Kitchen table learner

Sue Ricketts

23rd June ‎2020

I started learning to ring in September 2019 with Steve and Debbie and by February I’d got as far as rounds, simple call changes and shaky goes at getting a bell up and down. Thanks to their help and encouragement I loved my new hobby yet I knew I was no natural. Going along to Hackney’s ‘on tour’ Monday practices I’d watch enviously as the band rang amazing methods with intriguing, mysterious names. When they talked about dodges, bobs and touches I didn’t even know what those things were. ‘Could I ever get to a stage where I’d be good enough to do what they’re doing?’ I would wonder wistfully…

When practices abruptly stopped in March it seemed like the answer was probably ‘no’ because by the time we got back in a tower I’d likely need to start from scratch again, plus I was beginning to think I didn’t really have the right sort of brain for all those numbers anyway. Still, with my part-time job tour guiding on a canal trip boat on hold, I had plenty of time to fill and decided one afternoon to learn Plain Hunt on paper (well, it was either that or try and add Excel spreadsheets to my skillset). To my surprise I understood PH! Then, encouraging and inclusive as ever, Steve suggested I have a go on Ringing Room with some of the band who had recently started a regular Monday night session using the app.

I worried I’d be a bit of a dead weight to the more advanced team but without batting an eyelid, Steve said have go at Plain Hunt and miraculously I managed to do it—my first attempt at any ‘method’, EVER! I felt like doing a victory dance. Each week Steve has tasked us homework and no one is more surprised than me that I can now passably do Plain Bob Doubles (sometimes even with Bobs), Grandsire Doubles and Triple Bob Hunt. We have even learned Reverse Canterbury Pleasure Place Doubles which was worth it for the name alone! I’ve learned about Circles of Work and practice on my own between sessions on the Mobel app on my phone (well worth £5.99).

Of course, I’m fully aware that in the virtual tower there’s zero bell control required and we can all stand each time without fail! And I do recognise that being able to speed up, slow down and hover on the balance are a vital part of method ringing and so far they’re things I’ve not mastered, so I’m not kidding myself I’ll be able to replicate what I’ve learned on a real rope. That aside, our Ringing Room/Zoom sessions have helped me to make advances beyond my wildest dreams. Thanks Steve (Carrie, Steve Johnson and other band members) for giving me this chance to do so much in such a short space of time. Excel spreadsheets wouldn’t have been half as satisfying!

Sadly departed

20th July ‎2020

Two months ago our Deputy Tower Captain, Debbie Malin, passed away suddenly and totally unexpectedly. Our District Chairman reported that Debbie was remembered with great affection and appreciation during the June District Meeting:

Shared memories included her calm, quiet, unassuming manner whilst ringing, particularly when helping learners, ‘standing behind’ and enabling equal participation for the more hesitant ringer without treading on toes. Her presence at practices was always reassuring and supportive to those running the practice as well as the participants. Her nod and reassuring look as one dodged with her confirming one was in the right place has helped so many of us. We have vivid memories of her being laden with tea making equipment, quietly doing what was needed, preparation, washing up, and providing those mouth-watering flapjacks and cakes. Perhaps less well known to all, but important to many, was her involvement in handbell ringing – particularly at Christmas time – and the visits to care homes in Highgate and elsewhere. Her skills, personality, quiet sense of humour and smile will be very much missed by all, and, of course, by her family and the Hackney ringers.

Debbie’s absence when we do eventually return to ringing will be very apparent and particularly hard-hitting for the Hackney ringers. A number of us will want to ring quarter peals and tune-handbells in her memory as soon as we are able. She was unstinting in the help she gave to our ringing community, and I personally appreciated her awareness of others’ interests and her perception of what I as a learner really needed.

A month previously we had lost another Hackney ringer, Stephen Coley, who had come to London as a ready-made ringer from Ottery St Mary in Devon, joining MCALDG in November 1987. He became a member of the St John at Hackney band in 1993 and Tower Secretary the following year. Stephen was also elected District Chairman in 2000, and held both posts till 2004.

In 1994 he married Tracey – also a Hackney ringer – and, although living in Enfield once they were married, they would still make the journey down to Hackney for Sunday Service morning ringing as well as Monday practice nights. In 2005, Stephen and Tracey moved to Hertfordshire but remained members of the Hackney band (and the Middlesex Association) and attended practice nights at Hackney.

Stephen was a quiet, competent ringer; this and his calm, precise nature made him a good person to stand behind learners to assist them… from the very basics to methods they were starting on. I benefited greatly from his ability to explain what I needed in exactly the right amount of detail. He was a kind, loving person with a wonderful sense of humour, infectious laugh and a warm, beautiful smile.

Stephen reluctantly and very sadly had to give up ringing in 2019 due to a brain tumour but he and Tracey would join the Hackney ringers for outings and social occasions whenever they could.  Stephen died on 22nd April 2020.

Ringing World’s BellBoard shows that Stephen and Debbie rang a peal together in April 1990, which was Stephen’s last (his first in the method but second ever) and Debbie’s first, and they both had tributes in June 2020’s Bell News (Page 4).

