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What Happens When a Bell is Rung?

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Some bells are swing-chimed today, the precursor to our full-circle ringing. A swing-chimed bell is operated by a simple lever attached to the top of the headstock. The rope is attached to the other end of the lever, and pulling the rope enables the bell to be swung gently. If one wants to swing the bell higher, so that the sound can travel further, some modification to the rope end of the lever must be made, thus giving rise to the quarter wheel. This trend continued until fitting a whole wheel was the norm.

Ringing with a whole wheel, or ringing full circle, is very different from simply chiming a bell. Although it is more complex and requires a certain amount of physical dexterity, it also means that the ringer has more control over the bell, so that a group or band of ringers can ring their bells in specific orders, which since the seventeenth century have followed the rules of change ringing.

A bell being rung full circle also makes a slightly different sound to a bell that is being chimed. When the bell sounds the mouth of the bell is moving a lot compared with when a bell is only being chimed, and this creates a particular effect as well as meaning that the sound can travel further.

diagram of bell

If a bell is swung higher and higher its path will eventually be a circle, starting and ending at the highest point. To get a bell into this position it must be rung up, but once it has reached the highest point it can be rested with the stay against the slider with the mouth of the bell facing up. The stay and slider mechanism was a relatively late development and today is found on all but the very smallest of bells. This mechanism means that ringers need not go to the effort of ringing the bell up and down every time they ring, as the bells can be left up between periods of ringing.

This diagram shows a bell in the down position, showing modern fittings. The bell is suspended from the headstock which acts at the pivot around which the bell turns. The stay and slider, which act together to make a mechanism for resting the bell when it is in the up position can also be seen. As the stay connects with the slider, the slider pivots at its far end, allowing a little more flexibility in the control of the bell.

When the bell is in the up position it is not safe to be near the ropes unless you are an experienced ringer, and is especially dangerous for a non-ringer, as the ropes are in identical positions when the bells are down when the bell is safe. It is also considered dangerous to leave the bells up for long periods of time due to the strain that this exerts on the stay and slider mechanism, as well as having implications on emergency access to the tower by members of the non-ringing public.

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