Bell Sunday – 14th May 2023

This talk was given by Sue Bassett during the Bell Sunday service on 14th May 2023

Bishop Latimer, in 1552, remarked “If all the bells in England were rung at one time, there would scarcely be a single spot where a bell would not be heard”. Although the bishop was referring to the ease with which the population could be warned in the event of an invasion from the sea, it is also a comment on the number of churches, with bells, that had existed in pre-Reformation England. Bells have occasionally been used to signal disaster but they are primarily associated with places of worship. Ringing as a form of communication, both religious and secular, has a very long tradition which continues to this day.

Before the Reformation, ringing in cathedrals and monasteries was usually the duty of deacons. With improvements in bells and how they were rung over the centuries, lay people became more interested in the art of ringing. Gradually local people took over ringing from the clerics who then paid the ringers to ring for church services and church feasts. Ringers receive payment to ring at weddings and funerals but nowadays, we give our time and skills freely to ring for church services and special occasions.

The original use of bells to signal church services became adapted over the years to include secular purposes, such as the beginning and end of the harvest, the arrival of the mail-coach, village fetes, the squire’s birthday or other local or national events and anniversaries. In 1586 the ringers at St. Margaret’s Westminster were paid one shilling each for ringing at the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1605 ringers were paid ten shillings each to ring at the time when the Houses of Parliament should have been blown up. You may like to know that the ninth bell here in Staplehurst was cast in 1605, so there is plenty of history to bell-ringing.

At around the turn of the 17th century bell ringers in London and Norwich started “ringing the changes” on their bells, producing a unique kind of music based on changing patterns of bells rather than on conventional tunes. This art of change ringing spread across England and gradually to all corners of the English-speaking world. Today this is the familiar sound heard from thousands of churches every Sunday morning, and a continuing fascination for us as bell ringers. Some of these 17th-century bell ringers established ringing societies, the most famous being the Ancient Society of College Youths, founded in 1637, whose members ring at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Ringing on state occasions, such as the recent Coronation, has to be perfect so only the best ringers are invited to join.

Staplehurst is extremely fortunate to have as its Tower Captain, Adam Brady, who is an excellent ringer and member of the Ancient Society of College Youths. He cannot be here today as he is practising for the National 12-bell competition when the best ringers in the country will be competing against each other on 24th June this year.

In addition to ringing faithfully and often at our home tower, ringers benefit from a wide variety of venues in which to practice their skills. There are 7,147 sets of bells worldwide – 7K of which are in the British Isles. Although a majority of bells are found in Anglican churches, there are 56 sets of bells in Roman Catholic churches, 34 in Orthodox and non-Episcopal churches, 350 former churches with bells are now vested in the Churches Conservation Trust and 25 sets of bells are in schools and colleges.

Calling the faithful to prayer is generally considered the main object of ringing. In addition, it is an extremely interesting and rewarding activity, physically and mentally for us as ringers. Just climbing the stairs several times a week is as good as going to the Gym and much more interesting! The complexities of skills needed to ring the bells provides us with a sense of fulfillment as well as being an honour to serve the life of the church and its congregation. Even if some of us are not often seen within the body of the church, we spend a great deal of time and energy proclaiming the living church to our community through the sound of the bells. This Bell-Ringing Sunday Service is a great opportunity for us all to acknowledge our part in the life of the church.

We are very happy to share our knowledge about ringing and to teach anyone who would like learn to ring. Please talk to us over coffee or perhaps visit us in the tower afterwards, when we can show you the bells and give you a ringing demonstration.

Remembrance Sunday – 14th November 2021

Six of the 10 bells were rung half-muffled today while the congregation arrived for the annual Service of Remembrance at All Saints, Staplehurst.  The Tenor bell was chimed 11 times at 11 o’clock during the service to mark the beginning of the national one‑minute silence, in which we remembered the service and sacrifice of all those that have defended our freedoms and protected our way of life. 

District Practice at Yalding – 13th November 2021

Two Staplehurst Ringers enjoyed ringing with other members of the Kent Association of Change Ringers at Yalding on Saturday morning.  Refreshments (including home-made cake and biscuits) were very tasty and welcome whilst catching up with friends we hadn’t seen in a long while.  Prior to the pandemic, Ringers often went out ringing at other towers nearby, around the country and abroad.  It felt good that some normality had resumed, even though hand sanitiser, masks and increased ventilation were in evidence.  Ringing bells at other towers can sometimes present new challenges (due to different weights of bells, varying lengths of rope and how easy (or not!) the bells are to ring) but it is always interesting.  So too are the variety and beauty of the churches, towns and villages that we visit.  Bell ringing takes us to some amazing places. 

Service of Remembrance at Rochester Cathedral – 7th November 2021

The Kent Association of Change Ringers (KCACR) held a Choral Evensong Service of Remembrance to remember over 40 ringers in Kent who died during the pandemic.  Several Staplehurst Bell Ringers attended the service in which our own beloved ringer, Iain MacKay, was remembered and whose funeral will be held shortly.  The bells at Rochester Cathedral were rung before and after the service by members of KCACR and hand bells were rung during the service.  Although many bell ringers are generally renowned for not attending church services on a regular basis, it was a privilege to take part in this special service of remembrance in this glorious cathedral and an honour to ring the bells there afterwards too.  One of our ringers was quite daunted at the opportunity to ring at Rochester Cathedral but overcame her fears to ring very well.