You might notice in Debbie’s tribute that our Tower Captain says she “found herself as volunteer labour on bell repairs and restoration works” (volunteered by him methinks!). One such project was in 2004 when the ring of eight bells at St John at Hackney was augmented to ten, with two new bells cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.


The photo shows the two new bells, treble on the left and second on the right, which were put on display for the congregation to see over one weekend in May 2004. Behind them are – left to right – Denise Days (Tracey Coley’s sister; their family and friends had donated the treble in memory of their parents), Jane Sugarman, Stephen Coley, Tim Mills, and Debbie Malin.

Hackney on Tour

Steve Jakeman, Tower Captain

29th April ‎2020

The ‘Hackney on Tour’ description came about to cover the period of 16
months when our Monday practice nights were held at other towers while
we were unable to ring at Hackney due to the building being handed over
to the contractors for the £5M restoration/refurbishment project. The
alternative would have been to stop practicing altogether and this
option was not acceptable to the band. Whilst we could have held the
practice at a single venue, the decision was made to take the
opportunity of ringing at different towers and some 18 different
churches were visited. Ringers relish the challenge of ringing on
different bells and this was provided through practices at towers in the
City, east, north, and even south London. This variety was balanced by
the need for some consistency of location and ease of ringing to ensure
teaching could continue. Accordingly, regular visits were made to St
George in the East (a lovely light 8) and South Hackney (heavier but
characterful 8).

As with every new initiative there have been teething troubles as people
adapt. Our grateful thanks go to the clergy and contacts at these towers
for their cooperation, support and assistance in making the Hackney on
Tour approach work so well. We have had fun with keys, codes, finding
the right door to gain access, location of light switches and for some
finding the correct church.

With the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak our practices ceased after 16th
March along with all bell ringing and indeed church services and at the
time of writing (end April) we have no idea of when any ringing may be
permitted. We are however adapting to the changed circumstances and
making use of Zoom and other tools to create a virtual ringing practice.
It’s early days so watch out for an update but it’s good to see some of
the band and our friends who we rely on for so much.


Trying something new

Esme Nelson

3rd November ‎2019

On the 26th of October, the bell ringing team went on a trip round Kent churches! I am an 11 year old girl- who enjoys baking, singing and photography. And I was lucky enough to come and join them.

At the churches, I was allowed to try ringing the bells! I only did backstroke (as I am not quite tall enough) but, I enjoyed it very much!!! I played at 4/5 of the churches. Everyone who was there were very nice and helped me and my younger brother (aged 9) learn the ropes of bell ringing! It was a very exciting day and it was lovely to see all the different churches. Before the last church, we had a break and ate cake (which was homemade and delicious) and drank tea and coffee!! It was a great day out and at the end I was tired out!! I would definitely do it again!!


N&E District Outing

Jo Mortimer

20th July 2019

Two dozen ringers from Aldgate, Highgate, Hendon, Hackney, Islington, Twickenham, Tottenham, Isle of Dogs, Norwood Green and Harrow on the Hill met to ring in 4 different towers in the heart of Cambridge – and to walk, eat cake and punt! Like Oxford in 2018, we had hot weather as we walked the narrow streets; familiar from so many TV shows and films, it was heaving with tourists, their numbers swollen by students in gowns with proud families up for graduation ceremonies.

I travelled up with Judy Bourne, using the park-and-ride and arriving in good time for a restorative coffee before the first church. Our Lady and the English Martyrs is a heavy 8 with a wonderfully vaulted ringing chamber open to the enormous Victorian Gothic church.

Our next, St Andrew the Great, was hosting a free coffee-and-cake café at the back of the high-ceilinged wooden-beam-and-pews church. Thus fortified, ringers had to heave out (and then replace) three large sofas from the small, enclosed ringing chamber: in the absence of a regular band, it was being used as a store room. The bells were a pleasant light 8.

We dispersed for a 2 hour lunch break, Judy and I enjoying the street food stalls in Cambridge outdoor market.

After lunch, we rang the light 6 at 14th century royal peculiar and cradle of the English Reformation, St Edward, King and Martyr.

Another two-hour cake break followed, and Judy and I enjoyed a riverside walk. We also enjoyed watching people trying punting, with varying degrees of confidence and skill.

Our final tower, the cathedral-like university church Great St Mary’s, was a wonderful 12 plus a flat 6th providing a lighter ring of 8. The ringing tower gave views over the graduation ceremonies and afterwards we were able to go onto the church roof for 360 degree views across the city and beyond.

With thanks to Janet Betham for organisation and comprehensive itinerary.

