Thinking allowed

learning Bristol Surprise Major

It’s been a long time since I wrote here about learning a Surprise Major method. In the intervening period I’ve learnt to ring six such methods: Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Superlative, Rutland and Pudsey. These are six of the so-called “Standard Eight” Surprise Major methods, and in many ways they are quite similar to each other — Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Superlative and Rutland are all the same as Cambridge when you are above the treble [edit: this isn’t true of Superlative], and Pudsey is the same as Cambridge when you are below the treble. The other two SM methods in this Eight are Bristol and London and they are different from the others, and from each other. Several times I have sat down to learn Bristol, but not got very far. Time to put that right.

So I’ve spent an hour or so looking at the “blue line” for Bristol, as well as a couple of guides. From it I can see that:

  • Bristol is a double method, so that once you have learnt a quarter of it you should know all of it
  • There are basically three or four pieces of work that you need to learn in that quarter; I call these:
    • the “frontwork”, though you also do this at the back
    • “Stedman” and “fishtails”
    • “lightning work”

I’ll look at each of these in turn.

First we’ll look at fishtails. These are single blows where you reverse direction after each blow, so on the front it might be: lead, 2nd, lead, 2nd, lead:

x-
-x
x-
-x
x-

Next, the frontwork. Bell 2’s work consists of doing half the frontwork one way, and then mirroring it to do it the other way:

  • dodge 1-2 down with the treble
  • lead right
  • fishtails
  • lead wrong
  • out to point 4ths
  • lead right

and then do the same thing in the opposite direction:

  • out to point 4ths
  • lead wrong
  • fishtails
  • lead right
  • dodge 1-2 up with the treble

(And then, instead of making 2nd place over the treble, go out to 3rd place and become the 3rds place bell.)

Then there’s “Stedman”. This is like a whole turn in Stedman: lead two blows, point 2nd, lead two blows. As in Stedman, one of the pairs of leading will be right (i.e. handstroke followed by backstroke), and one will be wrong (i.e. backstroke followed by handstroke). But in Bristol this doesn’t just occur on the front. It’s also done in 4ths — 4th, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 4th. And because Bristol is a double method it appears at the back (8th, 8th, 7th, 8th, 8th) and in 5th place (5th, 5th, 6th, 5th, 5th). Each of these pieces of work occur twice, once with the first two blows right and the last two wrong, and once with the first two wrong and the last two right.

Armed with this information we can write out what bell 3 does:

  • dodge 3-4 up
  • 4th place
  • dodge 3-4 down with the treble
  • an extra blow in 3rd place
  • Stedman on the front
  • out to 4th place
  • Stedman in 4th place (4th, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 4th)
  • plain hunt down to …
  • fishtails on the front (2nd, lead, 2nd, lead, 2nd and out)
  • dodge 3-4 up
  • out to 5th and become 5ths place bell

We’re nearly there, and all that remains to do is to look at the “lightning work”:

  • hunt out to the back
  • one blow only at the back, then turn around and
  • hunt down with
  • two blows in 5th place
  • two blows in 4th place
  • down to the lead
  • one blow only in the lead, then turn around and
  • hunt up to 6th place

This path crosses the treble as it does the places in 4th and 5th:

--x-----
---x----
----x---
-----x--
------x-
-------x
------x-
-----x--
----x---
---1x---
---x1---
---x----
--x-----
-x------
x-------
-x------
--x-----
---x----
----x---
-----x--

That crossing point is also one of the pivot points of the method, i.e. the point where you move from doing things on the front to doing things on the back, or where the blue line rotates through 180 degrees.

Bell 5 begins with the lightning work as described above (the first three blows in the diagram are of course the last three blows of bell 3’s work).

After this point we repeat the work already described, but as places from the back, rather than places from the front. This enables us to write out a complete plain course, as is shown in the full article.

Starting on bell 2:

21------ dodge 1-2 down with treble
12------
21------ lead right
2-1-----
-2-1---- fishtails in 1-2
2-1-----
-2-1----
2---1--- lead wrong
2----1--
-2--1---
--2--1--
---2--1- point 4ths
--2----1
-2----1-
2------1 lead right
2------1
-2----1-
--2----1
---2--1- point 4ths
--2--1--
-2--1---
2----1-- lead wrong
2---1---
-2-1---- fishtails in 1-2-1
2-1-----
-2-1----
2-1----- lead right
21------
12------ dodge 1-2 up with treble
21------
12------
1-2----- out to 3rd place

and become the 3rds place bell

-1-2---- dodge 3-4 up
1-2-----
-1-2---- 4ths place and
--12----
--21---- dodge 3-4 down with treble
--12----
--21----
--2-1--- extra blow in 3rd place
-2---1--
2---1--- stedman on the front
2----1--
-2----1-
2------1
2-----1-
-2-----1
--2----1
---2--1- stedman in 4ths
---2---1
--2---1-
---2-1--
---21---
--2--1--
-2--1---
2--1---- fishtails in 1-2-1
-21-----
2--1----
-21-----
-12----- pass the treble
1--2---- dodge 3-4 up
-12-----
1--2----
1---2--- out to 5th place

and become the 5ths place bell

-1---2-- start “lightning work”
1-----2-
-1-----2
--1---2-
---1-2--
--1-2---
---12--- 5ths and 4ths around the treble:
---21--- this is a “pivot point” in the method
---2-1--
--2-1---
-2---1--
2-----1-
-2-----1
--2---1-
---2---1
----2--1 dodge 5-6 up
-----21-
----2--1
-----21-
-----12- pass the treble
----1--2 fishtails in 8-7-8
-----12-
----1--2
---1--2-
--1--2--
---12--- stedman in 5ths
--1-2---
-1---2--
1---2---
-1--2---
1----2--
1-----2-

