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Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I was delving into a box of bits yesterday and came across a memory of my youth:

A small lapel "button-hole" badge from my days as an adolescent bell-ringer at Mereworth Church.
There was not too much to do  for a teen-ager in a small country village in the early '50s. No television or street lighting and definitely no digital stuff so we needed to find our own enjoyment and interests. As a developing youth, if these could also involve girls it was decidedly a bonus!
Sunday's main church services were then morning and evening (with the afternoon reserved for the little 'uns Sunday School) and the peal of 6 bells was always rung twice on this day, with a practice night on a Wednesday. The bell ringers were mainly the farm labourers of the parish.These, to us, were dignified men, usually in their 50's and 60's and the tower captain (of the ringers) was eager to draw in younger blood.
The result was an intake of 3 boys and three girls and since one of the girls was already the subject of my distant admiration I became one of those boys.
It was all good, clean fun with the added attraction of being able to walk home, hand in hand, with the girl and even a peck on the cheek as a "goodnight" (these were more innocent times).
With no heating in the church tower ( and only in the church proper on Sundays) it could be bitter cold up there on a winter's eve and you needed to be ringing to keep warm. As we stood to our "sallies" (the striped hand-hold of the bell rope) the ringer on the treble bell would utter the words in my heading and ringing would commence.
It all seemed incredibly complicated for a start, trying to hunt through the bells around you during the performance (compositions with names like "Grandsire Triples" and "Plain Bob Minor") and these would be written out for us to learn and understand by the tower captain in heavy pencil on the back of strips of old wallpaper. Here is a part of an example which runs for several pages:
For some, the farm labourers of this (and earlier) periods were portrayed as dull sons of the soil, but they were far from that, skilled in a multitude of now forgotten crafts and able to remember many such compositions, which could continue to ring over a long period, even hours at times. They also took a no-nonsense view of bell-ringing and you would never see them at the church service afterwards; their job was done and the pub down the street was now open!
A small badge brought back a host of memories.


Tom said...

And what wonderful memories they are. I do sometimes wonder whether, with the excessive host of silence-blanking, cortex-swamping, indiscriminate paraphernalia of modern life, memories as individual joys (or sadnesses) can exist for many people. Or is it simply an undifferentiated mush? I do hope not, for there is a time to be busy, but also a time to be observantly silent.

Anonymous said...

What lovely memories Pa.


Ring out wild bells!


Roderick Robinson said...

I take it you have read The Nine Tailors at least a dozen times.

I discovered that the act of ringing real bells - as opposed to transmitting amplified recordings of them - has been mechanised in the USA. The ringer sits in front of a giant, albeit simplified, keyboard consisting of wooden knobs, and bashes away with clenched fists. This must require immense concentration if the basher is able to hear his own music-making since there must be a significant delay (and thus an overlap) in the process.

Church bells figured rather pleasingly in a programme about music that appeared on telly in late 2011. I posted about it. Here's the link if you're interested.


Avus said...

"What is this life...." eh?

Enjoyed the link, which, as usual, led me to others like.

I had a god-mother who always gave my a wise book choice for my birthday. the year I took up bell ringing she did, indeed give me Dorothy L's "Nine Tailors" - my introduction to Lord Peter Wimsey.