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.
Ringing starts with the bells upside-down (mouth upwards). Each bell has a "stopper" (called a stay) that allows it to rest in this position ready to be used. When the ringer pulls the rope, the bell topples over the balance point and begins to swing around. No sound is generated until almost the end of the swing, when the bell is nearly upright once again (the other way around). At this point the clapper, which is inside the bell, swings across and hits the bell near the lip. A swinging bell creates a sound of harmonic richness that cannot be matched by a fixed bell struck with a hammer.
Instinctive control of the bell around the balance point is a very satisfying skill to have and is critical for the English art of change ringing.
It takes around two seconds for a bell to swing through a full circle. 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" (see below) 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!
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 64. 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.
Many people ring as a contribution to church and community life; others enjoy learning a traditional skill that 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.
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.
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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
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.