Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - Summer 2022 Report

Little by little, the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic are diminishing, and, like many other hobbies and activities, we are starting to resume our bell ringing. It has been on hold since March 2020. The difficulty for us at St Mary’s in Donhead, has been the combination of the small size of the ringing chamber for 6 ringers coupled with the very small window. Like many other activities, we have found that some people have not come back to it after the two-year pause. The reasons are many but can include trepidation at doing things with other people, increased age, or simply having adopted new hobbies during lockdown. Meanwhile, I hear that in Semley there is a list of about a dozen names who want to learn to ring so that the traditional sound of bells can continue to be heard.

If you left your car in the garage for two years, you may not expect it to start first time. Or if you have a bicycle, you would pump up the tyres and give it a general once-over before venturing off on a ride through our lovely, if hilly, lanes. So it is with bells. The equipment is simple: you have a number of bells (6 at St Mary’s) hung on axles with ball-bearings in a frame (at St Mary’s it is of metal; at St Andrew’s and at Semley, of oak). Each bell has a hemp rope, a wooden wheel to enable it to be swung in a controlled way, and various pulleys, all housed in a belfry open to the elements and above a ringing chamber. Before we resumed, we had to check the bearings were running well, that nothing had fallen into the frame to snag the bells, that the ropes were sound and that the belfry and ringing chamber were free of wild life, such as birds and insects. We have passed the checks at Donhead and look forward to ringing again more frequently. Listen out for us!

Christopher Sykes


Donhead St Mary Bell Ringers - Spring 2022 Report

In Memory of Joyce

Joyce Dingley, who passed away in December 2021, was Captain of the Ringers, together with husband Maurice, from 1990 to 1995. They rang regularly until 2010, when they found the stairs up the tower too much. They were regular, reliable and dependable ringers for all the occasions when we have had to ring - Sundays, weddings, funerals or thanksgivings. As churchgoers, they saw bells an important part of church life.

When they moved to Charlton, they both worked, and meeting people was limited to weekends. Maurice was in the Scouts. At Scout Parade at St John’s, Tower Captain Noel Mary Ward suggested he learn bell ringing: “It’s an excellent way of getting to meet people.” It sounded a good idea to Joyce, and so, in 1984, they learnt to ring half a ton of bell at St Mary’s, taught by Jack Edwards. Soon they were regularly ringing for Sunday services and elected members of the Salisbury Guild.

In those days, the ringers read a large “menu” card to ring the changes. Maurice and Joyce wanted to learn method ringing, where the changes follow a pre-defined pattern, without an external prompt. When Noel Mary retired as Captain, they were elected joint Tower Captains.

In 1994, Joyce also took on the duties of the Tower Correspondent, until they both stepped down from these roles in 1995. Their great strength was recruiting people to come and try ringing, and they always advocated its advantages of meeting different people of all ages and backgrounds in the village.

Highlights of Joyce’s ringing were listening to the quarter peal rung for the christening of grand-daughter Megan in January 1997; ringing half-muffled to commemorate the death of Princess Diana in Sept 1997; ringing 3 quarter peals; and ringing in the national commemoration of Trafalgar 200.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - February 2020 Report

In December, we rang a quarter peal before the Thanksgiving Service for the life of Maurice Dingley. The band comprised the Master of the Salisbury Guild, the Ringing Master and Deputy Ringing Master of the Mere Branch of the Guild, a former Branch Ringing Master and 2 members of our own band.

Maurice was Captain of the Ringers, together with wife Joyce, from 1990 to 1995. He continued to ring till 2010, when he retired from ringing as Deputy Captain. Joyce and he were regular, reliable and dependable ringers for all the occasions when we have had to ring, be it for Sunday Services, weddings, funerals or thanksgivings. As members of the church, they have seen the role of bells as an important part of church life.

