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 - 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

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

April 2015 Report

When you read this report, we are almost at Easter. Many of you will remember that I have written in previous editions about the bells not being rung during Holy Week. This last week before Easter Sunday would have stood out to our forebears, in the days before double- glazing and earphones. Church bells and clock chimes were probably the loudest sounds, other than cannon fire, that would be heard in the countryside. They were heard daily. So a week when they were silent would have been quite noticeable. Then, they would peal forth on Easter Day in a stunning splendour of sound and celebration. One thinks of Mussorgsky's 'Night on a Bare Mountain' or of Goethe's Faust being distracted by the sound of the Easter bells. Nowadays, it is doubtful that anyone notices the silence. Here in the Donheads, we do not ring every week, as people may be away so we do not have enough to ring all the bells.

There are six bells at St Mary's and four at St Andrew's. The ringing experience at each tower is quite different. At the latter, the bells are rung quite quickly and close to each other, to make a more interesting sound. Meanwhile, at St Mary's, a small gap is inserted after the six bells have rung twice, giving a time-beat of 13 (6 dings, 6 dongs and a gap). We therefore adjust our technique slighty when at either tower. There is a strong spirit of co-operation between the two. From time to time, Chris Kilner will ask if one of the DSM ringers can help ring for a Sunday service at St Andrew's, and vice versa. At our Wednesday practices, we have been joined by Chris for some time, and more recently by Val Walters. It is good that we ring and learn new things together.

Happy Easter!

Christopher Sykes

February 2015 Report

I hope you all enjoyed the Village Hall Wassail in the Donhead Apple Orchard on the 17th of January. The form of this local event has changed over the years, and has a longer history than I had thought.

Gent's TicketI recall going to the new year event in the village hall in the early 1980s. At this time, ringing at St Mary's had just been restarted in 1976 following an initiative from Ralph Coward (Michael's father), after five years of silence following the death of Jack Sansom, the previous Ringers' Captain, in 1971. To raise funds to buy bell ropes, etc, and to create an event the whole village could be part of, they began holding an Annual Bellringers' Party on the first Sunday in January at the Village Hall from 12 noon until the last mince pie and glass of mulled wine had been demolished. And so it continued until 1985, when severe weather of ice and snow caused it to be cancelled. The following year, the forecast was again poor. It had always been very popular, so the ringers decided to consult the villagers to decide if a summer date was preferred. As a result, the village hall committee have hosted the Wassail ever since, on its usual date of the first January Sunday. In the last 2 years, we have had the Donhead Apple Orchard and have been able to indulge in the old traditions of the orchard counties, wassailing the apple trees. This traditionally is on Twelfth Night, either Old or New Calendar. Strangely, the Old Calendar in the UK has retained the 11-day difference since we changed over in 1752 (there is now a 13 day gap between the Julian and Gregorian calendars). This makes Old Twelfth Night fall on 17 January, which conveniently was a Sunday this year.

Lady's TicketJust before Christmas, I was sent a very interesting letter by Stuart Asbury. In it were 2 tickets (see pictures) for the Bellringers' Invitation Dance. If you haven't got your ticket, sorry: you're too late: it was on Tuesday December 30th ... 1913. Daisy Martin (née Woodham), who was organist at St Mary's in the 1930s, had passed them to Stuart. It is interesting that the men paid 2/- while the ladies paid only 1/6. "2/-" represents 2 shillings, or 10p in today's coinage; today's equivalent value after inflation is £10. I think that is excellent value for an event, including refreshments, which had "DANCING 8 to 3". No bank holiday the next day either; they were made of sterner stuff then! Perhaps Ralph Coward (born 1902) remembered this dance.

To close the circle, the Schoolroom where the 1913 dance was held is today's Village Hall.

Christopher Sykes

December 2014 Report

This year, Midnight Mass will be at St Mary's, so we plan to ring the bells for it. As the ringing chamber is higher than the church, we have a different experience from most of you. Heat rises, of course, so we step down through the trap door into the warmth generated from the heating. Unfortunately, it's never quite so warm when we reach the bottom! And for special occasions, such as Midnight Mass, there are banks of candles throwing their warm glow over all. So we are also met with that evocative smell of molten candle wax. Quite the opposite when we ring out the old and ring in the new year at midnight on New Year's Eve.

We are approaching Christmas and its festivities. We bell ringers like to celebrate too, so we had our Christmas Dinner on the 4th of October. Regular readers will remember that we eat late, so it was our 2013 Dinner! This year we went to the Talbot in Berwick St John. During the day, several of us went on our annual Outing, going to other churches and ringing on their bells for half an hour or so. We were joined in the evening by ringers and friends who were not able to be with us in the day, and we had a convivial dinner. This year, we visited 4 towers in the Frome area. We started at Corsley, near Longleat, which has a grand staircase at the back of the church, leading up to the choir and organ loft. Then a short corridor, and at last we reached the ringing chamber. There were a couple of other groups touring round on the same day, so we linked up with one from Hampshire to ring at Marston Bigot. This grand church is set amongst fields, and the village itself has disappeared. A lovely ring of eight bells. The Hampshire ringers were very good, and rather serious; but we seemed to be enjoying ourselves more! We then went to a private house, which has a ring of 8 bells in the garden shed. These bells are tiny – the heaviest is just 20 lbs, compared to our heaviest of 9 cwt! Ringing these small bells is an acquired taste.

The ringers wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Christopher Sykes

October 2014 Report

When we ring for a service at St Mary's, can you see us? Can we see you? It's not a trick question; the answer is no. Unlike St Andrew's, where there is a small window looking into the church from the ringing chamber, there is no opening, no window, no CCTV for us to discern what is happening. The ringing chamber has a window to the outside; you can see it high up in the tower as you walk up the path. However, while it gives us light and a panorama of the clouds and sky, we cannot see down unless we stand on a box and peer precariously.

So how do we know when to stop ringing when the bride arrives at the wedding? How do we know how to peal out as the happy couple reach the door at the end? For a Sunday Service, it is a simple matter of ringing until a few minutes before the Service is due to start. For weddings, timing is crucial. The silence of the bells heightens the anticipation of the congregation, who understand that the bride has arrived at the door. For this reason I try to keep ringing till that moment. In addition to the 6 big bells, we have a 7th in the tower: a small servant's bell. When the bride reaches the door, an usher rings it and we know to stop. During the wedding, we can slip down the stairs; as the organ strikes up and the couple proceed down the aisle, we time our merry peal with their arrival at the door and the news is announced to the village.

It's a simple system, and occasionally goes wrong, but that is a story for another time.

Christopher Sykes