Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - October 2017 Report

When I was a teenager, my parents always despaired at my habit of leaving everything to the last minute. They say that with age comes wisdom. So it is that with only an hour or two to the deadline for submitting my copy to the editor, I am writing on the same day as the Guild Striking Competition.

I have written before about the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers. Both Donhead towers are affiliated to it and one of its five aims is to advance the art of ringing and to cultivate Change Ringing. Before the Victorian reforms, bell ringing was an unregulated activity, which had evolved from the days of the 17th century Puritans. They had realised that bell ringing is very enjoyable, and, as you were meant to devote yourself to pious works and thoughts on Sunday, enjoyment was frowned upon. Thus, bell ringing was allowed on any day except Sunday. So it was that the English style of change ringing emerged. In those days, ringers were paid to ring the bells for church events, including Sunday services. On other days, great competitions were held in towns in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bands of ordinary ringers strove to outdo one another. On days of competition the ringing was often preceded by a large meal at the local pub and followed by the presentation of a ‘good hat’ or a pair of gloves to each ringer in the band that had performed the best. By the 18th century, standards of behaviour deteriorated with bell ringers described as layabouts and drunks. Attendance at church services was considered no part of bell ringing.

By the early 1700s, the science of being able to ring peals for 3 hours had developed and at Leicester in March 1731 one of the ringers commented; “we upon bells completed the whole peal of Grandsire Triples in three hours and two minutes to the great satisfaction of thousands both in town and country”. Over the years, change ringing fell in social esteem, and there were frequently great arguments between ringers and clergy. By the 1880s, the clergy were regaining control of the belfries and reformed the activity.

Today, the Mere Branch of the Guild hosts our competition. The event now encourages ringers to improve their ringing by having a goal to aim for. We shall not win a good hat or a pair of gloves, but our name on the cup. No large meal or drunken revelry today, but a marvellous tea of cakes and scones, whether we win or not!

(I am grateful to for the above historical details.)

Christopher Sykes