A teaching tower

8th October ‎2018

Our youngest ringer receives his first Learning the Ropes bell-handling certificate:



Birthday Bells

6th March ‎2018

There are many reasons for ringing a quarter peal, and one is to celebrate a ringer’s birthday. There have been half a dozen such occasions in our band in the last twelve months:

22 March 2017 1280 Doubles An 80th birthday compliment (for yesterday) to Janet Rutherford, mother of the tenor ringer.
30 May 2017 1260 Plain Bob Doubles First quarter as conductor (Margaret Peirce), rung in celebration of her recent 80th birthday.
1 August 2017 1260 Plain Bob Doubles First inside – 2. A birthday Compliment to Neil Stewart.
29 August 2017 1320 Kent Treble Bob Minor First in method – 2, first as conductor in method. A birthday compliment to Susan Beringer.
11 November 2017 1260 Mixed Doubles Specially arranged as a 50th Birthday compliment to Alex Nelson with 51 calls to ease her into the next exciting year.
2 January 2018 1260 Plain Bob Doubles Birthday congratulations to Debbie. Rung by members of the handbell team as a thank you to Debbie for successfully leading them through the winter season.

The reader may be wondering what the strange “firsts” are in the right-most column… This displays another reason for ringing a quarter peal – giving ringers an opportunity to extend their repertoire. So “First in method – 2” means that the ringer of Bell Number 2 had never before rung a quarter peal in this method (pattern). And “First inside – 2” means that the ringer of Bell Number 2 had only ever rung treble and tenor before (these are usually simpler to ring in methods).

A change consists of all six bells being rung in some order (more accurately, a change refers to the fact that you are changing the order from one permutation to the next), and a quarter peal on six bells consists of at least 1260 changes – this is a quarter of 5040, which is the number of changes possible on seven working bells. (The first quarter peal in the table above has 1280 changes because it was for my mum’s 80th birthday.)

“Mixed Doubles”, “Kent Treble Bob Minor”, etc refer to the method(s) being rung, and calls are jumps in the method to make it last the required number of changes.

Tweet from Mayor of Hackney

Debbie Malin

‎12th December ‎2017

Mayor of Hackney (@mayorofhackney) tweeted: Tonight was beautiful, an absolute honour to be asked to give reading by @algordon_ & alongside @dpymayorhackney. The choir & bell ringers sounded incredible in this Hackney gem.

Well done handbell ringers!!!

WaterAid Ringing the Changes at Hackney

Mark Smith

5th April 2017

I can in no way be considered as musical, in fact anybody who has ever heard me sing would say I am anything but musical. I am, however, always keen to have a go at something new. Bell ringing was always a distant subject, something that strange people got up to in covert groups in shadowy corners and locked towers. I’d sometimes see it in sketches on TV, when the stooge would disappear into the Belfry to hoots of derisory laughter. It was a maligned and unattainable event I had little opportunity or inclination to get involved in, until now.
This year raises two major milestones for me: firstly I would ‘celebrate’ 20 years of service with my employer, Thames Water Utilities. The second milestone of the year will not be reached until July when I turn 50 years of age. What can a man who reaches a half century do to celebrate? I decided that for me it would be to experience as many new, varied and interesting events as possible: to try new pastimes, see new places, do new things that a man just shouldn’t reach 50 without being able to say, “I tried that!”
I decided to combine my two milestones, to hopefully do some good for others, to help people less fortunate than me and if possible to improve or even save lives. I decided to raise funds for WaterAid, a charity which aims to improve the lives of people by providing them with safe, clean drinking water and sanitary means of disposing of human effluents. All too often the inability to effectively dispose of human waste leads to pollution of overstretched water resources, pollution and the consumption of water affected by it directly leads to the deaths of almost 900 children from diarrhoea every single day. 900 every day hardly seems plausible but is a sad fact. £15 can give one person access to safe water, £90 provides a well and maintenance for a year which can help many more.
I am using my exposure to new and unusual events to attempt to raise awareness of the issues surrounding access to clean water, using digital media to help spread the story and raise money. By August I hope to raise £4,400, this will enable WaterAid to help people primarily in Madagascar which is currently hugely underdeveloped and in catastrophic need of support in order to provide a decent degree of infrastructure to give access to safe water supplies and a means of collecting waste water. I will be trekking in Madagascar in November and hope to visit a number of projects to see just how this money is being spent and how it is helping those in need.
I cannot thank my work colleague Steve Jakeman enough for his help in getting me along to St John at Hackney. I found a group of passionate people who obviously enjoy the friendship offered by the group as well as the opportunity to ring as many complex and difficult changes as possible in the time they have available to ring. I would also like to thank the group for making me, a complete novice, feel so welcome – their patience as I fluffed my part and interrupted their limited practice time was hugely appreciated. Along with other fundraising events (a day as a stable lad at a Newmarket race stable and a fancy dress Zumba class) I have already undertaken and collected donations from, I have now raised just over £1900 which is 44% of my total. I  will return to St John at Hackney for more tuition and am hoping to take part in a quarter peal at a local tower in Southend, so will hopefully get to see some of you again.
If you would like to help with my fundraising you can donate quickly and easily using the link to my just giving page below:
Or you can donate by text, just text HDMI99, the amount you wish to donate to 70070 and it will go straight to WaterAid via my just giving page.
Thank you all for putting up with me and for doing so in such a good spirited way.

