Hearing the bells as real a-peel

NAWN 1109081 St James bell ringers. Tower Captain David Holland. (1109081AM1)
NAWN 1109081 St James bell ringers. Tower Captain David Holland. (1109081AM1)

Bell ringing is a fascinating hobby.

It is a team activity that stimulates the brain and helps keep you fit.

NAWN 1109081 St James bell ringers. Tower Captain David Holland with bell ringers Conor Reid, Jonathan Twyman, Richard Hobbs, Mark Hayes, Val Hobbs,  Pauline Holland and Brian Moorhouse.  (1109081AM2)

NAWN 1109081 St James bell ringers. Tower Captain David Holland with bell ringers Conor Reid, Jonathan Twyman, Richard Hobbs, Mark Hayes, Val Hobbs, Pauline Holland and Brian Moorhouse. (1109081AM2)

I was told all about it by David Holland when I visited a St James church practice evening in the bell tower.

St James’s church wants to recruit new bell ringers and I’m told that you can become a good bell ringer without knowing anything about music.

A sense of rhythm with good hand, eye and ear coordination is all that’s required. You don’t even have to be a member of the church – many are not.

It does of course help if you like the sound of church bells.

The ringing chamber is reached by climbing 36 steps of a spiral staircase. It is steeped in the history of the church which was built around 1840 and replaced a much earlier marketplace Chapel.

The bell tower contains a ring of eight bells. Six were given by local brewer, Quentin Rhodes in 1845 and two more were added as a war memorial in 1919 but they are all out of sight above the ceiling of the bell chamber.

Around the walls are plaques of the major events when a full peal of bells has been rung.

The next full peal of bells lasting about two and three-quarter hours will be when the new vicar is appointed in October.

Hanging through the ceiling are the eight ropes which are pulled to ring the bells.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be strong to ring the church bells as the continual ringing is powered mainly by momentum.

Having seen the team in action, I was curious as to how a beginner would be taught.

David Holland had been acting as conductor and murmuring quiet instructions such as bob or triples which seemed meaningless to me, but everyone seemed to know what they were doing.

Apparently the bells are rung in sequences of a predetermined order known as changes which are easily learned.

Conor Reid, the youngest member of the team at the age of 18, acted the part of a beginner with David Holland showing him the stages of ringing the bell.

It’s all about the feel of the rope and when to let go. They demonstrated how Conor would pull the rope and it would be released by David at the correct moment. Then the beginner would gradually learn all the stages.

They are a friendly crowd of people – and it is almost a fraternity of bell ringers where you are made welcome as a visiting ringer in churches throughout the British Isles or Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.

I asked how many different churches David had visited and he said hundreds.

The minimum age for a bell ringer is 11 and I’m told that the oldest bell ringer that Wetherby has had was the late Harry Mason who was still ringing well into his 80s.

If you are interested or would like to know more about bell ringing, contact David Holland on 01937 583295.

After listening for a few more minutes in, I went out into the night to hear the bells ringing much louder than I had heard them in the bell chamber. It was a pleasant sound.