United Benefice of St.Mary, Higham Ferrers, and St. John, Chelveston
Bellringing at St. Mary's
St. Mary's has a ring of 10 bells which are rung regularly for our main Sunday service but also for special occasions and on the last Saturday of the month when the Farmer's' Market is held on the Market Square.
Enjoy listening to the beautiful bells of St. Mary's on our video ...
Bells have been part of British life for at least a thousand years, and the use of bells in church towers has been going on for most of that time. They last well, as the oldest bell still being used in a church tower was cast in the 1300s, while three of Higham’s bells were cast in the early 1600s.
While the method of casting (bell-metal is comprised of 77% copper, 23% tin) has changed little over the centuries, with just minor industrial refinements, the tuning now takes place on a vertical lathe, with metal pared from the inside to true up the harmonics which are measured by computer.
Bells were initially cast in pits in the churchyards, but are now cast in specialist foundries, the most famous in England being Taylors’ of Loughborough and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which sadly closed a few years ago.
About the bells at St. Mary's Church
There is almost no record of Higham’s bells before the 1890s, when the then six existing bells were rehung in a new frame with two new bells cast to make them up to eight.
These gave excellent service until early this century when it became apparent that the wooden frame was rotting where it was anchored in the tower, and safety became a concern. The bells and frame were removed in early 2014, the frame scrapped, and the bells taken to Loughborough for tuning and the addition of two more, and reinstalled in a brand new metal frame, providing us with one of the best rings of ten bells in existence.
Ringing the bells
Each bell is rung with one ringer controlling his/her bell by means of a rope. The physical effort is surprisingly small, so that almost anyone can do it and, contrary to pictures on Christmas cards etc, the ringers’ feet never leave the floor!
There are two skills which must be learnt, the physical control of the bell and the timing of its sound amongst those of the others. The former takes about as long as it takes to learn to cycle or swim, with some people learning more quickly than others. The second is gradually learnt, listening for one’s own bell and adjusting the pull on the rope to get the timing right.
Like choirs, ringing bands practice regularly, both at their own towers and by visiting others.
There can hardly be anyone unfamiliar with the expression “ringing the changes”. This comes from bellringing, where the bells are rung one after another, then again and again but in a different order each time until they are back to ringing down the scale, known as “rounds”. Depending what is being rung, this can take anything from a few minutes to over an hour. If all the possible changes on ten bells were rung it would take approximately 100 days of continuous ringing!
The ringers at Higham Ferrers practise on Tuesdays from 7.30─9 pm, and for Sunday services from 9.30─10.30 am.
Visiting ringers are of course welcome to ring with us, and non-ringers are equally welcome to come and see what we do. While it is not essential, potential visitors might like to contact the tower captain, Bob Dennis – 01933 317648 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On national occasions, or simply for intensive practice, ringers often take part in performances called “Peals”.
A peal is defined as a continuous piece of ringing of 5000 or more changes without repetition, which on our bells takes about three and a quarter hours. Obviously, the ringers cannot, and don’t, learn the 5000 actual orders, all different. What they learn is the system which generates those changes, known as a “method”. The conductor has also to learn a “composition” whereby small temporary alterations to the method generate yet more changes until the requisite return to rounds.
No peals were rung at St. Mary's before the eight bells were installed in 1893 but, since then, 200 peals have been rung at Higham Ferrers, 167 on the old eight, and 33 on the new ten.
Details of these peals can be found here.
Interested in joining?
For more information please contact Bob Dennis, the Tower Captain.