The Bells

Change-ringing bells are made of bronze and range in size from around 50kg up to a tonne or more (Australia's heaviest weighs 2 tonnes). They are tuned to a normal diatonic scale.

Each bell has a wooden wheel with a hand-made rope running round it. The rope hangs down to the ringing room below and includes a colourful woollen hand-grip called the sally.

The bells are arranged so that the ropes hang down in a circle, starting with the smallest bell and finishing with the largest. A ring of bells usually consists of 5, 6, 8, 10 or 12 bells, and each bell needs one ringer to control it.

A swinging bell creates a sound of harmonic richness that cannot be matched by a fixed bell struck with a hammer.

Follow this link to see an animation of one bell ringing "full circle".

Or follow this link to see an animation of two bells "dodging" (and ringing "full circle").

Change Ringing

Swinging bells take around two seconds per swing. This makes ordinary music impossible (think how slow the first three notes of "Jingle Bells" would have to be).

Instead, bellringers have developed their own unique form of music, following special patterns (called "methods") to make the bells sound in a different order each time they swing.

Sometimes we ring for several hours without ever repeating a sequence already rung. It would take over 30 years non-stop to work through all the possibilities on 12 bells!

Why do people ring?

Bellringing is a group activity that combines physical coordination and mental alertness to produce the unique sounds of change ringing. This combination of mental and physical skills, teamwork, and the rich sounds that are produced, ensures a lifetime's enjoyment.

Many people ring as a contribution to church and community life; others enjoy learning a traditional skill which has been passed down for centuries.

Ringers everywhere enjoy the social aspects of their hobby, meeting regularly to ring bells for various occasions, including a weekly practice session.

We enjoy a welcome when we visit other towers, in Australia and New Zealand or overseas.

Could I become a bell ringer?

Most likely, yes.

Bellringing does not require great physical strength, nor do you need any knowledge of music or mathematics. It's all about rhythm, memory and concentration. Ringers come from all walks of life and their ages range from 12 to 90.

You will need some intensive practice at the outset - perhaps a dozen one-to-one lessons to develop the technique to ring your bell "to the balance". With that skill acquired, you will quickly become a useful member of the band, attending a weekly practice and ringing on Sundays and special occasions.

Change ringing comes next, with its intriguing mix of quick-thinking, listening, vision ("ropesight") and fine-tuning of the physical skills. How rapidly and how far you advance depends mainly on opportunity and enthusiasm, but the feeling of achievement and fun starts from the beginning.

Many people find ringing quite addictive and it is common to find older ringers who started ringing when they were in their teens and have never grown tired of it.

Our History

It is common for bells to swing through a small arc, but in England in the 1600s the arc grew until bells reached the upright position - and could be held momentarily - at the end of each swing. This gave the ringers precise control over timing and enabled the art of change ringing to develop.

Change ringing remains unique to English-speaking countries, although a similar system can be found in parts of northern Italy. It is still dominated by England, where there are over 5000 bell towers. Wales comes next with around 230, followed by Australia with 61. New Zealand has six bell towers. Australia's oldest ring of bells - installed in 1847 - is at Holy Trinity Church, Hobart.

New rings of bells continue to be installed: roughly one per year has been added to Australia's list since 1990.

Ringing Patterns

Change ringing can be written down using numbers.

The simplest pattern, or "method", in change ringing is called "Plain Hunt" when adjacent bells swap place with each other.

This method, on eight bells, is written out below. The bells are numbered from 1 to 8 and each row of digits represents one swing of all the bells. The blue line shows how bell number 1 changes position from swing to swing

Plain Hunt on 8

Each bell strikes once and only once in each change (the horizontal line or row). If you were to draw the blue line for another bell (the 2, or 3, etc.) you would find that it follows a similar "blue line", but starts from a different position.

ANZAB

The Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers was formed in 1962, incorporating the New South Wales Association of Change Ringers founded in 1946, to promote the art of change ringing. There are currently around 500 members who ring at more than 65 bell towers throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Attendees at the ANZAB Ringing Festival, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2019

Ringers at the 2019 ANZAB Ringing Festival held in Hamilton, New Zealand

Our activities and services include:

ANZAB is a gateway to the world-wide community of bellringers and a life-long learning experience.

Acknowledgement

The content of this page is based on the ANZAB leaflet Bellringing in Australia and New Zealand prepared by Doug Nichols.

Bellrope sally

Image © Andrew Treloar, 2006