A right old Christmas ding dong at Rendham!

PUBLISHED: 11:57 21 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013

Photograph by SARAH LUCY BROWN

Photograph by SARAH LUCY BROWN

Rendham bellringers Jonathan and Suzanne Stevens, Martin Croucher, John Massey, Sally Mason, Ian Wright and Michael Peters are likely to be busy over Christmas and New Year.

Rendham bellringers Jonathan and Suzanne Stevens, Martin Croucher, John Massey, Sally Mason, Ian Wright and Michael Peters are likely to be busy over Christmas and New Year. Here they tell us about the fun and skills of campanology - and the odd occasion when it doesnt all ring true . . .

How did you become interested in bell-ringing?
Jonathan Stevens: As a lad at Sweffling when the church tower was made safe, I joined a group of other youngsters being taught by Michael Peters of Benhall. The skills I learned at 14 have given me nearly 40 years of entertainment.

Suzanne Stevens: My brother who was five and a half years older than me, learned to ring in our village, so of course it was something I wanted to do too. Thirty five years later, I am still ringing!

Martin Croucher: Back in 1979, our family emigrated from the suburbs of Ipswich to rural Rendham. The small community included those who originated from the village and incomers like us. There was an age gap the older original inhabitants some of whom had rung the bells in the square tower of St Michaels church, Rendham, and we the younger ones, most of whom had not (rung the bells). But one of the young dads had an interest and sparked it off in some of us other young dads. So a band was started, continuing, after some help from experienced bell ringers at Aldeburgh.

John Massey: My mother was a bell ringer. I heard the bells and thought I would do as she did, so I gave it a go.

Sally Mason: Originally in my teens as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award and later dragged to the bell tower in 2002 by my mum to give it another go!

What are your day jobs?
We are a mixed group - domestic and ecclesiastical. Theres a furniture designer, a teacher, a teaching assistant, a teacher and legal assistant, a retired chartered civil and structural engineer
a machine operator/driver and a gardener

How often do you meet?
As a band usually twice a week; practice night Friday 6-7 pm at Rendham and on a Sunday to ring before the service.

What are the skills involved?
Hand/eye co-ordination, rhythm, listening and teamwork.

Suzanne: To learn to handle a bell you need the ability to listen to instruction and act upon it. Once you can handle a bell, you need to be able to count forwards and backwards, and to listen carefully to really hear the bells and their position. What we are aiming for is very accurate placing of the bells so the sound is metronomically rhythmic. As every bell is different, sometimes at each stroke, this can be a challenge, but that is the ultimate aim.

Martin: Self discipline, ability to pay attention, and willingness to be apart of a team. Listening and observing.

Sally: Practice, practice, practice; listen and learn. Try to remain calm, concentrate and keep trying. Anyone can do it if they are physically able.

Ian Wright: Hearing the bells and feeling.

Michael Peters: Feeling the bell, seeing the ropes, listening to the striking of the bells.

Is it easy to get new members?
With so much else to do, it can be hard to recruit, but we find, once someone has been welcomed into the tower, they tend to stick with us.

Suzanne: It is a perennial challenge to get and keep new members. If people learn as teenagers they can develop the skills more quickly but pressure of coursework and exams and other social events can encroach on ringing time. Then they go away to university and someone else has the benefit of your teaching! Older people can find it harder to learn the skills initially but can be very dedicated. A happy ringing room has a combination of good teaching, teamwork and camaraderie, and if this all works, people stay, which in turn encourages others to join. Rendham is a growing band for just this reason.

Sally: No, because a lot of people think it is connected to religion and its a geeky thing to do. Plus its not easy so people give up!

Presumably you protect your ears while ringing?
There is a sound-room between the bells and ringing chamber that is used to modulate the bells volume. If they are too loud there are good practical solutions to sort this. It is important that the ringers can hear the bells clearly and evenly.

Suzanne: In the majority of towers this is unnecessary. There is usually quite a distance between you and the bells. In fact, in some towers bells have to be piped', that is have a pipe brought down from the bell nearer to the ringing room so that the bell can be heard properly. The sound management is effectively done further up v in the tower to achieve a balance of sound outside. The aim is for people in the immediate vicinity not to be deafened, but for the sound to carry as far as possible so that everyone is aware of the church being alive and well. The Suffolk Guild Technical Advisor can give advice on sound management.

Martin: No, that would be counterproductive as ringing involves eyesight and hearing.

Sally: No as in most towers its not that noisy, the bells are up in the top of the tower and the ringing chamber is below its far louder outside.

Ian: No. You need to hear bells as well as ringing them.

Michael: No, they are less noisy than the nagging wife!

Is there a lot of demand for your bell ringing over Christmas and New Year?
In Ipswich we try to ring all the bells on the Saturday before Christmas. Typically there are lots of services to ring for, as well as the New Year.

Suzanne: Yes! We try to ring for every service, so even in a small parish this can mean ringing for a carol service, a crib service and for the midnight service on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas morning. Some towers ring in the New Year which usually involves some partying as well. It is quite special to meet and ring in the middle of the night. The Millennium was also my older sons tenth birthday so he rang his new decade in at the same time as the 21st century!

Martin: The demand usually depends upon what is needed by the church but ringing the New Year in can be great fun (in the tower and in the pub afterwards).

Sally: We ring on Christmas day (nearest I get to going to a service) and on New Years Eve at midnight. Its a privilege to be able to ring at these times! We are more in demand to ring at weddings during the summer which is quite a commitment because it is normally in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and there is a fair amount of waiting around.

Any mishaps, bizarre happenings while you have been ringing?
There are many tales, particularly events which happen during a long piece of ringing called a peal. One ringer was embarrassed to find his trousers heading south and they finally fell down completely. I was ringing in a peal once, and someone came and shouted at us from outside that we had been ringing for hours and that he was going to throw a brick through the window. I was ringing just inside the window, so it was rather worrying and difficult to concentrate, but he went away in the end. The thing is, ringing is not like playing a piece of music where you can stop and start again in the same place. If the ringing goes wrong, you have to start again from the beginning. No-one would consider walking into an orchestral concert and being rude to the orchestra!

Martin: We live opposite St Michaels church and one day we heard the bells ringing after which there was a knock on the front door. We opened it to find standing there an old friend we had not seen for years, who was a member of the visiting ringing team from Scotland and who remembered that we lived in the village.

Sally: Bell ropes will break occasionally, which is fairly dramatic as you are not expecting it to happen. During a peal a fellow band member had a piece of masonry/coving fall on his head, it was not possible to stop as the peal would have been lost, so we carried on, hoping no more of the ceiling was going to come down! Very difficult to concentrate!

Please tell us something our readers probably don't know about bell-ringing.
Bellropes have sallies and tailends. The smallest bell in a ring is called the treble, the largest the tenor. Secular ringers are as welcome as churchgoers. In Suffolk, most ringers belong to The Suffolk Guild (www.suffolkbells.org.uk) which helps with teaching, maintenance and provides grant aid to restoration projects.

Suzanne: Ringing is intellectually stimulating, good for co-ordination, an excellent way of making new friends, a chance to give service to church and community, and above all, fun.

Sally: You dont have to be religious in any way to be a bell ringer, its an excellent physical and mental challenge, a skill you can enjoy all your life. You meet people of all ages from all sorts of backgrounds, its very sociable like a big family and its quite enjoyable being a geek!

Michael: Bells are rung through 360 degrees and are made from the same metal as a cannon.

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