Calling and Leading

Mark Wagner

5th February 2017

Bell Ringing is a great and old English tradition which has a broad and diverse appeal for its ringers. Some are drawn to ringing for its musicality, others for its mathematical logic, some enjoy its social aspect, while others still, may consider it a spiritual or religious service. Regardless, it is a precise and methodic craft that takes patience and perseverance to learn. Stephen Jakeman, St John at Hackney’s tower captain organised a series of workshops for learning calling changes and ringing up and down.

Bell ringing is open to all, and despite ringers having a ‘home tower’, several friends / colleagues from other towers joined in either to learn or to patiently partake in helping to create the necessary ringing conditions for the learners. I felt especially fortunate for these two workshops as they served a ‘musical’ function that resonates most with me as I am a musician and composer. Calling changes gives the opportunity to re-arrange on-the-fly the order and sequences of the bells creating pleasing musical effect. Certain sequences like Queens, Kings, Titums etc. are tried-and-tested and well known, while others can be created or simply improvised on the spot. Ringing up and down also carries an exciting musicality since,  when done correctly and in peal, makes for an enchanting experience building up on the bell’s resonance unto a climax that resounds like the Song of Angels.
Since the workshops, I have been able to put into practice calling changes and leading up and down during Sunday service ringing. I have devised and tried several sequences including the ‘Mark special’: 17263548

And then there were 9!

Irene and Philip Stratton

19th September 2016

I visited St Augustine’s Tower one Sunday afternoon in late summer 2016 and met Carrie who advertised the Bell Ringing Demonstrations on 11th September. We have lived in St John’s Church Road since 1974. We aren’t churchgoers but have a fondness for St John’s Church Gardens and all (well most!) things Hackney. We like our neighbours and that includes the Church. So I signed up for the 1pm demo. I think this is the first time there has been a demonstration afternoon and it was an opportunity to explore the building a little as well as learn about ringing and meet the team of ringers.

I knew nothing about bell ringing and as Stephen, the Tower Captain, gave his talk it became clear that there is a range of sayings that we use today which spring from bell ringing. ‘Calling the changes and ‘clapped out’ come to mind immediately as I write this. I also got to ask about ‘bats in the belfry’ but was told there are none. Where do the bats that fly in our gardens at dusk ‘roost’ then? Does anyone have any clues?

The whole session was a revelation and the experience was really uplifting even if the bell ringers did keep their feet firmly anchored on the ground. I do hope that this becomes an annual invite to the Tower. The way up, firstly up the wide staircase to the gallery and then onto the spiral stone staircase with the hanging rope to grip onto, is an adventure. The ringers’ room with the ropes hanging is compact and just big enough for the 8 ringers and the 7 visitors. We had to be careful to stash our knees out of the way to avoid interfering with the ringers’ efforts. We heard about the bells, 10 in all, and their different tones or was it pitches. We heard the dongs and learned about peals and how long they take and occasions on which they might happen. Was the Institution of the new Rector one? I can’t remember but I will be listening on 26th September when his service occurs. We learned about the changes and that 10 bells is a rarity, mostly churches have 6 or more normally 8. Stephen told us about the louvres which are closed to make sure that residents are not overly disturbed. One of the most amazing things was that when we stood in the entrance to the Church after our teach-in we had to go out into the Church Gardens to hear the bells!!

The whole demo and talk took an hour and a quarter but the time just whizzed by. Towards the end Stephen invited the visitors one by one to take a turn. He stood with each one. ‘Don’t look up’: the natural thing to do. Look straight ahead and pull the ‘sally’ and then feel in rise in your hands. Then again and again so on.

Philip’s turn came. One bong as I remember was followed by a huge thud and then three or four more thuds on the floor above and NO sound.  The bell ringer sitting next to me had a look of terror on her face. ‘You’ve broken my bell,’ cried Stephen. And that was just what Philip had done. Not on purpose of course. Stephen was quick to ensure that Philip had brought his bank details with him. …..perhaps a necessary prerequisite for demonstrations in the future??

Well that put paid to the session and Stephen ushered us out and downstairs so that he could investigate the damage. The report-back when we reached the porch came quickly. The bolt which keeps the clapper in place had sheared and the clapper had dropped out of the bell. Stephen would have to take it to the bell foundry in Whitechapel. ‘What the whole bell’, I asked. ‘No, only the bolt’, came the reply, although it might have been the bolt and the clapper, I can’t quite remember. We had already learnt in the talk that bells are mightily heavy and take a lot of moving! Will it be mended for the new Rector’s Institution? If not how will the bells sound with one down? Does this portend doom? Should we be worried? I hope not.

One of the ringers told us that in his four decades as a ringer this had only happened on one other occasion. Once down in the main body of the church we were given tea and Philip and I signed up to attend the Institution Service. I hope that will serve as penance for the damage caused and that we will be welcomed as the good neighbours that we want to be.

Bell ringers have big hearts: we were told that should we want to join this happy band, bell ringing practice is on a Monday night and ends with a visit to the pub. No hard feelings then?

We started the session with 10 bells and then there were 9!!!

