Among bellringers there’s a keen interest in ringing at as many towers as possible. Partly this is an obsession known as ‘tower-grabbing’, which is frowned-on; but it’s also very good practice to ring on as many different bells in as many different situations as you can. Getting round the ringing community is also good for supporting other towers and building friendships… and for collecting stories for gossiping after practices.
Here is a list of towers I have rung at, roughly but not exactly in chronological order. There’s actually less about the bells than I might like, but it’s not always good form to disturb everyone by demanding to ‘go up and have a look’ at the end of a practice. But I have listed the numbers and tenor weights, which will satisfy some of my keen readers…
1. Bishop’s Cleeve, St Michael & All Angels: 8, 19 cwt
I count Bishop’s Cleeve as my ‘home’ tower, though Wellington has been been home for almost 3 years as I write this. Certainly it was at Cleeve that I learned the basics and made most of my early mistakes – though I’ve never broken a stay there.
The band at Bishop’s Cleeve are a wonderful bunch; the bells too are absolutely lovely. I miss them a lot!
2. Tewkesbury Abbey, St Mary: 12 (+1), 27 cwt
Tewkesbury is my nearest ‘really skilled’ tower, a lovely set of of 12 (+1), beautifully hung, in a gorgeous building. The band set a high standard, and as soon as I was fit to be let out from Cleeve practice on Wednesdays I was carted off over the Cheltenham-Tewkesbury Branch border for Thursday practice. The only drawback is … 160 steps up to the ringing room!
I’ve rung for many weddings here, though not any Quarters.
And here are a couple of Tewkesbury Quarter Peal bands: all very fine ringers.
3. Ashchurch, St Nicholas: 8, 11 cwt
After Tewkesbury Abbey on Thursdays came – obviously – Ashchurch on Fridays. Ashchurch is almost part of Tewkesbury and curiously is the only 8 in the Tewkesbury Branch – all the rest are 6s. So there’s a strong focus on Ashchurch for learning and skills-development. I’ve rung for many weddings and services here; I also rang my almost first Quarter of Grandsire Triples … sadly a mis-call meant we crashed after about 1245 courses of the required 1260.
Whatever charm the building has, the tower staircase is just about the narrowest and most difficult I’ve ever been up. Happily it’s only about 12 steps.
4. Swindon Village, St Lawrence: 6, 10 cwt
Back in my home branch of Cheltenham, my first foray outside Bishop’s Cleeve was to Swindon Village. The reason was largely that the practice was on Monday night, and it wasn’t too far away – but the Swindon Village experience is quite a shock. It’s more like ringing in the bottom of a ship, with only a wooden floor between you and the bells. Everything shakes and wobbles, and it’s held together by an iron frame at just above head height that you can quite easily bang your knuckles on.
Not surprisingly, given they’re so hard to ring, this is where I cracked – though I didn’t break – my first stay.
At the time of writing, Dove’s Guide reports Swindon Village as having ‘one (or more) cracked’. It doesn’t say whether ringing has stopped, though I’d be surprised; there’s a bit of a dogged determination to keep ringing going here for SUnday evening services though there aren’t many really local ringers.
5. London (Westminster), St Clement Danes: 10, 21 cwt
St Clement Danes was a mistake. Too early in my ringing career, I was in London at King’s College and came out of an evening talk … hearing the bells, I naturally dashed into the nearby church, raced up the stairs and said ‘I’m a ringer’. Some very very long ropes later, and completely unable to control them, I realised I would never be a ringer. I slunk miserably away.
But the church is gorgeous.
6. Kemerton, St Nicholas: 6, 12 cwt
Kemerton was, I think, part of a Tewkesbury Branch outing. I can’t remember anything of it other than that these bells are regarded as hard to ring and not much liked … but here is the church anyway.
7. Deerhurst, St Mary: 6, 10 cwt
Deerhurst has a two-room ringing chamber, with 4 bell ropes in one room and 2 in the other. Happily the two rooms are connected and there are only bits of wall between them on either side, but ropesight can still be a bit of a challenge.
8. Tredington, St John the Baptist: 6, 7 cwt
Tredington is a ground-floor ring – the first I’d come across. You pay for that with some rather long ropes, but apart from that it’s all pleasant enough. The church does have its oddities, though – like a curiously sticky-out wooden tower and some very odd plaster casts in the walls.
9. Iron Acton, St James the Less: 6, 15 cwt
Early in my career it seemed a training course with actual ringing might be a bit too advanced; but a Bell Maintenance course might be good for helping me understand what goes on up above our heads. Iron Acton and Winterbourne were on the agenda, and there was much climbing around the bells. We did manage to turn these bells over a little, and I think we actually did some call changes at Winterbourne, so it was a good day.
