Thinking allowed


I have moved the saga of my learning to ring bells out of this blog and into A Bellringer’s Progress. I don’t suppose anyone really cares, but although bellringing requires quite a bit of thinking and it is almost entirely practised in Anglican churches, it probably doesn’t really belong here on Thinking Anglicans.


The Nine Tailors

Cover design of the Folio Society edition of The Nine Tailors

Cover design of the Folio Society edition of The Nine Tailors

One of the things that long ago sparked an interest in bellringing (for we had no bells at the church I worshipped at as a child) was Dorothy L Sayers The Nine Tailors, which I saw in the BBC tv adaptation, featuring Ian Carmichael, in the mid 1970s.

It was many years, though, before I read the book, in the lovely Folio Society edition (pictured right), but now I belong to a reading group, which is currently looking at this book. Although I have read it a couple of times before, this is the first time I have read it since I learned to ring, and I have been writing posts explaining about bellringing. For probably all non-bellringing readers of The Nine Tailors, the details of the ringing included in the book are pretty opaque — they add lots of colour, but are largely incomprehensible. And the chapter titles all involve puns on ringing expressions and the like, and these puns are missed without some knowledge of ringing.

Since I have lived for many years on the edge of the fenland area where the book is set I have a second interest and specialist subject area as well, and on Saturday I got out the car and drove around some of the area, concentrating on the start and end of the Old Bedford and New Bedford Rivers, between Earith and Denver, taking lots of pictures. I shall have to plan another excursion in order to get some angel roof churches (March and Upwell, especially) and some pictures of fenland roads and other general scenery.

Perhaps I should turn the bellringing notes and the fenland pictures into a website about The Nine Tailors. Meanwhile, I have uploaded the pictures here.

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bobs in Grandsire

I need to get my head around bobs in Grandsire Triples.

In Grandsire, the treble always plain hunts, and in a plain course one other bell plain hunts after it — bell 2 when starting from rounds. This other bell is said to be ‘in the hunt’. At a bob this bell leaves the hunt and joins the other bells in hunting and dodging, and one of the other bells joins the hunt in its place. How does this work?

If we are ringing bell 3, then starting from rounds we ring one blow at handstroke in third place and then hunt down to the lead, up to the back, and down again. Then we dodge in 4-5 down. The plain course continues with dodges in 6-7 down, 6-7 up, and 4-5 up. Then we make 3rds place, which brings us back to rounds.

When a bob is called the dodges are changed in the following way: the bell making 3rds place is unaffected and each of the other bells skips the dodge it would have done and instead double dodges the next dodge, so to speak. This has the following effect:

  • if we were going to make 3rds, then make 3rds as normal (‘last thirds’)
  • if we were going to dodge 4-5 down, then instead double-dodge 6-7 down
  • if we were going to dodge 6-7 down, then instead double-dodge 6-7 up
  • if we were going to dodge 6-7 up, then instead double-dodge 4-5 up


  • if we were going to dodge 4-5 up, then instead make 3rds place (‘first 3rds’) and join the hunt

and conversely

  • if we were in the hunt, then instead double-dodge 4-5 down, leaving the hunt.

In this bob, two bells each make 3rds place — first the bell which would have dodged 4-5 up, but which makes 3rds and goes into the hunt. This bell makes ‘first 3rds’ at the bob. Secondly, the bell which was going to make 3rds anyway — it does so and continues in the normal way, unaffected by the bob. This bell makes ‘last 3rds’ at the bob.

When set down in this way it is fairly easy to remember. All that has to be done is to remember this in the heat of the moment: that is, know which dodge you are about to do next, and consider in advance what you must do if a bob happens to be called. There, touches of Grandsire Triples made easy! Except that we have not yet considered the question of calls of ‘Single!’.

Footnote (24 August 2004): A further point about bobs in Grandsire Triples, is that when a bob is called you double-dodge in the place you are in at the moment of the call (unless you were going to dodge 4-5 up, in which case you make 3rds and go into the hunt).

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Stedman and Grandsire

Had a few more attempts at ringing Stedman at Hemingford Grey last night. We rang a couple of plain courses of doubles: first time I rang bell number 2, and afterwards I tried number 3. Both times I got it right. Later in the evening — after more ringers had turned up — we rang triples. I rang bell 4, and started off making a mess of things. I was immediately put right by the conductor (‘lead now!’), and from then on I was okay. I realized at the time that I had probably gone wrong in exactly the same way as I had done the very first time I had tried to ring Stedman. But I could not see at all what I was doing wrong.

Later, when driving home, I worked out what I had probably done on both occasions. Bell number 4 starts by dodging once with 5 (i.e., from ringing in 4th place at rounds, you ring one blow in 5th, one blow in 4th, and then ‘go in slow’, that is, two blows in 3rd place and down to the lead). I had forgotten to do the dodge with 5, instead trying to go in slow immediately with the two blows in 3rd place. Obviously something to remember — not just ‘go in slow’, but ‘dodge 4/5 down’ first.

We also tried to ring a touch of Grandsire Triples, with me ringing bell 6. In a plain course of Grandsire Triples there are dodges in 4/5 up, 6/7 up, 6/7 down, 4/5 down, and then make 3rds. But I haven’t got the hang of bobs in this method yet. Ringing 6 the first dodge is in 6/7 up, but a bob called before this means do a double-dodge in 4/5 up; another bob was called as I was about to make 3rd — which is unaffected by the call. We did this a couple of times, then a bob was called in some other position, and I was somewhat lost. We struggled to the finishing post which was by then in sight. More work needed to understand bobs in Grandsire…


ringing Stedman

After some hints at last Wednesday’s practice at Hemingford Grey, I have spent a while getting to grips with Stedman, a method (or rather a principle) devised in the 1670s. A couple of things helped me. First, when I began to learn to ring, Stedman was the first method that I learnt to ring a cover bell to, and one of the things I did was to learn the pattern in which pairs of bells come to the back. In a notebook I had sketched this out, writing out a plain course of the last two bells — the first time I had done this. The second help was that I spent an hour each way on the train to London, and decided to use it to work out the full plain course for Stedman Doubles. Turning to the back of the notebook I had with me I found my notes of 18 months earlier which I had entirely forgotten about.

