Ding dong merrily on high – a bellringer’s experience

Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.
Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.
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THE art of ringing church bells is no longer as fashionable as it once was and many churches now struggle to recruit teams of ringers to man the belltowers.

Father Paul West, priest-in-charge of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Wisbech, was feeling the lack of ringers and was keen to get the ten bells at the church ringing again.

Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.

Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.

Following an appeal in the Citizen in September, a handful of wannabe-ringers came forward – including Citizen reporter Emma Mason – and are now busy learning the ropes.

The team of nine ringers includes a family of five – Heidi Richards (12), Joanne Richards (18), Gareth Richards (24), mum Carron Bradshaw and stepdad Michael Bradshaw – plus Sue Cassidy, Mike Short and George Frost.

Father Paul is delighted with the response and is looking forward to hearing the bells ringing regularly for Sunday service.

Reporter Emma Mason is one of the learners and shares the ups and downs that have accompanied the first trying months of learning the ropes.

Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.

Bellringing team at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Wisbech.

“BELLRINGING has always held a certain fascination for me that I can’t explain. I’m not a church-going person but I like the sound of the bells and have always wanted to have a go.

So when I heard that Father Paul West was keen to recruit a new bellringing team, I jumped at the chance to go along to a local practice session to see what it was all about.

That first session did it for me – I had the bellringing bug.

I was lucky enough to go along to the North Nene practice sessions on a Wednesday, which take place at Leverington, Newton, Tydd St Giles and Wisbech St Mary. Every set of bells is different and no two towers are the same, so it’s valuable experience to ring at different places.

Now, three months down the line, I’m ringing on my own and starting to ring “rounds” – ringing with others in a repetitive sequence.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and at one point I was worried I would be thrown out for having too many accidents. I single-handedly turned bellringing into an extreme sport.

It didn’t take long for me to injure myself. At one of my first sessions, I made the worst mistake a ringer can make – I forgot to let go.

The thing to remember when ringing is that although you are only pulling a rope, at the other end is a very large, very heavy bell and if it wants to go up, it goes up, regardless of whether you’re hanging on the end.

So I pulled the sally – the name given to the furry bit of the rope – and forgot to let go as it went up. I went with it, with my instructor frantically telling me to let go.

Thankfully I only went about a foot from the ground, if that, but the rope went faster than I did, giving me a fantastic rope burn on three of my fingers. It was a painful lesson to learn and served as a warning to the other new learners.

A few weeks later, when I had started to learn at St Peter’s with the other fresh-faced recruits, my second injury happened. This one was a bit more spectacular than my previous mistake.

To this day, I’m not totally sure what happened, but somehow the bell got out of control and the long length of rope whipped behind me.

Before I knew it, up the rope went with me tangled in it. It yanked me sideways, taking me off my feet. I had a death grip on the rope in my hand as I didn’t want it to go whipping around the bell chamber – I was later told I should have let go.

That terrifying incident left me with some lovely bruises on my arm and leg. You could literally trace the path of the rope.

But I didn’t let these accidents put me off and I was determined to master the bells of St Peter’s, something I kind of accomplished after about two months.

There is a lovely group of learners at St Peter’s and we all get on really well. The one thing I have found out about bellringers is that they’re very friendly and willing to train up new people.

It’s a fantastic hobby that I would recommend to anyone and in these days of penny pinching, it’s brilliant to find something you can do for free.”

• Bellringing is open to people of all ages, from around seven to 70. Contact your local church to find out about the bellringing opportunities in your area.