St Mary’s Guild of Change Ringers
Bells have been rung as part of Christian ritual for centuries; they have summoned the faithful to worship since the 4th century. Church bells are the biggest and loudest musical instruments. The bells of St Mary’s are one of the finest rings of 10 bells in the world. They were cast in 1901 by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough and are hung for full circle change ringing. The heaviest bell, the tenor, weighs 32 cwt (1641 kg) and is in the note of C#.
Bell-ringing is an interesting and challenging social team activity that exercises both the mind and the body. It is enjoyed by people of all ages and from all walks of life and keeps you fit, stimulates the brain and makes a glorious sound. As well as being a service to the Church it maintains part of our national heritage and is fascinating and rewarding hobby where you never stop learning and make many new friends along the way.
St Mary’s is fortunate in having a dedicated band of bell-ringers made up of people many levels of expertise and experience, who all give of their time and talent on an entirely voluntary basis to ring for services. We ring the bells in what is called change ringing which was invented in 1500s. This style of bell-ringing is a mix of mild exercise, team-work, and mental challenges. For more information on change ringing see below. We currently have 21 members ranging in age from teenagers to over 80.
The Cathedral’s bells are rung every Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11:00 and Sunday evening between 18:00 and 18:30. We ring for festival and feast day services throughout the year, christenings, weddings and national events. Bells also mark more solemn moments such as funerals and Remembrance Sunday.
We practise on Tuesday evenings between 19:30 and 21:15 and there is a learners’ practice before this between 19:00 and 19:30.
Visiting ringers are always welcome to join us. Please confirm with the secretary beforehand that ringing is happening (contact details can be found on the Scottish Association website).
On practice nights, we usually adjourn to the Bon Accord for “refreshment”. We support The Scottish Association of Change-Ringers – our local Association – which involves attending ringing meetings & social events across Scotland and hosting events at Glasgow. We have an almost annual outing to ring at other towers in Scotland or England.
Coming to see what we do
If you are interested in the bells or bell-ringing and would like to see what we do, we would be happy to show you around the tower and bells and, if you want, give you a taster lesson. These visits can take place on any Tuesday evening at 19:00. Please contact us via the church office to make arrangements.
Learning to ring
Those new to ringing, of any age, can be taught from scratch. Ringing is well within the capabilities of most people with no special skills or strength required. If you can manage the stairs and have a normal sense of rhythm and physical co-ordination you will be able to manage the bells. However, be prepared that it does take time to master – just like learning to play any other musical instrument properly would. St. Mary’s bells are heavier than those at many other churches so we do not normally teach children not yet at High School.
We provide tuition to those wishing to learn this ancient art. Tuition is provided free of charge in exchange for a commitment to join the band and ring for Sunday services when you have acquired the requisite level of proficiency. We hold our learners’ practice on Tuesdays from 19:00 and 19:30 and then encourage learners to stay for the normal practice where they can learn by listening and watching. The initial weeks will be spent learning how to ring a bell individually and then you’ll begin ringing with others before eventually performing with the St Mary’s band.
New recruits are always welcome but you may have to join a waiting list as teaching is an intensive one to one activity so we can only take on a couple of new learners every six months or so. Please contact us via the church office to make arrangements for a visit to the bell tower and taster lesson.
The way we ring the bells at St Mary’s is called change ringing. Bell ringing of this type has been described as both an art and a science, the former referring to the handling and control of the moving bell via a rope, and the latter to learning “method” ringing – the production of “bell music”.
This type of bellringing originated in England in the 16th and 17th century when church bells were first fitted with a full wheel and swung until balanced upside down. The bells are swung 360° using a rope with one ringer per bell. The rope runs round the wheel and hangs down into the ringing chamber below. Each rope has a coloured woolly part called a sally which is where the ringer catches the rope. Using the rope the ringer can control the timing of their bell. This allows the sequence in which the bells ring to be altered and, with practice, continuously evolving sequences of bells to be rung. Thus change ringing was born.
The music that we ring is based on each bell ringing once before any bell rings again, called a change, and continuously altering the sequences in which the bells ring in each change. The musical pieces we ring are called methods. A method is where there is a sequence of changes and no change has the same order of bells. If the changes are written out with each one underneath the previous one then a pattern is created. The ringers memorise this pattern so that they can ring the method. Learning a few of these simple patterns allows you to join in with bell ringers all across the world.
The maximum number of different changes that can be rung on five bells is 120, on six bells it is 720, on seven 5,040 and on eight is 40,320. The term Peal which is where more than 5000 changes are rung. At St Mary’s this takes, on average, about 3½ hours to ring. Also Quarter Peals are rung regularly which consist of at least 1250 changes and take 50-55 minutes.