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How do you ring a bell?

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Caution: The following is only a description of ringing. Any attempt to learn to ring must be carried out under the supervision of an experienced ringer.

Full circle ringing is made up of two strokes. The first stroke, called handstroke, sometimes known as sally stroke, swings the bell through 360 degrees.


With the tail-end held securely by the thumb of one hand, the sally is gripped with both hands, the arms being held fairly straight in the air. When the bell is set it rests a few degrees past the balancing point of the bell, so the first stroke includes pulling the bell onto the balance. This is done by pulling the sally down. The continuation of this movement sets the bell swinging through its circle. The sally will then rise up, so it is let go, while still holding the tail-end. The spare hand is transferred onto the tail-end as soon as possible. Both hands should be kept close together at all times and when they are both on the rope they should be touching (similar to 'one potato, two potato'). The hand that maintains its hold on the tail-end is always positioned below the other hand. Just before the bell reaches the top of its swing, when the arms are raised in the air, the clapper strikes the bell.

In the diagrams the arrows above the bells indicate the direction of swing


Now it is time for the second stroke, called backstroke, or tailstroke. The arms and hands are in a similar position as they were at the beginning of handstroke but now it is the tail-end that is being gripped, and the sally is several feet in the air. At backstroke the bell rotates 360 degrees in the opposite direction. The rope is pulled down, the hands travelling as low as they can reach without bending the body. The sally comes down from the ceiling and then starts to travel back up. At this point the upper most hand is removed from the tail-end and both hands are used to catch the sally as it travels back up to its original starting position. This is the point that the bell strikes. The two strokes rung together are known as a whole-pull.

Throughout this process the rope must be kept taut so that contact is maintained with the bell at all times. This aids the minor adjustment needed when ringing with other people. It also helps to keep the rope straight and is one aspect of preventing the rope from whipping round and potentially causing an accident.

If a bell is pulled too hard it will want to keep rotating in the direction it was going. The stay and slider mechanism will get in the way if this happens and the bell will 'bump the stay'. This is not desirable, as numerous bumps will weaken the stay, as well as it being an inefficient method of ringing. If the bell is pulled particularly hard then the stay can break, allowing the bell to continue on its path, taking the rope up with it. This is where the stories of being pulled to the ceiling come from. The stay is made of ash wood and can be broken more easily than other woods, thus preventing a more expensive part of the bell and its fittings from breaking.

Changing Speed

It is when the bell is on the balance that minor adjustments in speed can be made. When the bell is on the balance it appears to weigh very little so that it can be held there for longer, which means ringing more slowly. The ability to make these adjustments is crucial in change ringing as the gap between individual bells is of the order of 0.4 seconds. When the bell is on the balance it weighs very little, so by holding the bell so that it remains on the balance a little longer, it can be rung more slowly. By stopping the bell before it reaches the balance, by catching or holding the rope a little higher, the bell can be rung more quickly.

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