Our Bells and the pandemic
Our bells have been silent since mid March owing to the lockdown. In the last three weeks, discussions between Public Health England, The C of E and The Central Council of Church Bellringers have resulted in a very cautious and restrictive set of conditions for the resumption of ringing in all churches.
Two-metre social distancing must be maintained, ringing is restricted to 15 minutes, only for services (not practices or hobby ringing) and there must be 72 hours between ringing sessions. More recently, the requirement to wear masks has been added. The two-metre rule is very restrictive as at most towers the bellropes are much closer than that and at some small towers none of the bellropes are as much as two metres from any of the others. I have had to provide a risk assessment and set of procedures specific to our tower to comply with the rules and this has been approved by the church.
Our ringing chamber at St Thomas’s permits ringing three bells (1,4,7) with two-metre separation but the two metres does not apply within families.
Thus it was that our bells were heard again on 9th August 2020. My wife Alison and I rang 6 and 7 and I was delighted that Toby and William Ransome were available and willing to ring 1 and 2. Not ringing as we know it (resumption of which is probably still many months away) but I hope people were pleased at least to hear the bells again.
L to R: Nigel and Alison Orchard, William and Toby Ransome
Taken by a conveniently passing photographer, one Kelvin Inglis, rector of St Thomas's, the photo (left) shows the socially distanced plucky band before donning facemasks and applying more hand sanitiser to ascend the tower which I had already prepared by opening the windows and lowering the ropes, the relevant bells having been previously raised by Alison and me when I did the required safety inspection. Boy was it hot up there ringing in a mask. Fifteen minutes seemed quite long enough!
-- Nigel Orchard, St Thomas's Bellringers
We have a ring of eight bells in the key of D flat. Bell numbers 1-7 were cast by Robert Wells of Aldbourne in 1771 and the tenor, number 8, by Abraham Rudhall in 1716. The tenor weights 25cwt. The bell tower was built between 1400 and 1404 and was originally separate to the church becoming incorporated into the south wall of the church in the late 15th century. Within the tower the bells are arranged on two levels in a 1948 iron frame by Gillett and Johnston of Croydon with the treble (No.1), No.2 and No.5 on the top. In 2003/2004 the bells underwent a major refurbishment. The cannons were removed from Nos 5-8 and Nos 1-4 provided with modern cannon retainers. New clappers were also fitted. The bells were then retuned at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. Now we have a fine sounding and evenly struck ring.
Click here for a recording of our bells made near the west end of the church during Sunday morning service ringing.
We are a group of friendly and enthusiastic ringers from all walks of life – some of us have been ringing for over 50 years: others are just starting out. Our youngest ringer is 11 years old. New ringers are very welcome so if you are interested in finding out more about ringing at St Thomas do get in touch. Two of the ringing band are accredited teachers with the Association of Ringing Teachers so as a learner you will be in safe hands. If you are thinking of learning you should be over 10 years of age (and able to reach the ropes) and have a good level of fitness. There are 27 steps up the tower to the ringing chamber. In due course all learners should fully support practices and ringing before services.
We occasionally get together for a sociable meal and have an annual outing to other towers. We are members of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers.
On Sundays, we ring from 9.30 to 10.15am for the Church’s family service and from 5.15 to 6pm for Evensong. Our practice night is every Thursday 7pm-9pm with the first half hour devoted to our more recent learners. On the second Thursday each month we gather ringers from a wider area and hold a surprise practice from 7.30 to 9.00pm. After our practices, several of us adjourn to a local pub.
Visitors are welcome for service ringing and practices but it would be best to contact us beforehand as morning service times can change and events in the church sometimes get in the way of our practices. Individual visitors and visiting bands should note that access to the ringing chamber is not through the church but from Silver Street through an archway adjacent to Caffe Nero. There is a toilet in the church.