public that day, so we booked a visit to ring their bells just after lunchtime. Unlike St Mary’s, the ringers stand on the ground floor at the back of the church, in full view of everyone. A lot of photos were taken of us, and we could explain to people what ringing was about. The bells are very light (their heaviest is 2 cwt, compared to our lightest of 4 cwt!) but were easy to ring; sometimes light bells can be more difficult to control. The original 5 bells were used to augment Edington Priory Church to a ring of 10 in the 1950s. The present 6 bells were installed in August 2010. We also rang at Shrewton, where we had to share the space with a lawn mower, strimmer and other garden equipment! One of the ringers has to stand on the step up to the church. Later we enjoyed the beautiful heavy 6 at Heytesbury, where you enter the ringing chamber via the roof – which can unnerve the more nervous! Wylye was our last; another 6 rung from the ground floor. Here a wooden bench took up much space, but, to allow one of the ringers to reach his rope, a semi-circle had been cut from its seat, like a large bite out of a sandwich! We ended with an excellent meal at the Horseshoe Inn at Ebbesbourne Wake.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - August 2015 Report

There have been several well-known people who have been bell ringers. Recently, we have Norma Major (wife of the former prime minister), Alan Titchmarsh and Victoria Wood. In the near past, we know of John Betjeman and Frank Muir. However, perhaps the most famous is John Bunyan. He suffered a great deal in his mind throughout his life and evidence of this suffering is seen in the excerpt below from his autobiographical book Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. When he turned from the Church of England to Puritanism, he gave up many pastimes, including dancing, games such as tip-cat, and bell ringing. I have written before about how the Puritans taught that Sunday should be a day of devotion which precluded all amusements; ringers enjoyed ringing, so bell ringing was allowed on weekdays only, not Sundays. John Bunyan took the edict even more to heart and gave it up altogether, as you may read here:

“Now you must know, that, before this, I had taken much delight in ringing, but my conscience beginning to be tender, I thought such practice was but vain, and therefore forced myself to leave it; yet my mind hankered; wherefore I would go to the steeple-house, and look on, though I durst not ring: but I thought this did not become religion neither; yet I forced myself, and would look on still, but quickly after, I began to think, how if one of the bells should fall? Then I chose to stand under a main beam, that lay overthwart the steeple, from side to side, thinking here I might stand sure; but then I should think again, should the bell fall with a swing, it might first hit the wall, and then, rebounding upon me, might kill me for all this beam; this made me stand in the steeple-door; and now, thought I, I am safe enough; for if the bell should now fall, I can slip out behind these thick walls, and so be preserved notwithstanding.

“So after this I would yet go to see them ring, but would not go any farther than the steeple-door; but then it came into my head, how if the steeple itself should fall? And this thought (it may for aught I know) when I stood and looked on, did continually so shake my mind, that I durst not stand at the steeple-door any longer, but was forced to flee, for fear the steeple should fall upon my head.”

If anyone feels braver than Bunyan, you are very welcome to contact me about learning to ring.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - June 2015 Report

There are several national celebrations and commemorations in the next two months, for which bell ringers "up and down the country" are being asked to ring. Recently there have been the Royal birth; and VE Day, where we have the connection of the army vehicles being kept on the Rossiters' farm fields before D-Day. I do not know of any direct connection in either of these two parishes to the Magna Carta, Waterloo or Agincourt, but I would be delighted to be told if anyone knows of one. This is in contrast to the Trafalgar bicentennial, when the Donhead St Andrew bells rang in memory of Captain John Cooke of Donhead Lodge, who was one of two captains to be killed. He was Captain of the Bellerophon, on which Napoleon later surrendered.

I have recently watched a YouTube video called 'The Craft of Bellringing'. It is about 45 minutes long and is an interesting documentary about this fascinating art. If you have a computer, I do recommend it. It is aimed at people who know nothing about bells or ringing, and shows ringers, not only in village churches, but also at Exeter and Liverpool cathedrals. It explains the history of how the English style of ringing evolved from the mediaeval Roman Catholic church service bells. Those of you who have read my earlier articles in the Digests of Dec '96, June '99, Dec 2001 or April '01, and June 2006 will recognise much of what is said. If anyone is interested to see what ringing is about, there are a lot of videos on the internet. Some are of personal experiences, so not so interesting; a bit like looking at someone's holiday snaps!

Christopher Sykes