and become the 7ths place bell

-1-----2 stedman at the back
1------2
-1----2-
--1----2
---1---2
--1---2-
---1-2--
----12-- extra blow in 6th place
----21--
----12-- dodge 5-6 down with the treble
----21--
----2-1- 5th place, and
-----2-1
----2-1- dodge 5-6 up
-----2-1
87654321 dodge 7-8 up with the treble
------12
------21
------12 and lie right
-----1-2
----1-2- fishtails in 7-8-7
-----1-2
----1-2-
---1---2 lie wrong
--1----2
---1--2-
--1--2--
-1--2--- point 5ths
1----2--
-1----2-
1------2 lie right
1------2

and become the 8ths place bell

-1----2-
1----2--
-1--2--- point 5ths
--1--2--
---1--2-
--1----2 lie wrong
---1---2
----1-2- fishtails in 7-8-7
-----1-2
----1-2-
-----1-2 lie right
------12
------21 and dodge 7-8 down with the treble
------12
------21
-----2-1
----2-1-
-----2-1 dodge 5-6 down
----2-1-
----21-- 5ths place
----12-- and dodge 5-6 up with the treble
----21--
----12--
---1-2-- extra blow in 6th place
--1---2-
---1---2 stedman at the back
--1----2
-1----2-
1------2
-1-----2
1-----2-
1----2--

and become the 6ths place bell

-1--2--- stedman in 5ths
1---2---
-1---2--
--1-2---
---12---
--1--2--
---1--2-
----1--2 fishtails at the back
-----12-
----1--2
-----12-
-----21- pass the treble
----2--1
-----21- dodge 5-6 down
----2--1 start (reverse) “lightning work”
---2---1
--2---1-
-2-----1
2-----1-
-2---1--
--2-1---
---2-1-- 4ths and 5ths around the treble
---21--- (another “pivot point” in the method)
---12---
--1-2---
---1-2--
--1---2-
-1-----2
1-----2-
-1---2--
1---2---
1--2----

and become the 4ths place bell

-12-----
1--2---- dodge 3-4 down
-12-----
-21----- pass the treble
2--1---- fishtails on the front
-21-----
2--1----
-2--1---
--2--1--
---21--- stedman in 4ths
---2-1--
--2---1-
---2---1
---2--1-
--2----1
-2-----1
2-----1- stedman on the front
2------1
-2----1-
2----1--
2---1---
-2---1--
--2-1---
--21---- extra blow in 3rds
--12----
--21---- dodge 3-4 up with the treble
--12----
-1-2---- 4ths place, and
1-2-----
-1-2---- dodge 3-4 down
1-2-----
12------

and become the 2nds place bell (which is rounds).

Also indicated in this diagram is the point, half way through the course where backward rounds are rung. As a double method, each change is the reverse of one other change, including rounds — normal, descending rounds occuring as the very last change, of course.

Another important point to note and remember is the order of place bells: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 6, 4 and back to 2. This is the same as Rutland, but different from the other Surprise Major methods looked at so far (Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Superlative and Pudsey), which follow the order 2, 6, 7, 3, 4, 8, 5 and back to 2.

Also worth noting is where the treble is passed. Most obviously this is when dodging with the treble:

  • in 1-2 down and up at the beginning and end of the frontwork on the 2nd place bell
  • in 3-4 up and down a few blows before or after those 1-2 dodges
  • in 7-8 up and down at the beginning and end of the corresponding backwork, and
  • in 5-6 down and up a few blows before or after those 7-8 dodges

The treble is also passed in the non-dodging positions of 2-3, 4-5 and 6-7 up and down:

  • 4-5 — in the middle of the lightning work when passing from the two blows in 5ths to the two blows in 4ths (as 5th place bell), or vice versa (as 6th place bell)
  • 2-3 and 6-7 — either end of the two sets of lightning work, between the lightning work and the fishtails before and after.

2 comments

  • Simon Kershaw says:

    And a month later it was time for the district quarterly surprise major practice. It was 11 November, Armistice Day, and the bells were already half-muffled for that day and for Remembrance Sunday. That probably made ringing difficult methods a bit harder still. Having rung Lincolnshire and Cambridge, and Superlative, it was decided to ring Bristol. I got to ring the 3, with a minder standing behind me.

    Off we went, and I missed a fishtail and my minder put me right. 5ths place bell and I got slightly muddled towards the end — I’ve a feeling I did blows in 4th place instead of 6th in the Stedman in 4/5, stupid, but at least I was right again after doing it. The conductor called out “7ths place bell now” and I was able to continue. From there on it went pretty well, and I don’t think I made another mistake, through the 8th, 6th 4th and 2nd and back to 3rd and rounds.

    Afterwards everyone congratulated me, and I thought it not too bad for a very first attempt. I certainly wasn’t the only one who needed to be put right.

    As always, knowing the blue line, even knowing it very well, and actually ringing it are rather different things. The bells come at you from unexpected directions, so you have to be very alert. Fortunately I had learnt two other things in addition to the line itself: I knew where I dodged with or otherwise crossed the treble; and I knew which strokes were handstrokes and which were backstrokes. Both of these were great helps when ringing. My confusion near the start was partly because I lost the handstroke/backstroke pattern. Once I regained it I was much better.

    And, as always, what this needs is practice, though sadly there isn’t a great deal of opportunity to ring this method except at these quarterly practices.

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