Come and watch the bell ringers

Heritage Open Days 2016

See ringers in action and learn about the rich heritage of church bells and change ringing. If you have ever wondered who is ringing the bells at your local church, and how they do it, then come along and find out at this demonstration of the ancient art of bell ringing (campanology) with an introductory talk and even a possible opportunity for some to have a ‘hands on’ session!

The bells are rung in the traditionally English style of full circle ringing. As climbing of stairs is involved we hope to have a video link on the ground floor relaying both the ringers in the ringing chamber and the bells turning full circle in the belfry. Event not suitable for children under the age of ten.

Search for further details, or contact us to book a place on Sunday 11 September: Tours 13:00, 14:30 & 16:00

Mini ring at a large fete

July 2016

At one of the entrances to the St John at Hackney fete on 9th of July, the Hackney ringers ran a mini ring – this is a miniature version of a ring of church bells just like you’d find in our tower.

The Maplestead Mini-Ring ( comes “flat packed” and had to be erected before the fete started and dismantled at the end. During the fete we rang the bells, showed people how they worked, and climbed up to untangle them when they didn’t! We also had a pay-what-you-like bric-a-brac stall which partially paid for borrowing the mini-ring.

The mini ring was tried by adults and children with varying degrees of success! and we received several favourable comments.

Special Birthdays

June 2016

We celebrate our birthdays by the month. And June was one heck of a celebration: DSC_0204

  • Sunday 5th was a family affair. 1260 changes of Plain Bob Doubles were rung as a 21st birthday compliment by a band which included the birthday girl herself, her sister and her dad;
  • Friday 10th saw a visiting band ringing 5000 changes of Spliced Surprise Royal in just under three hours for the Official Birthday of HM The Queen;
  • Friday 17th was the 80th birthday of Judy Bourne and she rang 1320 changes of Bourne Surprise Minor which had been especially arranged for the occasion. This was the first time any of the band had rung a quarter peal in this method;
  • Monday 20th was our annual Pimms night where we go out on the roof to watch the summer solsticeDSC_0200but this year we also celebrated our beloved Tower Captain’s 60th. Hans surprised Steve with his beautiful drawing:DSC_0219
  • And, just for good measure, this year’s strawberry moon was last seen when Jo was born… squarely 49 years ago!
  • Sunday 26th sees us ringing for the Patronal Festival which of course celebrates the birth of our parish’s patron saint, St John the Baptist.

Charleston SC

May 2016

Today I rang at Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston, South Carolina! Steve Jakeman had suggested I ring there once he heard I’d be visiting the area, as the back eight had originally come from St Mary Enfield (stripped out by him I believe, and tuned at Whitechapel bell foundry). I met the man responsible for bringing them over, and he complained that when he’d turned up with his chequebook, not only had the sale had to go through various layers of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, but the ringers had mischievously made him attempt to ring up a bell that normally took two ringers to ring up.

I was made very welcome: the steeple-keeper took me up to see the bells IMAG0247IMAG0248IMAG0251

and the ringing master (who turns out to have rung a peal at St John at Hackney) let me ring call changes, plain hunt and bob doubles on a variety of bells which were all beautifully behaved. After the practice we retired to the pub, as befits any self-respecting band.

Annual District Meeting

February 2016

On Saturday 20th February, the 2016 N&E District Meeting was hosted at St John at Hackney. Thirty five members attended, and the District Secretary reported that their “attendance was rewarded by a substantial and tasty tea provided by the Hackney ringers, to whom many thanks.” (In fact, the tea we supplied was supplemented by lots of tasty treats brought by ringers from other towers.) Below is the text of the address given by Rev Sue Makin in the pre-meeting service … with a photo of the tea interjected at what I think is an appropriate point!

Bellringers service 20.2.2016 (homily SJ@H).

The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum.
‘Come all to church, good people,’—
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come. ( Housman)

As I understand it, we live in the bellringing capital of the world! It’s come a long way since Paulinus in the year 400, and although , as you will know, we didn’t invent it, England in particular seems to have made it its own. I doubt any other country in the world in the 21stC would think of celebrating the Monarchs jubilee with a floating belltower!

I have lived with bells all my life, having been born and bred in Lincoln, the home of one (in my opinion) of the finest cathedrals in England . The Ordinances of the ‘Companie of Ringers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln’ were sealed on 18 October 1612, making it the oldest surviving Association. For a while, I lived smack bang opposite those bells, in Minster Yard, and as I was writing my essays I would listen to the practices, in the mornings they would call me to matins. They told me the time, and they still ring a curfew! I would know when someone important had died, or when someone was getting married. National events are marked by bells. Celebration, information, confirmation all communicated by bells. They have been described as “the beauty of change ordered in sequence”. And that is what you do- you mark change in beautiful ways. You are also one of the (undervalued, in my opinion) mission weapons of the church.

The dean of Westminster Abbey puts it like this:

“The bells bring people to the worship of almighty God. Perhaps the nostalgia often evoked in people when they hear the ringing of church bells reflects the yearning that is in us all for a strong, warm relationship with God, even if we fail to recognise it as such. Maybe even, when people object to the sound of church bells, as sometimes they do, their very anger reflects the struggle in them between their soul, their yearning for God, and their mind, with their intellectual problems about faith.”