When they moved to Charlton, both Maurice and Joyce worked, and meeting people was limited to weekends. One of their neighbours heard that Maurice had been in the Scouts ever since he had joined as a Cub, and was an experienced Group Scout Leader. He took over the local troop and re-invigorated it. One Sunday, at the Scout Parade at St John’s, he was approached by Tower Captain Noel Mary Ward, who suggested he take up bell ringing. “Hand bells?” asked Maurice. “No, church bells”, she replied, “it’s an excellent way of getting to meet people.” It sounded a good idea to Joyce, and so, in 1984, they found themselves at St Mary’s, being taught how to handle half a ton of bell, by Jack Edwards. By the end of the year, they were regularly ringing for Sunday services and were elected as members of the Salisbury Guild.

In those days, the ringers read a large “menu” card set up on an easel in order to ring the changes. Maurice and Joyce were part of the group that wanted to learn method ringing, where the changes follow a pre-defined order or pattern, and is done without an external prompt. It was difficult to make progress without a resident method ringer in the band despite their best efforts. In 1990, Noel Mary retired as Captain, and they were elected as joint Tower Captains. In 1994, Joyce also took on the duties of the Tower Correspondent, until they both stepped down from these roles in 1995. Their great strength was in recruiting people to come and try ringing, and they have always advocated its advantages of meeting different people of all ages and backgrounds in the village.

Looking back over his 25 years of ringing, Maurice commented that he had always enjoyed the exercise. He originally declined Noel Mary’s invitation, as he suffered from a bad back, but was persuaded by her reply that the stretching required by ringing is very good for it. He felt that learning to ring from the cards had made it harder to learn method ringing, but he appreciated learning call changes. His great pleasure had been ringing the tenor, providing the steady rhythm for the changing bells to build on.

Among the highlights of Maurice’s ringing were listening to the quarter peal rung specially for the christening of their grand-daughter Megan in January 1997; ringing in the half-muffled performance of 120 plain changes to commemorate the death of Princess Diana in Sept 1997; ringing a quarter peal at Donhead in September 2001, the first of four in total; and ringing in the national commemoration of Trafalgar 200.
Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - December 2019 Report

Christmas is almost upon us, with all the festivities! For various reasons, we did not have our annual dinner last year or the year before. Regular readers of this column may remember that we have always held our Christmas dinner in the following summer or autumn. So our Christmas Dinner for 2015 was not held until October 2016. So we are now debating whether our next dinner, which we are having in December is our 2019 dinner or a belated 2016 one! I favour the last view, as perhaps I may get some extra dinners in before next year.

We plan to ring before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, starting at about 10.45pm. We hope also to keep up the tradition of ringing out the old year and ringing in the new. As in the past, this starts at about 11.40pm with the bells half-muffled; then a pause while we remove the muffles from the clappers; as midnight chimes, we ring the bells loud and clear in celebration of the new year.

Ringing as a hobby is not just pulling ropes and making a loud sound. It includes a strong social side to it. It is a good way of meeting other people in the village, especially if you have newly moved here. It is skill that involves mind and body, and we all know how beneficial that is. It does not need you to be musical, or muscular: if you are tall enough to reach the rope, usually by the age of 10, you can ring even a quite heavy bell, once you have learnt the technique. As I have written before, I’m afraid we don’t sail into the air whilst ringing. It is a hobby you can continue into old age, so it is a good blend of people from all ages and walks of life.

The ringers wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - October 2019 Report

To the older of us, the mention of Imber conjures up images of villagers being ejected from their homes by the Army, suitcase in one hand, with longing backward looks over the shoulder at the church and farmhouses they are leaving for ever. To the younger, it has been known as the “lost village of Imber”, a mysterious almost imaginary place in the middle of nowhere, a place of tumbledown houses and just the church still preserved.

In the last few years, the Army has opened the village more frequently. From just once a year for former villagers, it is now open to the public 2 or 3 times a year, each time for several days. In 2019, it was open for 9 days in August and will be again for 5 days over the New Year. The church dates back to the 13th century, with parts rebuilt by the Victorians. There are some pre-Reformation wall paintings in the north aisle, one being Avarice from the Seven Deadly Sins.

