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.