One of the delights of being here is the band who announce our services, and who help the tradition carry on by encouraging people to have a go, and a highlight for me is the handbells at our Christmas services and the look of the children as they watch the younger tower members mainly, ring.

As they encounter this rather magical sound for the first time it’s mesmerising.

As well as being intensely mathematical, as I reflect on it, you are also modelling something that the church at large can learn from. You offer a welcome to visiting bands- IMG_8325and I understand that any ringer, if they pitch up to any tower, should be welcome. You have to co-operate and be sensitive to those around you, both to complete a peal, and to keep each other safe- you can’t just do your own thing. It’s a really corporate, collaborative endeavour. Some of the most beautiful things in creation are the result of mathematics, really, and by turning it into music you reflect God’s magnificent generosity to us all handsomely. There is little more uplifting than walking round the corner on the way here and hearing the bells.

So keep doing what you do, and keep us connected to a tradition and history that connects us to the faithfulness of God in this fleeting world. Keep challenging us to remember God at each change and turn.


How many bell ringers does it take to change a light bulb?



Autumn outing 2015

by Mark Wagner

October 2015


As a relatively new ringer having started in January, this was to be my first outing, visiting six towers in a day in the vicinities of Burnham, Hitcham, Clewer and Windsor.


Starting with St Michael’s in Bray seemed perfect for novice and experienced ringers alike, a spacious tower with 8 ‘smooth’ ringing bells and a nice heavy tenor. Each other tower provided its own distinct character varying in size and shape and with an average of 6 or 8 bells, each with their own weight, feel, resonance and sound. Some were seemingly easier, and others more challenging, but in any and all cases a great learning opportunity and rewarding experience. Each church also holds its own specific acoustic and architectural properties as well as Spiritual atmosphere and entering the bell towers through various narrow stair wells, passages or back rooms always feels like an intriguing and rare privilege. I was further impressed by the sheer dedication of bell ringers, who never seem to lose sight of what they’re there for (the ropes!), and so, with nary a minute to waste, we maximised ringing time, making the best of every tower and every tune.


The last tower of the day was the imposing St John the Baptist in Windsor, with a bell tower situated directly underneath Cleyn’s monumental depiction of the “Last Supper”.

A spectacular view to behold before heading off for our own final meal of the day.

Bishop Wickham’s Pectoral Cross

by Steve Jakeman

September 2015

At Canterbury Cathedral this month the ordination and consecration of Fr Rob as Bishop of Edmonton was duly carried out and what a great day it was. The  coach from Hackney arrived in good time and the sun shine bright and clear. Below is a photo of the new Bishop of Edmonton complete with staff and pectoral cross given by the bell ringers of St John at Hackney (his mitre is a separate process he tells me!).

Bishop Wickham 150923

Highgate and Hampstead half day outing

by Michail (a non-ringing visitor from Greece), aged eleven

August 2015

When I went to bell ringing my impressions were: I liked that the churches have big “gardens”. Also, most of the churches have small staircases, because who likes to climb lots of stairs? I really liked the music the bell ringers made. Well, also there are the friendly people – all the bell ringers and the teachers are nice. The lessons are free, and very enjoyable and fun. It’s nice.

I have to add the picnic: after the bell ringing at the first tower we went for a picnic… a wonderful walk that was followed by a delicious picnic with another wonderful walk to the second tower. I would advise you at least to go see the bell ringing and if you liked it you can sign up! You will not regret it!

Bell art

A regular visitor to the ringing room, Theo – aged seven – was asked to draw a picture of a bell and this is what he produced (note the colour coding)!


The five labels are rope, sally, mat, hole, person.

We won (again)

Steve Jakeman, Tower Captain.

May 2015

On Saturday 16th May six of our ringers ventured south to Christ Church, Isle of Dogs, to do battle with other Novice Teams in the area. Our objective – to retain the Novice Cup which we won last year at Stamford Hill. Competition came from the host tower and Aldgate. This year the test piece was judged by a computer whose results were presented by the local Tower Captain Roger Booth. After explaining how the system worked he announced the results, and we were placed first! Well done to the ‘novices’, Martha (holding the cup), Avy, Paul and Carrie for taking part.


Bell ringing – a team sport

March 2015

One of the wonderful things about bell ringing is the support we receive from and offer each other. The obvious manifestation of this is the ringing itself, where each ringer is following another ringer who is following another ringer who is …

But there is also the teaching that we learners get. The two youngest members of the band were recently deemed ready for their first quarter peal which is a performance of 1260 permutations of, in this case, six bells and takes about three quarters of an hour:

“Recently, Avy and I were asked to ring our first quarter peal and it was to be at St. John at Hackney. I was very anxious in case I made mistakes. When the day came, Tuesday 3rd March, I met up with the other ringers at the church, I was very excited! We all walked up the steps to the ringing chamber and got into our places at the right bells. I was ringing treble. Then we started ringing and the pressure was on! At first I was comfortable and finding ringing pretty easy. However, soon my arms were aching from ringing for so long but I knew we still had ages to go. The bells sounded amazing and I was proud that I had done it, but I was also so relieved when Steve said “stand” and I could finally rest. It was so much fun and I can’t wait to ring my next one.” Martha Smith (aged 10)