The original 5 bells were removed and one dating 1721 cast by Abraham Rudhall, a noted bell founder from Gloucester, is now part of the ring of 10 at Edington; the other 4 were scrapped in 1968. With the village being open more often, a light ring of 6, using redundant bells taken from other churches when theirs were renovated, was installed in 2010. When I say “light”, I mean very light: the heaviest bell is half the weight of the lightest one at St Mary’s! The lightest bell weighs just over 3/4 of a hundredweight (at 100 lbs), which means that a very delicate touch is required to ring it.

Why all this? Well, we ringers from Donhead organised a little trip there on Sunday 18 August, to have a ring and a picnic lunch. Not all of us could go, so we were joined by ringers from Shaftesbury St James. The place was packed, and the church full. We had to squeeze through to get to the base of the tower at the west end of the nave and close the little barrier before we could even think of ringing. So we had a lot of people watching and taking pictures. Outside, there were so many people that we drove away to find a quiet spot to sit for our lunch: on the village green in Chitterne. While we were there, four cars stopped and asked if we knew where Imber was. Not so much “the lost village of Imber” but the “lost drivers trying to find it”!

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - August 2019 Report

From a Vancouver wedding to one in Donhead! On the 29th of June 2019, Dulcie Patten and George Fraser married at St Mayy’s, and we rang both before and after the wedding. We wanted to make sure that all went to plan, so we checked out the ropes and bells beforehand. One of the ropes had begun to fray so Paul Dewey took his knife and marlinspike and cut out that section. He then repaired the rope with a neat long splice. A long splice is quite thin and is used where the rope passes through pulleys or holes; a short splice, though stronger, is thicker and bulkier.

The church was beautifully decorated, and we had a chance to admire the flowers as we are there well in advance of most of the guests. This time we had a fewT connections between the ringers and the families. One ringer goes to the Pilates class run by Dulcie, and another is related to George. And, of course, there is the local connection as well.

The local aspect is part of what makes ringing in a village so enjoyable. Whereas towns and cities have a greater pool to recruit from, the population is more transient, and friendships are usually made through the shared hobby of ringing, rather than having been made outside. However, there is the disadvantage in a village that it can be difficult to progress to more advanced stages; this is common for all village activities! It is a maxim that one learns more away from one’s usual tower than one does at home. It is not entirely true; the bedrock of the hobby is what one does each week. When we visit other towers, for instance on holiday, the people there have no preconceptions of our abilities and occasionally we are “thrown in at the deep end” and ring something challenging that our local tower captain would not have suggested!

At the end of the wedding, we rang the bells, timing it as the happy couple reached the door, to greet them into their new married world. We continue for about 15 minutes. Sometimes, we come downstairs to find the church deserted; this time, everyone was still there, taking many pictures in the sunshine and enjoying the occasion

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - June 2019 Report

Donhead ringers are becoming internationally known! In Feb 2011, Paul Dewey wrote about his visit to Rockingham and Perth in Australia, when he had the opportunity to join the ringers at 5 different towers, including the iconic SwanTower in Perth. (It is a glass tower: the ringers and the bells can be seen quite well by the public. Look it up on the internet.)

Paul wrote then that he was made very welcome even though he had started to ring only a little more than a year earlier. He looked up the towers on the Dove’s Guide (an on-line database of all towers and bells in the world) and emailed the local tower captain. The reply said he “was welcome, as expected, because bell ringers are like that. Visitors are always welcome”.

Julie and I have just been to Vancouver and Victoria in Canada. We planned carefully what we wanted to do in the 4 days we were there. Like Paul, I looked to see if there were any churches with bells listed on Dove’s Guide and indeed there are two: Victoria Cathedral and the RC Cathedral of Vancouver. As luck would have it, Vancouver had a practice on Saturday morning and we had time to join them. They replied to my email that we would be very welcome (see above!) and how to reach them.

