Monday, June 18, 2012

Ringing chambers, platforms and floors

click photo to enlarge
English church bell ringing of the most common variety, usually known as change ringing, began in the 1600s with one of the earliest ringing societies, the Lincoln Cathedral Guild, dating from 1612. English church bells usually number 6 or 8, though there may be be fewer or more, and are located in the bell chamber at the top of the tower. They are not struck by hammers, but have an internal clapper that strikes the bell when it is rotated by a rope attached to a wheel. Below the bell chamber there is sometimes a room known as the sound chamber. The bell ropes pass through this room, which often holds the church clock mechanism, to a ringing chamber below. Bell ringers stand in the ringing chamber to pull the ropes that sound the bells. A very long distance between the bell and the person ringing is usually avoided because the ropes stretch making control more difficult. Where the church has a west tower there are often floors dividing the chambers described above. Crossing towers, however, are frequently vaulted, though some west towers are too. Where this is the case then bells are often rung from ground level with long bell ropes, but another solution is to install a ringing platform.

Today's main photograph shows one of the most hair-raising locations for bell ringing anywhere in the country. In Pershore Abbey, Worcestershire, a platform has been constructed 72 feet above the floor of the tower. To get to their places the ringers have to climb two stone spiral staircases, pass along a walkway through the roof, then negotiate a narrow passage and finally descend an iron "cage staircase" above the void below. The latter can be seen to the right of the bottom arm of the cross in the photograph. The central square is the suspended timber ringing platform where the campanologists do their work.

The photograph of the bottom of the tower of All Saints church at Holbeach, Lincolnshire, shows a different approach to the construction of a ringing platform. Here a more substantial structure  has been constructed, supported from the floor, and doubling as the roof of a small café at the base of the tower. The fact that the tower is not too tall has made this solution possible. The etched glass doors and windows add interest to the conception. The loss of the view of the west window is regrettable but inevitable.

Today's third photograph shows what happens in a tall church tower when no ringing chamber or platform is available. The bell ropes (also called the "pull") of Croyland Abbey, Lincolnshire, are thought to be the longest in England. Apparently four sets of rope guides are necessary to keep them in the required places. Interestingly, Croyland Abbey had one of England's early tuned peals. In the early tenth century Abbot Turketyl had a great bell cast. It was named "Guthlac", after St Guthlac, the abbey's founder. Abbot Egelric (975-984) had six more made to complete the tuned peal. These were named Bartholomew, Beccelm, Turketyl, Tatwin, Pega and Bega. This YouTube video clip shows the bells of Croyland Abbey being rung.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Intelligent Auto
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On