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.