The practice was from 9.30 - 11.00. When we arrived, we learnt that the ringers had just been told there was a wedding at 10.00. Being the Americas, they were not used to bells so had not booked any. A wedding without bells? Seemed very odd to me! The result was that we rang till the bride arrived (so she did get bells after all, if she noticed) at which point silencers were fitted to the bell clappers. There are sensors in the belfry to detect the bells swinging, linked to a laptop in the ringing chamber, which uses an app to produce bell sounds. Se we continued our practice, hearing the “bells” ourselves while the outside world heard nothing. After the practice we joined them for tea and coffee at a nearby cafe.

As Paul wrote in 2011: be warned, bell ringing can be addictive. It is great fun and you are always welcome at any tower. You can learn from age 10 to 90. So come along to our next practice and have a go.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - April 2019 Report

Many will recall that we tried to ring a 3-hour peal last year in celebration of the Wedding of he Duke & Duchess of Sussex; that we didn’t succeed and that I wanted to have another go at it later in the year. Well, we are now hoping to have another attempt, in the week of May 20-27, just after the 4 Villages Fete. The ringing is to celebrate the fete and the coming together of so many people to raise money for ‘good causes’ and to enjoy themselves in the process. We may also have a baby Sussex to congratulate. The date will either be Tuesday 21 May or Friday 24 May.

Thank you to Madeleine Coward who drew my attention to an article in the Daily Telegraph in March, all about the health benefits of bell ringing! We all already know about the benefits of music and singing - in church environments: singing hymns - but a Prof. Narula of London’s St Mary’s Hospital has observed that bell ringing strengthens the extra thoracic muscles. These muscles unsurprisingly are in the upper abdomen. A man reported to the British Medical Journal a number of years ago that ringing bells provided him with excellent relief from his back pain. They didn’t need a survey to do that - we could have told them! It is something we have been saying for years. Another man reported that it had loosened the contractions in his hand and elbow following a road accident. Another benefit is that the rhythmic pulling of the rope encourages the flow of blood and lymph back up the arm.

What they missed out was the social pleasure, when we meet up with good company; the music of the bells; and the exercise - gentle, steady and warming. There is also the non-physical part: thinking about the changes that are rung, learning new routines (known as methods) and the thought that we are doing something for the community by ringing for weddings, funerals, fetes and services.

We are always pleased to see new faces. Do feel free to come up on a Wednesday evening and see what it is all about. (Note that we do not ring on the Wednesday before Easter). In the meantime, we ringers wish you all a Happy Easter.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - February 2019 Report

In my last report, I mentioned that Jack Sansom would shout “Change!” whenever he wanted us to change the order the bells were ringing in, and that we would then read off a card which bell we had to follow next. I continued that as there was no soundproofing, you couldn’t always hear. I have written many articles for this website, and I notice that I have never mentioned the sound levels within the tower, except as a passing comment.

Until Spring 2002, the ceiling to the clock chamber, where we now stand to ring, was a temporary fibreboard affair. Above it were the loose fitting floorboards to the belfry. This meant that we had to shout to be heard over the sound of the bells. Also, neither the ceiling nor the belfry floorboards fitted snugly to the walls, so we used to be covered in dirt and dust falling from the belfry above. Following a very generous legacy from Geoffrey Speak, we replaced the fibreboard ceiling with acoustic panels, and a foam filler was grouted into all the gaps in the belfry floor. The church weekly winding mechanism was replaced with two electric motors to keep the clock and the chimes going. The effect was dramatic and noticeable. We could talk to each other at normal conversational levels. This meant that a conductor could call ad lib changes without the restriction of a pre-written card, and vocal help and assistance could be given during ringing.