Stedman is based on the two orders in which you can arrange six bells. There are only six ways you can arrange six bells, and in ringing there are only two ways of arranging these six different changes, since a bell can only exchange places with its nearest neighbour (or stay in the same place). These two ways can be considered as: ‘forward hunting’ in which the bell in first place hunts to third place, and then down to the front again; and ‘backward hunting’ where the bell in third place hunts down to the front, leads, and hunts back up to third place again. Stedman consists of each of these ‘sixes’ performed alternately. At the end of each ‘six’ the bell in third place moves out of the front three into fourth place, and the bell which was in fourth place moves down to take its place. And during each ‘six’ the bells in fourth and fifth places dodge with each other.

Armed with this information, you can then work out a plain course of Stedman Doubles, or indeed Triples.


Then came the moment of truth, this Wednesday. ‘Did you have a look at Stedman?’ I am asked. ‘Right, we’ll ring Stedman Triples.’ So we rang Stedman Triples — and I made a complete hash of it. Very annoying, having put some effort into thoroughly learning the ‘blue line’, and knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing — but actually trying to remember that and ring at the same time was too much. Later in the practice we had another go, with me again ringing bell number 4. This time — I got it right, and we rang a plain course of Stedman Triples without me going wrong. I guess my striking could have been better, but I never lost my place, knew what I should be doing, and was always more or less in the right place. Phew! Now to do it a lot better.



For quite a while now practice has involved ringing touches of bob doubles, minor, triples, and even bob major, in which the conductor has called various bobs. So it came as something of a surprise tonight when a ‘single’ was called a short way into a touch of bob triples. Of course, I had no idea what to do, and as I was (or should have been) affected by the call, since I would otherwise have been dodging 3/4 up, the whole thing went wrong. Oh well, that’s what practice nights are for.

So we had another go, after it was explained what I should be doing: if dodging 3/4 up then instead make fourth’s place, hunt to the front, and next time dodge 5/6 down; and if dodging 3/4 down then make third’s place, hunt to the back and next time make second’s place. In other words, the bells that would otherwise be dodging 3/4 up and 3/4 down effectively swap places. And it worked! We got through the touch without further errors, a single being called twice with me affected. Phew!

So in theory I can now ring any touch of Plain Bob. We shall see.


taking a practice

This evening for the first time I had to lead bellringing practice. We only had six ringers (seven ringers for the first half), and just one of those was an experienced ringer, former tower captain Bob King. So we rang rounds and call changes for the seven of us, and plain hunting on four for the five of us. Our two less-experienced plain hunters had only done this on the treble before, so after a few goes at this, we had each of them have a try at the second bell, with me ringing the tenor behind. After a little while at this for each of them, we were able to plain hunt on five without the tenor covering. And I got quite a bit of practice at calling ‘go’ and ‘stop’ — the latter being the harder one to know when to call!


calling plain courses

For some time now I have been practising ringing touches of bob doubles, and even bob minor, bob triples and bob major. I have mostly got the hang of the necessary dodges, and can start on any bell, and I can usually cope with the calls of bob, though I can only do this by remembering the sequence, or cycle of work, and not by noticing signposts such as when I cross the treble’s path (although this is occasionally obvious, especially when making 2nds’ place). And in the even-bell methods, where there is no cover bell always in last place from which to lead, I can now usually see the last bell rope go down, so that I can lead appropriately.

Tonight I got to ‘call’ various plain courses of bob doubles, bob triples and bob minor. The hard part at this stage is to know when to call the end of the method — calls should be made when the lead bell is at handstroke, a full stroke before the method ends, and where your bell is at this point depends on which bell you are ringing. Of course, harder than this is calling a touch with bobs (and singles) and getting back to rounds at the end of it; and being able to correct other ringers if they are about to go wrong. I’m definitely a long way from that. Still, progress is being made.

Now we have two of our ‘new’ ringers who can just about ring touches of plain bob doubles and triples, and we have four who can, with varying degrees of success, plain hunt to these (and other) methods. We need to get some of these other ringers to be able to ring ‘inside’ to plain bob — then we will be able to try plain courses on Sunday mornings and weddings when we are not assisted by more experienced ringers.


Sydney Carter

Today’s Telegraph carries the obituary of Sydney Carter, best known as the writer of The Lord of the Dance — written in 1963 and described in the obituary as ‘the most celebrated religious song of the 20th century’.

Carter, who died on Saturday 13 March, was much more than the writer of this song — he was a poet, and he wrote folk songs, as well as other religious songs and hymns such as One More Step and When I Needed a Neighbour.

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bestselling artist of all time?

The BBC website reports that this accolade is claimed (by the publisher) for Annie Vallotton.

Who’s Annie Vallotton you might ask?

She is the Swiss woman who illustrated the Good News Bible in the 1970s.

Sample quote:

One of the most memorable examples is of the crucifixion in Luke’s gospel. The thorn-crowned head hangs forward, below the single line of the shoulder. Above it, two right-angles are the cross.
Somehow this plain sketch conveys the desolation of Jesus far more powerfully than two hours of Mel Gibson’s blood-spattered film, The Passion of the Christ.