Swindon bellringing branch is welcoming new members

By Jessica Durston - 16 September 2021

CommunityClubs & Activities

Swindon Link visited the bellringing band based at St Mary's in Lydiard Tregoze to find out more.

St Mary's group photo

The St Mary's bellringers meet up to practise at the picturesque church on the outskirts of Swindon's Lydiard Park every Thursday and Sunday. 

Thursday ringing sessions take place between 7.30pm - 9pm and Sunday sessions between 9.20am - 10am. 

Tower captain and Ringing Master, Jason Carter was leading a training practice for some of the new members who have recently joined their band of ringers.

He said: "It takes about four to six weeks to handle the bell and learn the basics. We have six new ringers and are doing quite well with our numbers but the other towers in Swindon are likely to be looking for new members for their bands.

"I get the feeling that members of the public think that bellringing groups are a bit of a closed shop, and that you need to regularly attend church to come along. This is not the case. Some of the bellringers here at St Mary’s don’t go to church and some do."

Members of the public can find the church nearest to them at http://swindonringers.org.uk/index.php/branch-towers. The Swindon bellringing branch has 21 towers in total. 

Bellringing bands can be made up of people of all ages, but it is recommended that children start around the age of ten years old. This is due to bellringing requiring a degree of strength to pull and hold the bells. 

Members of a Swindon bellringing band also have the opportunity to attend events outside of their own band and church. 

Jason said: "As well as our practises at St Mary's, we have event practises monthly where we will cater for all abilities. The monthly bigger group events depend on the abilities of who wishes to attend. The call changes and methods that would take place would depend on whether the ringers were beginners, intermediate or advanced.

"We also hold striking competitions where some bands will come together and they will ring a set piece of their choice. Their ringing will be listened to and judged on the quality of striking. The teams will be given marks and there will be an overall winner. This is a good way to have some fun and add a little bit of friendly competition and rivalry for those that want to partake"

Members of the public can find the church nearest to them at http://swindonringers.org.uk/index.php/branch-towers. The Swindon bellringing branch has 21 towers in total. 

Individuals can then get in touch with the tower captain at their local church or reach out via the website. 

Jason added: “The Swindon branch is one of about ten branches across the whole of the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan association. Ringing is also structured at a national level as well. These events end up like a festival with everyone getting together and celebrating their love for bellringing.”

Roy Sewell is a relatively new member of the St Mary's band and joined them just over a month ago. 

He said: "I’ve been ringing here for about four to six weeks. I’ve tried two different weights of bell.

"It was a chance meeting with Jenny Moore - the bellringing correspondent at St Mary's - that brought me to the club. Bellringing is something different, and something I’ve always thought about. She said they were looking for people and I turned up and the rest was history."

Roy took to practising his ringing in front of his peers and under the watchful eye of Jason. 

Roy added: "I like the history behind the hobby too. The earliest bell is 1635 here at St Mary's. There’s a lot of history involved if you want to look that deeply into it.

“I am enjoying it – it’s a bit tricky but I am getting to grips with it aren’t I?"

His question was answered by the nods and encouraging murmurs of the rest of his band. 

The group were keen to stress that their band enjoy the social aspect of their practises. They say they often will go to the pub aftwerwards for a drink.

The inclusivity of bellringing is something that Jason says he admires.

He added: “One of the things I love about this hobby is that it is for people of all walks of life and all ages. One of the beautiful things is that a 12-year-old could be ringing next to someone my age – 45 – next to someone who is in their 80s. There are not a lot of hobbies or past times that you can do where this happens.”

St Mary's band member and correspondent, Jenny Moore, has been ringing with the group since 2009. 

When she was asked what the biggest draw for joining a bellringing group like St Mary's was, she said: “What, apart from the fact we go to the pub afterwards? We’re a sociable group and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We make people welcome and I think we have had people come to us because of this – I’m sure this is the same for any other bellringing group in Swindon.

"To help recruit for our tower, I put a post on the West Swindon Facebook page and within around an hour, about six people had responded to say they wanted to come along. I messaged them all back and four of them started up.”

The St Mary's band stressed the importance of Swindon churches having enough members in order to be able to ring their methods (the bellringing songs) properly. 

Jenny added: “Our bellringing group needed at least six people in order to ring all the bells in this tower. So when we lost members after covid, we had that real need to train people up in order to properly ring again. I’m sure this would go for other bellringing groups in Swindon for their number of bells – all will have a minimum number.

“If you really want to ring a special method piece, you can ask around Swindon churches and find a group with the ability to perform it and visit them for a session. This is a way that people can keep practising the skill.”

Some bellringers choose to use an app to download and learn the different methods to ring. As bellringing typically requires an individual to use both hands, the group members said it is better to learn the methods to memory. 

More experienced bellringing band members will often get the opportunity to ring at weddings. On the day of the visit to St Mary's, there had been a wedding earlier that afternoon. Jenny spoke about the process of taking part in a wedding service.

She said: "Weddings involve six of us – one on each rope. We will sneak in when the wedding service is close to finishing and then when we hear the start of Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’, we are ready to ring as the bride walks out the door. We would then continue to do twenty minutes of ringing. It's really lovely.”

More information about the St Mary's bellringing band can be found at https://swindonlink.com/the-bell-ringers-of-lydiard-tregoze/

More information about the Swindon bellringing branch can be found: http://swindonringers.org.uk/index.php

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