Nothing is perfect, of course, and the first casualty was the set of chiming ropes. These ropes were attached to small hammers, and by pulling on them, one person could chime out tunes on the bells from the back of the church. I would do this for services when we did not have enough ringers. Chimed bells are fairly quiet compared to when the bells are swung and rung, but it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, so much foam filler had been pumped into the gaps in the belfry floor, that the chiming ropes had stuck fast!

Nowadays, if we do not tightly shut the trapdoor into the belfry, and a gap of 1 mm is enough for this, we are reminded of how loud the bells used to be. It is surprising how much sound can get through such a narrow gap.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - December 2018 Report

Did you hear the bells ring at 12.30 on 11th November 2018, part of the nations marking of the Armistice Centenary? The ringers were Roy Jeans, Paul Dewey, Hazel Hinchley, Calvin Eales, Chris Kilner and myself (Julie Sykes was to have rung but was indisposed). Before it started, we recalled the names of the 5 DSM ringers who fought and returned (see the October 2018 Report) and also relatives of those ringing today who fought in the Great War, some surviving and others killed in action. it was very moving for all of us.

Last time I wrote that “incidentally, it was FJ Sansom (Jack) who taught me to ring". It was one Friday evening when he took a 16-year old lad up to the church tower, and, in the course of the evening, taught him to ring a bell. The next day, people were asking in the village shop “Who was it that’s died? It must be someone important - that bell was tolling all evening”! Of course, it wouldn’t be allowed like that today, as Safeguarding rules prevail. There were no regular practice evenings then either, and ringing seemed to take place whenever the ringers were all free. I next learnt to ring in time with other bells on the following Monday, and two days after that, went with Jack Sansom, Jack Edwards and Bert Howell to ring at Donhead St Andrew, where Bert was Captain. It was all exciting stuff, and I found ringing to be exhilarating, fun and worthwhile. I celebrated the 50th anniversary of that day on 30 August 2018 with a quarter peal that I conducted, the other ringers being the Master of the Guild and four from the Donheads.

To ring the changes in 1968 we used cards. A card lay on the floor in front of each ringer, on which was written the change number (1, 2, 3 and so on) and against it, which bell you had to follow. When Jack wanted us to change, he would call “Change!"'. This was all right for a while, but by the time we had reached change no. 23 or 24 or so, people would forget what number we had got to, and there would be general confusion for a while! After that, he would call out the next number. However, there was no soundproofing, so you couldn’t always hear what the number was over the sound of the bells which were only a few feet above us, so really the answer was just to concentrate all the time.

We shall ring for Midnight Mass and keeping the tradition of ringing out the Old Year before midnight on New Year’s Eve and ringing in the New Year just after midnight. We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Christopher Sykes

Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - October 2018 Report

Some of you may have read in the paper, seen on the telly or heard on the radio about the plans for the Nation's bells to ring out together to mark the Armistice Centenary on Sunday 11th November 2018. On that day, bells will ring out from churches and cathedrals in villages, towns and cities across the country, most at 12.30 but also in the afternoon and evening. Big Ben will also strike at 11am to mark the centenary.

During the First World War, 1,400 bell ringers lost their lives during the First World War. Church bells across the UK remained restricted throughout the course of the war and only rang freely once Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918. There were other reasons, as mentioned in the Guild reports. In 1915 the secretary wrote that “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”. In 1919 he reported that “in spite of the shortage of men, ringing on this momentous occasion (the Armistice in November 1918) was practically universal throughout the Diocese”.

Here in the Donheads we were fortunate in that all the ringers who fought in that war returned. The Guild Annual Report shows a change in tone as the war progressed. The Reports published in March 1915 and 1916 have a Roll of Honour, in which W Sansom & FJ Sansom from Donhead St Mary are included. These rolls were of those ringers who were serving in combat. No report was published in 1917 but that of 1918 had two Rolls: W Sansom, FJ Sansom and F Bridle are listed in the Roll of Service, whilst the Roll of Honour lists the names of those who had fallen.

Incidentally, it was FJ Sansom (Jack) who taught me to ring.

Christopher Sykes