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