Donhead St Mary Bell-Ringers - June 2018 Report

On Monday, 14th of May, five ringers from the Salisbury Guild and I attempted to ring a peal in anticipation of the wedding of Prince Harry and Miss Markle. The attempt fell on the 80th anniversary of the Golden Wedding of John Sansom, who was Ringers’ Captain at St Mary’s from 1883 till the early 1940s. Unfortunately, a little over a quarter way through, we made a series of errors and had to stop. Perhaps it was not meant to be, as we had started over half an hour late because one of the ringers had been delayed by a puncture. I hope we shall try again later this year.

A peal is defined as a performance when over 5,000 changes are rung. This length derives from the fact that with 7 bells, all the possible combinations total 5,040 (7x6x5x4x3x2x1 = 5,040). A couple of centuries ago, when English change ringing developed, this was thought to be the peak of any ringing performance. A tower with 8 bells in it would have 7 bells changing and the tenor giving a nice steady dong at the end of each change. St Mary’s has only 6 bells, so the maximum number of combinations is 720. This means that we have to ring 7 sets of 720 changes to ring a peal. Within each 720, you are not allowed to repeat any of the changes. All of this is done without reference to any notes or crib-sheets. So you can appreciate that to ring a peal, which takes about 3 hours, is quite an achievement.

There are different methods of creating the sets of changes. To start, the bells ring in descending order: 123456, with 6 being the bell with the lowest note (the “tenor”). The essential rule is that you can only swap adjacent bells. So the next change from 123456 could be 214365, then 241635, and so on. Doing this in one’s head, and at the same time, ringing a bell, would be impossible, but we are helped by pre-defined methods of progressing from one change to another. If everyone in the band rings the same method, then a performance is possible. The challenge comes in remembering the method and how far you have got through it! A bit like barn dancing, but in virtual reality, because it is the sound that moves round, not the ringers who stand still.

Christopher Sykes