“All the Bells” at All Saints’ Landbeach

I’m a simple soul. All I really want to do is pull very hard and make it go dong. So “All the Bells” was a concept I could easily relate to. Much simpler than this fancy tum-ti-tum-ti-treble-leads-NOW-Dodge! hocus-pocus.

At All Saints’ Landbeach, we have a tradition of inviting everyone in the parish to chime the bells at the start of the New Year. Now we invited them to “Chime a Bell for the Olympics” between 3 and 4 pm on Fri 27th July. We leafleted every house in the village. Allan and Barbara put on their “Chime a Bell” tee shirts (yes, really) and accosted the children waiting for the school bus. We half-expected to be arrested for molesting them. Barbara bravely boarded a school bus to hand out leaflets, shrinking back to a quivering 11-year-old for 3 minutes. Was she glad to get off that bus and back to the year 2012!

We were keen to join in the nationwide ringing at 8:12 am as well. However, the available band was largely composed of novices and the walking wounded. Attempting to ring up and down in peal would certainly have achieved the desired effect of loud clashing and clanging. We opted instead for random chiming of all four bells, as well as a school bell and a decorative model bell. This permitted Ray and Dannie to join in, as they can still chime, although they don’t ring now-a-days. Ray was also our link man with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, who mentioned us during their broadcast from Kettle’s Yard. If you ever try anything similar, please be aware that the sound of bells isn’t transmitted well between mobile phones. We were thrilled that Sally was able to join us on her way into London to work as a Games Maker.

Back in All Saints’ at 3 pm, we waited anxiously to see if anyone would turn up. They poured in! Having a ground floor ringing room that is only lightly partitioned off from the church perhaps makes us less intimidating for non-ringers. It was lovely to see so many people thronging the back of the church enjoying a community occasion. Allan, Roger and Sharon were kept busy for an hour teaching people how to chime and filling in their “I chimed a bell for the Olympics” certificates. Nearly 40 people signed our Visitors’ book, and the ages of those who joined in ranged from a few months to over 80 years.

Did I say “non-ringers”? Oops, of course I meant “about-to-be-ringers”. A signup form for those who wanted to learn to ring collected thirteen names. We organised two bell-ringing taster sessions at the beginning of August, publicising them heavily throughout the three villages in our joint benefice. By a stroke of luck, with near-perfect timing our joint benefice had just expanded to include Milton as well as Waterbeach. Landbeach, the smallest village of the three, is also the only one with ringable bells, so the merger has swollen our pool of available bellringers to oceanic proportions.

After the two taster sessions, enough people wanted to continue learning to enable us to restart our regular practices. Some dropped out, but some extra recruits turned up. At the time of writing, we have 11 new learners: 4 children and 7 adults, as well as having re-captured two people who hadn’t rung for years but who now help out with service ringing. Using the simulator, and teaching handbell ringing in parallel with tower bell ringing, seem to be enabling Nicholas, Rowena and Barbara to hold the interest of such a large number of learners. Visitors are always welcome at our Friday evening practices, 7 to 8:30 pm.

So, while “All the Bells” was undoubtedly a gimmick, it focussed public attention on bells. This enabled us to give many people who would otherwise never have thought of ringing bells the opportunity to discover how interesting and rewarding change ringing is.

Barbara Le Gallez