A teaching tower
8th October 2018
Our youngest ringer receives his first Learning the Ropes bell-handling certificate:
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:
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
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. https://t.co/gbSfMkMHJf https://twitter.com/mayorofhackney/status/939940379524304896?s=17
WaterAid Ringing the Changes at Hackney
5th April 2017
Calling and Leading
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.
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.
Mini ring at a large fete
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 (www.donaldsonfamily.org.uk/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.
We celebrate our birthdays by the month. And June was one heck of a celebration:
- 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 solsticebut this year we also celebrated our beloved Tower Captain’s 60th. Hans surprised Steve with his beautiful drawing:
- 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.
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.
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
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- and 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
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.
A spectacular view to behold before heading off for our own final meal of the day.
Bishop Wickham’s Pectoral Cross
by Steve Jakeman
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!).
Highgate and Hampstead half day outing
by Michail (a non-ringing visitor from Greece), aged eleven
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!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.