Tales from End to End
The Campanologist’s (Mouse’s) Tail
by John Siddle
My family has lived in the church tower at Filey for generations – or so I have been told by my grandparents who were told the story themselves by their forebears. I am the only survivor now because food is hard to come by for us church mice. There is candle wax of course and an occasional dead moth. Best of all, though, are the crumbs dropped by bell ringers as they celebrate a birthday or eat sandwiches while a church wedding is taking place below their feet.
The sound of bells no longer takes me by surprise and the bell that strikes the hours rings out at regular intervals, though I suppose I sleep through most of it. This bell was cast in 1682 and weighs nearly fifteen hundredweight. It is remarkable to think that the sound of that bell is exactly the same as it was over three hundred years ago, the same sound as rang out to celebrate the weddings of the humblest parishioners as well as the coronation of many monarchs. There is another older bell cast in 1675 but sadly that one simply rests silent in its frame. How many stories might it have told about ringers in the old days? But now there are six much lighter bells and the liveliest ringing takes place on practice nights when local ringers are joined by others from neighbouring churches. Maybe it is the home-brewed wine that attracts them there!
These six bells were hung in 1981 – just thirty years ago – at a total cost of £6,483. All this money was raised by voluntary effort and generous contributions from many people and organisations. What a hectic time that was with coffee mornings, cream teas, handbell concerts, jumble sales and the sale of 14,000 notelets – all organised and supported by local well-wishers. The bells were dedicated by the then Bishop of Hull and the first quarter peal was rung by way of celebration. I kept well out of the way and simply observed what was going on from my vantage point above the clock case.
But I hear the ringers climbing up the spiral staircase – the quick steps of the younger ones but also the more ponderous steps of the older ringers, one in fact still ringing at 96 years of age. How many mouse generations is that? But that is the thing with bell ringing – people of any age can join in and slender lasses can be just as capable as strapping lads. Ringing can be extremely strenuous – a peal of 5,040 changes involves pulling the rope and swinging the bell through 360 degrees 5,040 times and it can take up to three hours – no mean achievement! Woe betide you if you if you make a mistake in the last five minutes and spoil the chance of getting your name in the bell ringing annals.
But what will it be tonight? A lesson for someone just learning how to handle a bell? Rounds and call changes for those growing in confidence? Or any one of hundreds of different methods for the more experienced? Maybe a touch of Grandsire Doubles or Stedman Doubles. (I’ve learned that ‘Stedman’ is named after Fabian Stedman who in the seventeenth century was one of the first to compose methods for change ringing, as it is called.) Then again they may be wrestling with a totally new method. Anyway they all seem to be enjoying themselves as always and it certainly cheers up the quietness and solitude of my existence.
Now to curl up in a corner and nod off to the ticking of the Harrison clock.
John Siddle is a highly erudite Church Mouse and the leader of Filey Church Bellringers.