The History of Change Ringing
The History of Change Ringing
Change ringing, the traditional English method of sounding bells swinging ‘full circle’, evolved during the 17th century. Each bell is swung a full 360 degrees and then back again. The basis of the art is that having started from ’rounds’ (ringing down the scale), each bell follows a pre-determined path amongst the others, so that the bells ring in a different order each time until they return again to rounds. Fully developed, this becomes an intricate and exacting science which today is keenly pursued by over forty thousand men and women of all ages. They form a well organised and important part of the Church and social life of England and indeed many other countries where campanology has taken root. In recent years English style change ringing bells have been installed for the very first time in countries such as France, Belgium and Singapore.
There were only five bells and a Sanctus bell present in the tower in 1553. The treble and tenor were then recast by Miles I Graye of Colchester in 1607 and 1610 respectively. In 1671 John Darbie of Ipswich recast the 2nd and 4th bells and added a treble to make a ring of six. The addition of two trebles cast by Christopher Hodson in 1688 made this ring the third octave in Suffolk. St. Mary-le-Tower’s octave was preceded by Horham in 1673 (the oldest surviving octave) and Hadleigh in circa 1680. They were then followed by Framlingham and Bungay in 1718. The tenor of the octave at St. Mary-le-Tower was approximately 24cwt. The first full peal recorded on the bells was 5040 changes of Grandsire Triples on 12th December 1735.
In 1812 two trebles were added to the octave to make a ring of ten. The newly augmented ring of bells was opened on Tuesday 7th of July 1812, being the first day of the Ipswich races. These new trebles were provided and hung by John Naunton, a local bell hanger and ringer. They were cast by Thomas Mears. Alas the new trebles only lasted 32 years before being recast by John Taylor & Son in 1844/5. Only one peal was rung on this ring of ten – Kent Treble Bob Royal on 16th February 1850 - before the great Victorian rebuilding where the tower and practically the whole church was demolished and rebuilt. The rebuild took place in phases beginning with the chancel in 1850. In 1866/67 the restoration work was completed and following an interesting set of circumstances, see Colin Salter’s history of the St. Mary-le-Tower Society, the bells were made up to twelve by the addition of a new treble and tenor cast by John Warner & Sons. The 5th and the 9th (the old 4th and 8th of the ten) were also recast to correct the tuning. The new tenor weighed 301/2 cwt and was tuned to C#.
After the 1866/67 restoration not much work done to the bells themselves until the seventh cracked and was subsequently recast by Mears and Stainbank in 1946. In 1976 a full scale restoration took place with the recasting of eight of the bells by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough including a fine new tenor tuned to Db and weighing 34cwt. The remainder of the bells were retuned and rehung with all new fittings. A sharp 2nd bell cast by John Taylor & Co was added in 1980 to provide a lighter diatonic ring of eight in Ab using the 8th as a tenor.
In 1999 following the generous bequest by Dr Ronald Jones the 5th was recast and the 8th retuned. Bells 9, 10 and 11 were replaced with bells cast to a heavier weight. The old 9th went to Australia to form the tenor of a ring of 8 in the key of F#. The old 10th is hung dead in the tower as the ‘passing’ bell and the old 11th is also hung dead in the tower but as the ‘Sanctus’ bell. Like the 1976 restoration, this work was also carried out by John Taylor & Co.
We are very grateful to Colin Salter, who is currently researching the history of the SMLT Society. You can read his document here
Details of the bells