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to The ringing World magazine; there are WhatsApp groups, a digital forum where bands can share recordings of particularly impressive methods, and a lot of enthusiastic chat about ‘peals’.
‘A peal is an extendedperformance of ringing by the same ringers, generally for about four hours, non-stop. No breaks, no loo. No stopping. You’ve got to keep pulling the bells, so it’s quite tiring,’ says Tom. ‘ Some people are obsessive about pealing andlove the challenge, but it’s too much effort for me.’
On top of all that, there’s a very healthy competition scene, where it’s all about the ‘strike’ — maintaining a beautifully even rhythm between the different notes. Not something that, for all their collective experience, the Southwark band — who compete in the 12-bell section — shine at.
‘We’re usually knocked out at the elimination stage. It’s always either Birmingham or the Ancient Society of College Youths,’ says Tom as he treats me to a peek of the belfry above, where the giant bells swing and make the whole tower vibrate and, even with ear defenders, we are nearly deafened.
also a lot of discussion about teaching methods. In the past it was all done by ear and timing, but recently there’s been an effort to formalise the early stages of teaching through the Association of ringing Teachers.
But whatever fevered debate the modern teaching methods have thrown up, the whole community pulls together for big state occasions, ringing out across the country for royal events — weddings, jubilees and, sadly, funerals.
Michael, 75, was on duty when the Queen died. ‘All the bells were muffled [ with leather cups around the clappers], except for the large bell, which was open on one stroke. It was incredibly emotional.’ he says.
Three days later he followedit up with a full peal. ‘I was shattered afterwards — so, of course, we went to the pub,’ he says.
There have been several surges of bell-ringing interest over recent years, mostly linkedto royal events. And now, we come to the Coronation.
As Michael puts it: ‘I see a lot of despondency and despair about the future of ringing, but I don’t get it. There are lots of young people, and if you just have a go, you’ll see how wondrous it is.’
And he’s quite right. I hadnever set foot in a ringing chamber before, but it is hardto think of a more uplifting evening than being part of this jolly band, pulling smoothly, calmly and strongly on their sallies and producing a glorious sound that leaps andsoars through the bitter London night.