10. Winterbourne, St Michael: 6, 20 cwt
Part of the work at Winterbourne was to remove, re-grease the bearings on, and then re-install, the clapper. I think this was the most scary thing I’ve ever done in a bell tower, because it fell to me to hold the clapper when the bolts were removed. Twisted up under a bell, holding something you think is going to smash through your arms, is not a pleasant experience.
11. Colliers Wood, Christ Church: 6, 6 cwt
Around 2009 I was working mainly in London, so I still hadn’t really explored the Cheltenham circuit. Despite my bad experience at St Clement Danes I looked around for some London practices during the week and found three towers which ended up suiting me rather well. I suspect happily I landed on ‘ordinary’ bands, not the terribly high standard College Youths – but over about 3 years these three kind groups of people were good friends to me, and they taught me a lot about ringing.
Colliers Wood has the rare distinction of different-coloured sallies. In fact they reflect the colours of the Tube (Underground) Lines – yellow for the Circle Line, green for the District Line, etc. When I rang there I’m sure they were solid colours, but they seem to have replaced them now with stripey ones.
12. London, St Botolph, Aldgate: 8, 25 cwt
I’ve a great affection for the band at St Botolph’s: I rang there on many Friday nights and a couple of Sunday mornings; we’ve also eaten many chips and drunk a few pints at the Goodman’s Field pub.
The bells at St Botolph are old and heavy, and hard to ring well; the tower also sways unnervingly.
13. Holy Trinity, Clapham Common: 6, 6 cwt
My third London ‘home’ in 2010 was Holy Trinity at Clapham Common: again lovely bells and a friendly band, practicing on Tuesday nights. Holy Trinity was an important centre for William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect in their fight against slavery: the church remembers that heritage proudly today and continues the fight against modern-day slavery.
14. Caterham, St John the Evangelist: 8, 12 cwt
The next 5 towers were grabbed on an outing from St Botolph’s. First was Caterham…
15. Redhill, St John the Evangelist: 8, 13 cwt
Some ringing rooms feel airy with stone vaulting and windows opening onto wide countryside: others feel mosr like wooden boxes. Redhill has one of the latter, with rather too much wood panelling and a boxed-in feel. But someone has tried to lighten the mood a bit…
The church also has a gorgeous font. I understand these figures are not so unusual – they weren’t exactly churned out, but the Victorians were rather good as mass-producing church stuff – but nevertheless it’s a very good piece.
16. Nutfield, St Peter & St Paul: 6, 11 cwt
17. Godstone, St Nicholas: 8, 12 cwt
An impressive church, but just a sigle photograph. I suspect by now the excitement of a day’s Outing was beginning to wear off…!
18. Limpsfield Chart, St Andrew: 6, 10 cwt
Limpsfield Chart has a wonderful tower, but you can only get to it by climbing up a ladder and over the roof!
Apart from the roof-climb, what I remember most about the ringing here is that I was absolutely exhausted and got shouted at because my tenoring-behind wasn’t very good. Ah well… at least we got a nice photo of everyone at the end of the day.
19. Elkstone, St John the Evangelist: 6, 11 cwt
Excursions round my home (Cheltenham) Branch continued slowly on, with Elkstone a surprising early one. Why on earth Elkstone… so far away, so remote and so insignificant? I think there was a Branch Practice there one Tuesday night, and I went along to see what a Branch Practice was like. Actually I seem to remember being so scared off that I vowed I’d never go to another one … though in the course of time I did.
20. Bourton on the Water, St Lawrence: 8, 12 cwt
The next 3 churches were an Outing from Bishop’s Cleeve, one sunny summer Saturday. St Lawrence’s Bourton is a strange mix architecturally: clearly an old (though patched-up) main body of the church, with a Georgian (17/1800s?) tower build on at the end.
Inside, I remember this as almost the first occasion I corrected one of our senior ringers. It was only something like ‘I think the 8’s up wrong’, or ‘that’s not the 8, it’s the 6’, but after the other party said the usual ‘don’t be daft, what would you know’ it turned out I was right!
21. Lower Slaughter, St Mary: 6, 5 cwt
Lower Slaughter village is one of the gems of the Cotswolds – a chocolate-box scene with stone cottages and a lovely stream running in front of them. Busloads of tourists discharge on 10-minute intervals, snap away with their cameras, and then rush off to Bourton on the Water which is similarly beautiful.