“At first I felt scared to ring for 45 minutes however my confidence grew as I knew that there was no turning back. ‘Look to, trebles going, she’s gone’ the treble said and we started. I was covering on the six and it was a heavy pull off but I managed to do it. Every now and then I kept looking back to the clock to see how long we had rung for. Finally, it came to the last 5 minutes we had made no mistakes so I decided to try my hardest then because I didn’t want to ruin a nice ending. We were called back into rounds, then last of all to stand. When I sat down my legs were struggling to unstiffen as I did not bend them at all during the ringing I kept them statue still.” Eibhleann (Avy) Fairbrother-Browne (aged 10)

The support doesn’t end when we descend the spiral staircase. Last month we visited four towers and a mini ring in Oxfordshire and I was reminded of how supportive the band is: Due to transport issues, I missed the first ring which was a 12-bell mini ring in Appleton. However, I did arrive in time for the second, also in Appleton (St Lawrence – 10 bells) but had to wait for the AA to turn up, and this is where the support started kicking in. I had brought my ten-year-old niece, who rings at St Giles in Oxford, and my fellow bellringers just went ahead and took her to the tower while I waited for my car to be fixed.

Having missed all the morning ringing, I was keen to ‘grab the towers’ in the afternoon, which were Witney (St Mary the Virgin – 8 bells) and then South Leigh (St James the Great – 8 bells) where we experienced the support of the wider bell ringing community as they had asked the Village Hall if we could use the toilet there, and had also given us permission to use the back of the church for our tea break. About half a dozen of our band had made cakes and biscuits and our deputy tower captain had brought everything we needed to brew up (even the water!)

We then moved on to Headington (St Andrew – 8 bells) where the support and encouragement shown to my niece all afternoon culminated in a round of applause when she rang solo.

Ringing the hand bells

By Martha aged ten

December 2014

Starting from November, after our usual ringing practice in the bell tower we came downstairs and started practicing the hand bells ready for the joyful Christmas season.
At first I was finding it quite difficult as I was the only one there who had never done this before. Someone had to keep pointing to where we were in the music as I was forever getting lost.
Most of the children really looked forward to ringing jingle bells as we all found that the most fun of all the pieces! The adults were really supportive and everyone was working really hard to make sure that we were all ready in time.
Our first performance was a special appearance at the Powerscroft road Christmas street party in the Round chapel. I was a bit nervous, but it went really well and we got loud applause.

The next concert was the Christingle which I preferred as we got to make the Christingles too and eat the sweets off the end of the cocktail sticks. We played jingle bells with almost zero mistakes. The first Noel also went really well!
Then came carols by candlelight: The carols were fantastic but the candlelight set fire to one of our song sheets. We rung four carols without any further mistakes and stayed behind for mince pies.
I am already looking forward to getting ready for next year’s hand bell concerts.

My first quarter peal

Vastiana Belfon

August 2014

I had my first bell-ringing lesson just over a year ago. I had decided to humour Steve Jakeman when he invited me to a practice session; I just knew that I could never ring church bells (especially having experienced such difficulty with the mini ring at the fete). However, just one session, and I was hooked. It was partly the seeming impossibility and partly the sheer beauty of expert bell-ringers in action. I want to achieve that!

So, I have been practising ever since on Mondays here at St John’s and on Wednesdays at St John of Jerusalem. Sometimes I feel as if I am making progress, for periods I feel as if I’m standing still and, occasionally, that I’m going backwards. And each practice still involves an element of fear. Will I make a mess of call changes? Forget which bell I am? Lose concentration and ruin a method for others?

Most recently, Steve has encouraged me to learn to ‘cover’ on the 6 for methods – ringing the last bell in the sequence, keeping the rhythm. I have messed up a number of times because if I go wrong, it’s difficult for the other ringers to stay in the right place. A few weeks ago, on one occasion, I had a light bulb moment: somehow, it all went right. So, on that Monday night, Steve (a master of psychology) asked what I was doing on the following Thursday. Foolishly, I said, ‘Nothing.’ ‘Well, in that case, you can ring your first quarter!’ I gulped and nodded.

Fortunately, I wasn’t given too much time to panic, but I did have one restless night and was tempted several times to tell Steve that I had been struck down with bubonic plague. But that would only have postponed the inevitable. Joanne Mortimer had rung her first quarter a couple of weeks earlier and reassured me that all would be well. But I’d watched her cover very competently several times. Plus, a quarter peal takes around 45 minutes and I had previously only rung for 10 minutes maximum.

