Thinking allowed

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.

For convenience we start at the point where the treble moves from the front to the back, so that we are considering each of the two parts of the method. And for clarity we leave a gap at each cross-section as the treble moves from one dodging position to the next.

b 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
le
h 1
b 1
h 1
x
b 1
h 1
b 1
h 1
x
b 5 1 7 8 6 7 dodges down with treble in 5-6; 8 & 6 dodge at the back
h 7 1 6 8
b 1 7 8 6
h 7 1 6 8
x
b 7 6 1 8 8 dodges down with the treble at the back; 7 & 6 dodge in 5-6
h 6 7 8 1
b 7 6 1 8
h 5 6 7 8 1 approaching half-lead: bell in 5th place drops down to the front 4;
hl bell in 4th place comes out to the back 4
b 6 5 8 7 1 7 dodges up with the treble at the back; 5 & 8 dodge in 5-6
h 8 5 1 7
b 5 8 7 1
h 8 5 1 7
x
b 8 1 5 7 8 dodges up with the treble in 5-6; 5 & 7 dodge at the back
h 1 8 7 5
b 8 1 5 7
h 6 1 8 7 5
x
b 1 6 8 5 7 treble goes down to the front 4; 6 comes up
h 1 6 5 8 7 back four bells all plain hunt wrong (b&h)
b 1 5 6 7 8
h 1 5 7 6 8
x
b 1 7 5 8 6 back four bells all plain hunt right (h&b)
h 1 5 7 6 8
b 1 5 6 7 8
h 1 3 6 5 8 7 approaching lead end: bell in 5th place drops down to the front 4;
x bell in 4th place comes out to the back 4
b 1 6 3 8 5 7 lead end
le
le 5 6 7 8 new place bells for this lead
h 1 6 5 8 7 back four bells all plain hunt right (h&b)
b 1 6 8 5 7
h 1 8 6 7 5
x
b 1 6 8 5 7 back four bells all plain hunt wrong (b&h)
h 1 6 5 8 7
b 1 5 6 7 8
h 1 5 7 6 8
x
b 5 1 7 8 6 7 dodges down with treble in 5-6; 8 & 6 dodge at the back

And we can do the same on the front to complete the work of all the bells. This will be a mirror image of the courses shown at the back.

In practice, ringers don’t consider all the pieces I describe above as treble-bobbing as really treble-bobbing, but as “fishtails”, but taken in four-row chunks that is essentially what they are. Similarly the patterns formed by the change in direction of the plain-hunting work are called “Stedman”.

In a future post, I will compare the structure of Bristol and Lancashire, and see how similar they are to each other. I’ll also see how London can be looked at in the same way.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *