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In campanology (bell ringing), a peal is the name given to a specific type of performance of change ringing. The precise definition of a peal has changed considerably over the years. Currently, for a performance to be recognised as a peal by the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers it must consist of at least 5040 changes on up to seven working bells, or a minimum of 5000 on higher numbers of bells, meet a number of other criteria (collectively referred to as the decisions), and be published in The Ringing World.
Originally a peal referred to a set sequence of changes of any length, now more often referred to as a touch. The original meaning is still in use today in call-change ringing. The most famous and frequently rung call change peal, associated with the Devon Association of ringers, is named 60 on 3rds. Related to this meaning is the practice of raising or lowering in peal, that is making the bells ready for change ringing by gradually increasing their swing until each bell is turning through a full circle, and then once ringing has finished returning them to their safe resting position by gradually reducing the amount of swing. A set of bells is sometimes called a peal of bells, but ringers usually prefer the name a ring of bells.
On standard tower bells a peal usually takes something around three hours to ring—the precise length depending on the exact number of changes, and the weight of the bells. It is also common to ring a quarter peal, a performance generally meeting most of the rules for a peal, but usually of about quarter the number of changes.
Raising and lowering in peal
Raising in peal refers to the process where a band of ringers increase the swing of a set of tower bells from rest to a full circle ringing position while keeping them ringing in the same order. The opposite process is lowering in peal, where the swing of the bells is gradually checked until they are at rest, again keeping the bells ringing in order throughout.
The peal as an extent
Following the discovery of Grandsire Doubles, the term peal or “full peal” was applied to the ringing of sequences including each permutation of the set of bells exactly once. On five bells (Doubles), there are 120 permutations taking about four minutes to ring on tower bells. These figures rapidly increase as more bells are added.
The term extent is now preferred to peal in this context, excepting performances on seven bells where the terms peal and extent are synonymous.
The extent on eight bells comprises 40,320 changes, and would be referred to today as a long length peal. Despite this, it has been successfully rung as a continuous performance both on tower and on hand bells, 17 hours in duration on tower bells.
Modern peal standards
Method Ringing peals today usually consist of between 5000-5280 changes, or permutations. On seven or more bells they must be rung without repetition of any of the changes. Most peals are composed and rung in compliance with the decisions of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, allowing them to be recorded in that organisation’s peal records. Many peals are also recorded on peal boards attached to the walls of the ringing rooms in the towers where they took place, and in the peal books of local change-ringing associations.
Peals can take anywhere from one and a half to over four hours to ring, depending on the weight of the bells, and whether handbells or tower bells are being rung. They are considered to be both a physical and a mental challenge, in that concentration has to be maintained for a long period of time, and each individual ringer has to ring their bell without a break.
Composition of peals is a specialized and highly complicated area of change ringing, as it involves having to constantly ensure throughout the process that no changes are repeated, while aiming to achieve the correct length.
Another area of peal ringing is that of long length peals. These involve ringing for far longer than an ordinary peal, up to 17 hours. The difficulties of ringing ordinary peals are magnified in these performances, as are the difficulties of composing them. One challenge to ringers is to ring 'the extent', which on eight bells is 40320 changes. The last time this was rung on tower bells, it took 18 hours.
In addition to ordinary peals, ringers often ring quarter-peals, which are a quarter of the length of a full peal, making them far easier to ring. Most quarter-peals take around 45 minutes to complete.
- Central Council decisions — scroll down the page to see the council's definition of a peal