7 August (a swelteringly hot evening) arrived with grim inevitability; my heart pounded and my tongue felt stuck to the roof of my mouth. I could hardly speak. Five other ringers had given up their time and I didn’t want to let them down. To make matters worse, Steve suggested that as the bells were half muffled, we could ring to commemorate the World War I centenary. So, no pressure, then! A couple of practice rounds and we began for real. After a few nervous pulls – and Steve reminding me to concentrate – I relaxed and was able to listen to the beautiful sound of our church bells, watch, count and keep the rhythm. 43 minutes later and it was all over. We had done it. I felt tired, but oh, so exhilarated! An experience that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. So a million thanks to Debbie, Colin, Neil, Alec and, especially, Steve, for the support and encouragement.

Commemorative Ringing

August 2014

At eight o’clock on the evening of 4th August 2014, the bells of St John at Hackney were rung half-muffled for twenty minutes to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

This means that a muffle is strapped to one side of each bell’s clapper to deaden the sound of alternate strokes of the bells – this has the effect of the muffled strokes sounding similar to an echo of the unmuffled strokes. Other commemorative events where the bells are rung half-muffled are funerals, memorial services and Remembrance Sunday. This occasion happened to be during the local ringers’ Monday practice, but the sound control was opened so that the bells could be heard half muffled.

muffled clapper

We were ringing with other churches across the UK and indeed the world … so far nearly 150 towers across the UK – plus two in Australia and one in New Zealand – have reported having rung commemoratively, but we will probably never know exactly how many. Some will have rung a peal (three hours non-stop) or quarter-peal (three quarters of an hour) but many will have, like St John at Hackney, stuck to a short touch – it all depends on the abilities of the local ringers.

St John at Hackney’s twenty-minute ringing included two sets of rounds and call changes on all ten bells, and a touch of 168 Grandsire Triples using eight of the bells. All of these involve changing the order in which the bells are rung, but call changes are when the conductor calls for one pair of bells at a time to swap their positions whereas Grandsire Triples is an example of a method where three pairs at a time are swapped simultaneously and continuously.

Spring Outing

Steve Jakeman

March 2014

On Saturday 29th March we had our Spring Outing visiting six towers in North Kent in glorious spring sunshine. We started at Stone Next Dartford  where the bells have been recently installed. They used to be at nearby St Paul’s Glynn Road which was made redundant in the late 1970’s and I was lucky enough to have a quick ring before they were removed. Next was Northfleet where we had a visit from the incumbent who explained that he was Vicar at Eythorne in Kent when we had a link in operation when Bill Hurdman was Vicar – happy days! Small world! Lunch in Gravesend with some watching the ships on the river before ringing at St George’s challenging bells – heaviest of the day. Next Milton next Gravesend where they have no ringers of their own and the photograph was taken.


Then afternoon tea at Chalk where the bells are relatively new and an opportunity to climb to the top of the tower for the wonderful view over the marshes and Thames estuary. Our final tower was Higham with a very small ringing chamber, low ceiling and very loud making it a challenging finish. The journey home was broken by a visit to a carvery at Bexleyheath for an excellent conclusion to a great day out.

December Ding-Dongs

January 2014


2013 was the bicentenary of the addition of the tower and porticos to St John at Hackney and so December 2013 began with a quarter-peal on Sunday 1st to mark this historic event as well as the beginning of Advent, and ended with the now-traditional Christmas peal on the last Sunday in December which this year we dedicated to the tower’s anniversary.

For those that don’t know, a peal consists of the bells being rung in a pattern (method) of at least 5000 distinct permutations (changes) of the bells – in this case all ten of them – and takes around three hours. A quarter-peal is, as you’d expect, a quarter of the length of a peal – with respect to both time and number of permutations.

Nelson Mandela’s funeral

On 15th December, 200 call changes (including, appropriately, ‘roller coaster’) were rung as part of Sunday morning service ringing and dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela.

Call changes are when the permutations are called by a conductor, and some of these permutations have special names: “roller coaster” consists of upward runs of three, moving progressively lower after each run. It looks and sounds like a roller coaster ride:


We started off by ringing a quarter-peal for the Christingle service, and the following Sunday rang handbells during the Carols by Candlelight services both at St George in the East (who very kindly lend us their handbells each year) and at St John at Hackney. We also rang handbells in the two Children’s Carol Services on Christmas Eve, and of course rang tower bells for all these services.

We rang handbells during the Carols by Candlelight services at St George in the East (who very kindly lend us their handbells each year).

Handbells can also be rung as permutations, but we rang carols with melodies and harmony. This is still an example of bell ringers’ team work – as with tower bells, a bell team acts as one instrument, with each ringer responsible for particular notes, sounding our bells whenever that note appears in the music. We usually practise handbells after tower bell practice from about mid November – abstaining from our usual team visit to the pub to do so!

Christmas and New Year

Christmas Eve also saw us ringing the tower bells for Midnight Mass (service ringing thrice in one day may well be a record!) And we finished off by ringing for the Christmas Day celebration, which is an honour and a joy.

As always we rang the Old Year out with magical half-muffled bells, and rang the New Year in with celebratory un-muffled bells.

Half-muffled bells are where a muffle is fitted to one side of a bell’s clapper to reduce the volume. This deadens the sound of alternate strokes of the bells, the muffled stroke sounding similar to an echo of the un-muffled stroke.