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. In the first column I have marked wheth­er a stroke is at back­stroke, b, or hand­stroke, h, and the blank lines are marked with le for the lead end, hl for the half-lead (the treble in 8th place), or x for the cross-sec­tion (when the treble moves from one dodging pois­i­tion 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.

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