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The Structure of Bristol Surprise Major

Some 18 months ago, I described learning Bristol Surprise Major. I haven’t rung very much of it since then, but I want to look at its structure — what the different bells are doing and how it fits together. Because it’s really very simple, and can be described in a few short sentences:

  1. The treble always treble bobs, out to the back, and then back down to the front, over and over again.
  2. The other bells work together, either as a group on the front four, or as a group on the back four, and from time to time a bell moves from the front group to the back group, or vice versa.
    So far so good, now for the clever part:
  3. All the bells in the group that contains the treble simply treble-bob inside that group, in phase with the treble, up and down or down and up, until the treble crosses to the other group.
  4. The four bells in the other group (the one without the treble) just plain hunt; and every time the treble (which is in the other group) moves from one dodging position to another, the four plain-hunting bells switch from hunting “right” (where “leading” and “lying” are made at hand and back) to hunting “wrong” (where “leading” and “lying” are made at back and hand) or vice versa. See below for an explanation of moving from one dodging position to another and of “leading” and “lying”.
  5. There are three occasions when a bell, other than the treble, passes from one group to the other.
    1. When the treble itself moves from one group to the other, a bell from the other group must move in the opposite direction;
    2. When the treble leads or lies, the two bells that are in 4-5 swap places.

And that’s it. Now you understand how Bristol Surprise Major works.

Before moving on, an explanation or clarification of the words moving from one dodging position to another. The treble dodges 1-2 up, and then moves to dodge 3-4 up, and then to dodge 5-6 up. The four strokes when it is in 3-4 are one dodging position, and the four strokes when it is in 5-6 are the next dodging position. The point at which the treble moves from one dodging position to the next is called a cross-section.

At the lead-end and the half-lead, the method is symmetric as the treble leads or lies at the back, and so the plain-hunting bells do not change direction. The treble is considered to be in the same dodging position (1-2) all the time that it is dodging 1-2 down, leading, and dodging 1-2 up at the front, and similarly in the 7-8 dodging position all the time that it is dodging 7-8 up, lying, and dodging 7-8 down at the back. Expressing that slightly differently, at the front and back, the treble spends eight strokes in the same dodging position: eight strokes in 1-2 (when it is dodging 1-2 down, leading, and dodging 1-2 up); and eight strokes in 7-8 (when it is dodging 7-8 up, lying, and dodging 7-8 down). So when the treble is at the front or the back, the bells that are respectively at the back or the front all plain hunt for eight blows before changing direction. We’ll see this more clearly when we trace out the work of each bell.

It’s also worth noting that “leading” and “lying” are in quotation marks, because this term here includes leading and lying within each group of four. So if while plain hunting you are making two blows in fourth place this is included in “lying” because you are lying at the back of your group of four; and similarly if while plain hunting you are making two blows in fifth place this is included in “leading” because you are leading your group of four.

With that introduction, we can look at how the bells interact with each other and with the treble.

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