About Bell Ringing

There are about 5000 towers in the British Isles where there are bells hung for full-circle ringing. Most of these are in church towers, and most are in England, with smaller numbers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There are also some full-circle bell installations in other countries such as USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A bell 'hung for full circle ringing' means that the bell is mounted on an axle with a wheel also attached to the axle. A rope round the rim of the wheel allows the ringer to control the bell from below. There is a stay and slider arrangement so the bell can be set mouth upwards just over the balance, with the clapper resting on the side of the bell. Pulling on the rope pulls the bell up to and over the balance, then it swings through 360 degrees up to the balance again. The clapper is pushed off the side of the bell and, as the bell reaches the balance, the clapper strikes the other side of the bell just once ( 'Dong' ) and rests on that side of the bell ready for the next stroke.

When the ringers are ready, they usually start by sounding the bells in 'rounds', with the lightest bell sounding first and the heaviest one sounding last. The physical configuration of the bells means that each ringer can make their bell swing a little bit slower or faster so the order of sounding the bells can be altered and two adjacent bells can swap places. This is the basis of change ringing. Pairs of bells swap places, either one pair at a time ('called changes'), or in a pre-defined pattern (a method) which is designed so the bells sound in different orders and come back into rounds. Plain hunt is the simplest pattern and has each bell moving to each position in turn. When ringing plain hunt on four bells, the bells are back in rounds after eight blows.

Bell ringing requires coordination and a sense of rhythm rather than great strength, and there are ringers of all ages and from all walks of life. Bell ringing is a team activity, and new recruits are always welcome. Many churches with bells have an active band which meets to practice once a week and rings for Sunday services and also for special occasions such as weddings. In 2012 much ringing took place to celebrate the Royal Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics. The bands at local churches are usually grouped into a guild or association covering all the churches in a diocese or county. The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers is the representative body for all who ring church bells and includes delegates from all the local organisations.

This website is for the Ely District of the Ely Diocesan Association The towers in our district are listed here and shown on this map. The main website for the Ely Diocesan Association is here.

Section of a Bell Tower, drawn by Ruth Ogden of Isleham.

Ringing a bell

Ringing at Stretham, Cambridgeshire

Plain hunt on 4 bells

Here are some links to find out about bell ringing and learning to ring:

If you would like to contact a tower in the Ely District, or have any other query about bell ringing or this website, please email the District Secretary (elysec_at_elyda.org.uk) or use the Contact us form.