Ring of bells

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A "Ring of bells" (or "peal of bells") is a set of bells hung in the English style, typically for change ringing. Often hung in a church tower, such a set can include from three to sixteen bells (six- and eight-bell towers are particularly common), usually tuned to the notes of a diatonic scale (without intervening chromatic notes).

A bell hung for full-circle ringing

The distinctive feature of these English-style rings is that they are hung for full-circle ringing: each bell is suspended from a wooden or metal headstock, which in turn is connected to the bellframe by bearings, allowing the bell to swing freely through just over 360 degrees; the headstock is fitted with a wooden wheel around which a rope is wrapped.

Each time it sounds, a bell's motion begins in the "upside-down" position, with the mouth upwards. As the ringer pulls the rope the bell swings down and then back up again on the other side, describing slightly more than a 360-degree circle. During the swing, the clapper inside the bell will have struck the soundbow, making the bell resonate once. Each pull reverses the direction of the bell's motion; as the bell swings back and forth, the strokes are called "handstroke" and "backstroke" by turns. After the handstroke a portion of the bell-rope is wrapped around almost the entirety of the wheel and the ringer's arms are above his or her head holding the rope's tail end; after the backstroke most of the rope is again free and the ringer is comfortably gripping the rope some way up, usually along a soft woolen thickening called a sally.

The bells are usually arranged in an upper room called a bell loft in such a way that their ropes fall into the room below, called the ringing chamber, in a circle. Clockwise circles are most common, but anticlockwise ones are far from unheard-of. Unlike the norm among most musicians, the bells are numbered downwards, progressing from the treble (the lightest and highest-sounding bell), to the "2", the "3", and so forth down to the heaviest and deepest-sounding bell, the tenor.

Change ringing bells are often cast with inscriptions on their sides. These are often as simple as the name of the foundry which cast the bell, or that of its donor. Sometimes, however, bells are named, or bear short mottos. At Amersham (in Buckinghamshire) the tenor proclaims "Unto the Church, I do You call, Death to the grave will summon all." Perhaps because they are tolled at funerals, tenors often bear this sort of serious motto; those of trebles are often more light-hearted. The one at Penn, Buckinghamshire, for example, reads "I as trebell doe begin"; that at Northenden (Lancashire), "Here goes, my brave boys."

A key resource is Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers, which aims to list most towers worldwide with bells hung for full-circle ringing. As of April 2007, that guide lists 5750 ringable rings of bells in England, 181 in Wales, 35 in Ireland, 20 in Scotland, 10 in the Channel Islands, 2 in the Isle of Man and a further 123 towers worldwide with bells hung for full circle ringing.[1] Australia has 45 rings of bells.[2] Others are located in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Spain.[1]

Bell ringing was (and still is) very common in England, and there are many pubs around the country called "The Ring of Bells".

Ringing church bells occurs in three basic ways: normal (peal) ringing, chiming, or tolling. Normal ringing refers to the ringing of a bell or bells at a rate of about one ring per second or more, often in pairs reflecting the traditional "ding-dong" sound of a bell which is rotated back and forth, ringing once in each direction. "Chiming" a bell refers to a single ring, used to mark the naming of a person when they are baptized, confirmed, or at other times. Tolling the bell is ringing the bell once every four to eight seconds to announce a person's death.


Bell Weights[edit]

A bell's weight is usually measured in the traditional units of the long Hundredweight (cwt), quarters and pounds. A bell weighing "21-1-2" is then 21cwt, 1qtr 2 lb, or 1080.5 kg.

The weight of a ring of bells is usually characterised by the weight of the tenor bell. A "33cwt ring of ten" refers to a ring of ten bells where the tenor weighs approximately 33cwt.

Tenor bell[edit]

The largest, heaviest and lowest-sounding bell in a ring of bells is known as the tenor bell.

This will not necessarily be the largest bell at a particular church, notably when a striking clock is also present. While in many towers the tenor of the ring doubles to chime the hours, sometimes a separate bell is used, typically larger than the change-ringing bells; see Great Tom.

Treble bell[edit]

The highest-sounding bell in a ring is known as the treble bell. This is not necessarily the lightest bell in a tower, as the tuning of small bells depends at least as much on the details of the shape as on the weight of the bell.


  1. ^ a b Dove, Ron; Baldwin, Sid (29 April 2007). "Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers". Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Central Council Publications. Retrieved 30 April 2007. 
  2. ^ "Heritage: All Saints' Bells"

Sources and external links[edit]