How the Bells are Rung

In England church bells are rung by swinging them through nearly a full circle and this gives them their unique tones as the ringing bell is moving backwards and forwards.

With the more traditional tower bells this is achieved using a rope attached to a large wheel (about the same size as the bell) connected to the bell. At East Bergholt, the bells are hung in the same way but without a wheel. They are rung by holding onto the blue headstock and pushing.

Tower ringers are able to change the ringing sequence on every round, referred to as call changes or ringing methods. At East Bergholt, we do not have the same degree of control as tower ringers, but we can still change the ringing order, it just takes us a couple of rounds to make the change and settle down to regular ringing. Changes are signalled by hand.

Diagram of how bells are hung

With the centre of gravity of the bell lying well outside the pivot, the bells swing like a pendulum, moving very rapidly through the lower part of their swing. This can be best seen on the video.

On the Tenor bell the centre of gravity is about 4 ft. (1.2m) higher at the top of the swing than at the bottom. This bell weighs 26 cwt. (1328 Kg) the same as a motor car. The stable position is with the bell facing downwards (the solid outline rotated through 180 degrees). Moving the bell from the stable to the ringing position is like lifting a motor car 4ft - as you can imagine, not very easy with only your bare hands.

To make life easier for us we leave the bells pointing upwards, resting on a stay. Most visitors ask "why are the bells upside down", probably referring to the pictures we see on Christmas cards. You now know the truth! It's the pictures on the Christmas cards that are upside down.

Another commonly held misconception, when people see the bells swinging, is that the bell hits the clapper. If you watch the video you will see that the clapper actually swings faster than the bell and hits the bell at the top of the stroke.

The bells are mounted in a wooden frame inside the cage. The square bell frame, built from massive oak timbers is built on a small brick plinth. Overall it is about 6ft (1.8m) high with a narrow walkway about half way up. The ringers stand on this narrow board and lean over the frame to ring the bells. You can just see the walkway on the drawing of the ringers.

Swinging such massive pieces of metal and maintaining the precise timing needed to keep the ringing sequence takes a great deal of practice. In the past there used to be five ringers, one for each bell. New recruits would come every Sunday to watch and listen, only to take over when the ringer of that bell died. Nowadays, with the pressure of modern living we have a band of ten ringers, even so, it still takes two years for somebody to learn to ring these unique bells and become a fully fledged member of the band.