• Bell Notes - June 2013

    So there we were, in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin East Bergholt watching ringers ringing the bells in an outside shed and we can't ring them!! We rang at five churches - all St. Mary's bar St. Peters Sutton with two eight bell rings (St. John's has eight bells) and three six bell rings, with two lighter than ours and the rest heavier - that deals with the technical stuff.

    The St. John's bell ringers were on the move again on Saturday 10th May with an outing to the Essex / Suffolk border - as Ian said, it was a day 'with a lot of green in it'. This was the first one of the year for us and was organised by Nathan. Ringing outings come in all shapes and sizes where we visit many churches that are quite often off the tourist map, some with good reason but most can be little gems of scenery, buildings and history. We ring bells that are sometimes very different to ours as are the ways of getting to the ringing room, where we ring them. This time we did not have ladders but we did have some very small, restricted spiral staicases (Nathan by the way is six foot six inches tall!!). The cry nowadays is 'how many are ground floor rings?'

    When we got to East Bergholt, it brought back memories for me of past, very past, outings. When I first started ringing and going on outings we went by coach. I've never been sure how they filled them but I can sometimes remember forming a queue to go up and ring the bells that we were visiting. If we ever went to Suffolk, we always paid a visit to East Bergholt and no it was not for the culture of 'Constable Country' - his parents lived in the village and are buried in the church grounds. Was it the demise of Cardinal Wolsey or that the local Squire did not like the sound of bells or perhaps because the church had a ruined tower - well take your own pick of history. The bells are hung for ringing but do not need ropes as the frame is grounded; you just stand over them and swing them forwards and backwards by hand on the headstock. It sounds simple as the wave of air and sound passes just past your ear, as does the bell, one of the ringers called us 'rope pullers' as we never see the bells, we only see the rope. The ringer I was talking to I don't think believed me as I said I had rung them about five times in the past on five different visits as visiting ringers can't ring them now for Health and Safety and insurance reasons!! What I can remember is going to the pub over the road, the 'Red Lion', after ringing, shouting at everybody because you were deaf and had ringing in your ears; with your hands shaking violently when you tried to hold anything. The landlord would then say 'Oh! you've been ringing them bells then!' By the way, the East Bergholt ringer I was talking to, was a semi retired plane engineer who was also helping to reconstruct a replica of a ship called the 'Mayflower'. The ringers kindly gave us a really good demonstration of ringing the bells wearing ear defenders, the bells were very loud and brought a crowd to watch them.

    At the first church they had an afternoon 'plant sale' so it was a surprise when some of the ringers returned with a mini jungle. The second church at Hadleigh had an 'Art Exhibition' in the church. At one church we had to park in a beautiful wild flower meadow and another was at a farm shop. One church had a beautiful modern (14 years old) stained glass window and in one church each seat had a different colourful 'hassock' - if you don't know we have some in our side chapel - which gave the church a vibrant aspect.

    So what about the bells and the ringing? Well the bells were good and easy to ring, how it sounded outside might be open to debate, but we enjoyed it all even though it was tiring as we only had nine ringers (perhaps next time you could be the tenth) and we rang for about two and a half hours in all. When the ringers were talking the next day, the highlight seemed to be lunch at the 'Red Lion'. We in fact did two pubs in East Bergholt, the other before we left for home, while some did a visit to 'Flatford Mil'.

    But the 'Highlights' were at the first pub, they had a Belgian breed of dog called 'Stink' - must be his nickname - who weighed over 10 stone and was large. At the other it was a three month old posh ginger kitten called Monty who got lots of Oh's! and Ah's! from everyone as he was so small and fluffy. The weather: well we were told it was going to rain all day. Thankfully it didn't, most of the day it was dry with some sun - and Ian was right, everything did seem to have a new clean green overcoat on! The next ringing outing is in October.

    Kersey, St Mary - 8 bells - tenor 14 cwt in G

    Hadleigh, St Mary - 8 bells - tenor 22 cwt in D

    East Bergholt, St Mary the Virgin - 5 bells - tenor 22 cwt in D

    Higham, St Mary - 6 bells - tenor 9 cwt in A

    Stratford St Mary, St Mary - 6 bells - tenor 16 cwt in F

    Sutton, St Peter - 6 bells - tenor 11 cwt in G

    Michael Waring



  • Bell Notes - October 2013

    Have you been to Whitstable, Margate, or Newent? Whitstable is in Kent and is a small sea side – well more Thames estuary town – famous for Oysters, perhaps you have been to Margate, also in Kent, a larger more traditional sea side town. We were there in May for our bell ringing outing to Kent. The idea is simple in that we book up and ring at a number of churches in a small area, we go as a group with other ringing friends and spend the day together. Every single bell is different to ring and the places we ring at are as diverse as the churches and areas we visit. It’s usually a very social and enjoyable day away. Whitstable has two churches with ringing bells and the one in the middle of the town has a set of 8 bells and perhaps the lightest bells most of us have rung, which is a challenge in itself.

    So when we were asked by friends from Barking to go on an outing along the River Wye by the Welsh boarders, five of us said yes to a weekend in sunny August, staying in Newent on the boarders of the Forest of Dean. It got a bit complicated as they wanted to keep us secret to surprise Clive who was arranging the outing. We knew him when he was Ringing Master at St. Margaret’s, when before leaving to move to Gloucester, he was teaching his young son to ring. His son is now about six feet tall and getting ready to go to university and still rings. Eight of us gathered during the Friday – meeting at the George in the evening where we were staying for the weekend. On Saturday we surprised Clive, he must be good at poker! Then it was off to ring at Ross on Wye, being Clive he not only gave us details of the route but also details of each bell. I know the oldest bell was 1480 at Goodrich and the newer ones were at Abergavenny all 10 bells were cast in 1947 but with the newest being the 6th bell at Ross and was cast in 1977. Most sets of bells are usually 6 bells or 8 bells some have been added to make 5 to 6 or 6 to 8 (like St. John’s) so dates on bells greatly vary. The number of bells usually go up to 12 but a few have more.

