Christmas Ringers

To hear the Christmas Day bell ringing, click this link BELLS then click the 'play' arrow.

There were six ringers, socially distanced


Since the end of the second lockdown us bell ringers have been hoping to return to ringing the bells for Sunday service. All our plans were in place but then we found out that the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers were advising against ringing as a group with any different households - in line with Tier 2 restrictions about not mixing indoors. So plan B came into being, thanks to a suggestion from Richard Major. This involves using the Ellacombe mechanism to ring six of the eight bells.

The Ellacombe is a mechanism devised to ring the bells by striking the stationary bells with hammers. It does not have the same sound as full circle ringing (which is what we normally do, the bells swinging round a full circle) due to the absence of doppler effect as the bells do not rotate and the lack of a damping effect of the clapper after each strike. The system was devised in 1821 by Reverend Henry Thomas Ellacombe of Gloucestershire, who first had such a system installed in Bitton in 1822. He created the system as an alternative to using his local ringers and did not have to tolerate the behaviour that he saw as unruly (none of that in Oswestry we promise!).

The Revd Ellacombe was the editor of the bell ringing column of a church periodical called "Church Bells", and was not slow to criticise the actions of bell ringers who did not ring exclusively for church services. A particular target was "prize ringing", where teams from different churches competed for a prize for the best ringing, usually accompanied by a social event. An example was in 1875 when he weighed in with a diatribe against a ringing competition at Slapton in Devon, when he wrote, "We blame the Vicar and churchwardens for allowing the bells to be so prostituted for the benefits of a publican's pocket...". Luckily we don't have such problems these days with the Shropshire Association striking competition! However in reality, it required very advanced and rare expertise for one person to ring changes, which most churches did not have and it alienated bell ringers from the church. The sound of a chime was a feeble substitute for the rich sound of swinging bells, and the apparatus fell out of fashion. Consequently the apparatus was removed from many towers in the past leaving holes in the ceiling and often frames without ropes.

In towers where the apparatus remains in working order it is often still used to play simple call change sequences, hymn tunes and carols at Christmas (the latter 2 are a bit beyond me yet!). The apparatus is also used when insufficient full circle ringers are available, or where it is no longer permitted or viable to swing the bells. There are known be over 400 Ellacombe chimes in working order in the UK and at least 40 in the other parts of the world. We have the apparatus remaining in the tower at Oswestry with six of the eight ropes working so one of us is able to make some element of welcome ringing on a Sunday morning while we wait for restrictions to ease. Whilst you may not be able to hear the sound far outside the churchyard, we hope you enjoy the welcome nonetheless!

The bells were rung properly on Christmas Day. 6 bells at full volume!

Brian Rothera


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