St Mary’s church is part of the gorgeousness, though rumour has it that the top part of the spire is a fibreglass replacement and is not ageing well. See what you think…
22. Guiting Power, St Michael: 6, 6 cwt
Last on this little outing (though not quite last… see below) was Guiting Power.
23. Buckland, St Michael: 6, 14 cwt
My very slow progress round Cheltenham Branch took me to another Branch Practice on a sunny Saturday afternoon in 2011 to learn how to call changes on the six bells at Buckland. I didn’t learn very well – it’s really quite hard to think what you want to call, and then to call it at the right time, and to remember to ring your own bell while you do it. But it was good fun for a couple of hours, and I’m sure it’ll come right some day.
Banwell, St Andrew: 10, 23 cwt
An outing with the Tewkesbury Branch took me to 5 towers around Weston super Mare. It was pleasant enough, but I also learned an important thing about outings … unless you know the group well, it’s hard to judge in advance just what the “character” of the day will be. It’s as well not to expect too much, and not to push yourself too hard.
Being a whole Branch (i.e. not just one tower) we had a bus-load of people, most of whom were determined to do their bit of ringing at each and every tower. So it became a bit of a scrum to get in and out, and as an outsider I felt I had to wait my place. It also didn’t help that I’d had a really bad night at Ashchurch the night before, so I was already thinking “shall I just give this up…?”
About 30 of us piled into St Andrew’s, and the less-skilled got their chance to do rounds and call changes, with me standing rather forlornly at the back. With 10 bells it was all a bit fearsome, with a lot of shouting and general fuss – not of course, unfamiliar to the Abbey crowd, but it all felt a bit intimidating to me. Then more learners did more rounds and call changes. And then the serious work began. And then…well, I could see the dynamic at work. The beginners had to have their go again. Short of pushing myself through the crowd of people I didn’t know, and risking horrible public failure in front of 30 people, I wasn’t going to be ringing here. Best beat a retreat, and mark this off as a tower I haven’t rung at. And at least the church was pretty.
Worle, St Martin: 6, 9 cwt
By the time we got to Worle I was feeling good and miserable, and the tower there was much smaller – and so even more crowded. I looked in, and then I left to sit in the churchyard and make some phone calls. So … another tower I haven’t rung at.
24. Weston super Mare, St John the Baptist: 8, 11 cwt
Weston started off with a dismal stroll along the pier and the beach, and then lunch. I found plenty to dislike about the place – the strange layout of the town, no maps, the miserable cold weather, the stupid tourists, the lack of any decent shops, the sense of destitution as I got lost going back to the bus, etc etc – but by the end of it all I found I’d worked through the misery a bit. I was already late for the ringing, and as I trudged back to the church I could hear something going really badly – so I thought ‘you know you can at least do rounds and call changes, and do them better than this.’ So I joined the ringing half an hour late and acquitted myself competently. And this counts as a tower I have rung at.
25. Portishead, St Peter: 8, 15 cwt
Reinvigorated by Weston super Mare (and perhaps because by now everyone else was thinking they’d had enough ringing for the day), Portishead was a good experience.
26. Chevening, St Botolph – 8, 10cwt
I’ve already written about the lovely people at Clapham Common, and they came up with the bright idea that if I was free I could join them for their outing. Was I free? You bet! The trip was based round north Kent and Sussex, an area which can feel surprisingly remote. First stop was Chevening, which on a chilly damp morning definitely feels like a tiny rural survivor from the Viking age.
27. Kemsing, St Mary: 6, 4 cwt
28, Stansted, St Mary: 6, 5 cwt
30. Eynsford, St Martin: 8, 9 cwt
31. Farnborough, St Peter & St Paul: 6, 9 cwt
34. Woolstone, St Martin of Tours: 8, 4 cwt
And so we come to our own little church of Woolstone and its 6 bells. It seems amazing that it’s taken so long to get round to ringing here, but although there were practices for younger people we didn’t really have a regular arrangement set up for adult ringers until recently. Actually at the time of writing we still don’t – but I’m promised some speed-learning is in progress and by 11 November 2011 (St Martin’s Day) we’ll have a regular arrangement going.
34. Cheltenham, St Mary – 12, 23cwt
And so we
Bicycle Ring – and lots of other Cheltenham towers
Outing from 2017
Wellington, NZ – Cathedral of St Paul
Wellington, NZ – Old St Paul’s
Wellington, NZ – John David Mini-Ring
Hamilton, NZ – St Peter’s Cathedral
Hamilton, NZ – Mini-Ring