Bell ringing 


Bell ringing at Dedham church takes place on the second and fourth Sundays of every month. We are a small but enthusiastic group of mixed ages who enjoy chiming the bells  for around twenty five minutes before the morning service. We also ring at weddings. Recently, we have been learning new rounds which have been fun to learn and provide a good workout!  We welcome new recruits so do come along  at 10.30am every other Sunday and give it a go! Anne Lipscomb is the bell captain and can be contacted via the Parish office on 01206 322 136.

 

This text by Anthea Hall first appeared in the July 2017 Parish Magazine

In the bell tower of Dedham church, a historic gem of a plaque hangs on the wall which states: “On Tuesday Evening March the 17th 1818… the Dedham Company of Ringers rang a complete Peal of Five thousand and Forty Changes of Bob Major which was compleated in Three Hours and Sixteen Minutes.  NB Josiah Benneworth called the Peal.”

Today there are no Josiahs – nor indeed any Ebenezer Saunders who rang the fourth bell – among the Dedham bell ringers. Instead of eight strong men, the peal almost exactly two centuries later is rung by two women and two teenaged schoolboys and is called by bell captain Anne Lipscombe (slight, blonde and elegant in silver shoes). Thus the eight bells are rung by only four people – two bells per person. Yet the sound of the bells is the same sonorous, historic summons to church that it has been for centuries.

When the 1818 marathon “complete peal” was rung, 5,040 changes being the total permutations of seven bells (factorial seven: 7x6x5x4x3x2x1), each bell - and the heaviest weighing a ton - was controlled by one strong man pulling a rope to start the bell ringing from an upside-down position (“mouth up”) around 30 metres above him. An Olympian task after which, suggests bell-ringer and tower tour guide Colin West, it was “off to the pub for a wellearned pint or two.”

However, in around 1850, all this changed. The ringing of such weighty bells dangerously threatened the structure of the tower. Traditional bell “ringing” was replaced by bell “chiming” which simply takes a clapper to a bell by pulling a shortish rope: “With relatively little strength one person can ring two bells, one in each hand. Probably the local pub doesn’t do such a good trade,” adds Colin. Ely cathedral is a notable example of this form of “modern” bell-ringing whereas Dedham’s sister church in Ardleigh has traditional bell ringing, as opposed to modern chiming. Today the Dedham bells are chimed every other Sunday for around 25 minutes, followed by a single bell tolled 30 times, indicating that the service is due to start.

Thus Dedham bell-ringing can be done by almost anyone from early teenagers upwards, easily and safely: “When the bells were mouth up, the whole length of the bell rope hung in the chamber and when the bell rang, it whipped back up - which was hazardous. Now the rope is only pulled about a foot to 18 inches,” Colin West explains.

Dedham bell-ringers are always looking out for new volunteer ringers, particularly now, as William and Fraser, are about to leave to go to university. Anne Lipscombe points out that bell-ringing counts as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award for community service. Other bonuses include £15 pay per bell-ringer for a wedding and the unexpected fact that bell ringing is a gentle workout: “I began bell-ringing eight years ago after my husband died – weekends were tough when everyone is with their family. We’re a wonderful group – there’s great camaraderie.” The art of bell-ringing, of getting your timing and “sounding” right, she says, is learned partly by ear by listening and imitating and from peals written down. Dedham ringers may no longer attempt the three hour and 16 minutes complete peal of 1818 but they have a repertoire of three “changes” each with their own history:

Colin Ward explains: “There’s Queen’s which, it is said, Queen Elizabeth I heard in London and remarked how sweet it sounded. “There’s Whittington and the apocryphal story is that when Dick Whittington was leaving London he got as far as Hampstead Heath, he heard this particular peal and turned back. And there is Tittums which is said to be a diminutive version of a musician singing Tee tum, tee tum, tee tum.”

Dedham church has always been much in demand as a magnificent and glorious setting for weddings when, as Anne Lipscombe says, the bells ring out: “The bride and groom may not choose to have the choir but they almost always want the bells. We ring for 20 minutes, starting as the bride comes up the aisle to leave the church and it is the most lovely sound: uplifting and joyous!”

 

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Pictures taken on a Church Tower Tour in August 2016.