    About 24 of us met at Ross which for an outing is good as it means we can all take turns at ringing and vary what we ring. The ringers ages ranged from young to the not so young with some good ringers and some learners, well really we are all learners but some have a better excuse as they have only just started. After Ross we went to Goodrich, the church was slightly outside the village and where we went up a flight of steps outside the tower. Clive like Romeo and Juliet on the balcony ( I must point out that Clive does not look like either ), gave us pronouncements of what to ring, from the top of the steps, as the ringing room was crowded if it had more than six people. Those who waited outside in the sunshine enjoyed the view of the green valley.

    We moved on to the bells of Monmouth. Now don’t get me wrong, Monmouth was very nice – ringing on a balcony-- however it was a long time since breakfast , so lunch at the Kings Head in Usk was calling us. Now don’t get me wrong but a pub with good beer and good food seems to have a much higher gravity pull for ringers so we were a bit late starting to ring at Usk. We’ve learnt over time to get hold of menus early on (at the first tower ) and phone our choices through, after all 24 of us all arriving at once could be a problem but it still seems that time speeds up at lunchtime. As Clive gently pointed out – we do have a timetable! Now don’t get me wrong but the ringing after lunch always seems better and the bells are always easier to ring, as it was in Usk.

    With Clive’s detailed directions we arrived at Abergavenny via a car park, seemingly full of gentle “bikers”. At this point let me explain that our driver – flying Newentair – was Andrew, Ringing Master at Barking and all eight of us were in his people carrier, he does not like the word bus as he drives trains. The main problem with this was that excuses for humour were being bounced between us all day! Having been to Abergavenny before I knew we were going to enjoy the 10 bells, that were also the heaviest on the tour. Now don’t get me wrong but getting to the place where we ring can be various, entertaining and sometime convoluted and Abergavenny came into the third section. Three of the “bus” thought there was a more straight forward route into the church, thus setting off the church alarms. At each church we have someone, usually a ringer, to open up for us and give us the details needed to start ringing. They give up time for us, they welcome us and look kindly on us as we savage their bells, so the two who met us might have wished us somewhere else. We passed through the town four days later and I’m sure we could still hear the alarm ringing.

    On Sunday we hiked to the local church at Newent to ring for the Sunday Service – we crossed the road –where again we got a warm welcome. Our final ring was for a later Sunday Service just up the road at Huntley, a small gem of a church again some way from the village. Before leaving we thanked Clive for all his work; we went off to Brecon, one of the others met friends for Sunday lunch and the rest returned to London and guess what -- did more ringing.

    It was fun ringing and meeting other bell ringers from another part of the country, we explored Newent, such a small place for 5 pubs, with a surprise of a ‘beer shop’? In Margate, Nathan found us a unusual bar where there seemed to be a wall of beer barrels, with a large choice of beers straight out of the ‘wall’; while in Newent we found a shop which sold beer. It had opened at the beginning of the year and again it had a great deal of choice of different style beers. Both also had a good choice of ciders for our cider drinkers. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t go on outings for drinking beer and cider or even having fun, after all for many, bell ringing is a serious business. But whatever ---- life is too short so let’s enjoy it, let’s enjoy being with friends, let us enjoy all the bad humour, let’s enjoy the food and the drink (Newet has a fine Indian Restaurant), let us enjoy being in various areas and churches. The Wye valley was the area that started organised holiday tours in the U.K. and it was a Vicar who started it!!

    Now don’t get me wrong but it can be good fun…bell ringing.

    Michael Wareing

    October 2013



  • Bells Report - 2012

    We have a design fault on our two lightest and newest (installed 1936 ) bells. St. John’s started with six bells in 1833 and then was augmented to make eight bells. A ‘stay‘ is a long piece of wood, curved or straight, that stops the bell from doing a complete revolution. It is made of straight grain ash wood and is there for safety reasons both for the ringers and the tower. I’ve only had to replace one stay of the original six in over forty years of normal ringing but the stays on one and two are broken on a very regular basis. Over the years the ringers have paid for replacements, so we have bought six new ones for £70.

    The last major work that we know that was done on the bells was in 1936. We always do regular maintenance on the bells but no major work. The time is coming when the bells will need a major overhaul, with a major cost, including moving the clock if it needs to get the bells out.

    We have had two bell ringing outings in 2012. One in London, from Holborn to Pimlico, organised by Nathan and one in Essex to celebrate my forty years as St. John’s Ringing Master. The ringers also gave me a cross-stitch embroidery picture, made by June, of what happens when a stay breaks!!

    HEAVY METAL is the name we use for our presentation of bells and bell ringing and for a number of years we have put it on for the Leytonstone Arts Festival. In 2012 we added more history of our local past ringers. June our archivist has done some fantastic research on this and it is interesting how many of the ringers worked for the railway at Stratford. As it was a Charles Dickens celebration as well, John included an article written by Dickens about bells and bell ringing in London.

    Over the years we have rung for all the ‘Open days’ the Vicar has requested and 2012 was no exception, with two extras! One to celebrate the Olympics at Stratford and one for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Both were unique as I don’t think any of us will see the like of it again in our lifetime. The ringers also rung two ¼ peals for the Jubilee and ‘fired’ the bells 41 times (the ringers equivalent of a gun salute), to coincide with the Jubilee fly pass, which we watched as it flew over St. John’s.

    In a number of previous bell reports I reported on the bad state of the bell-ropes and we had more worries as we heard of long waits for new ones, sometimes up to two years. We knew that some of our ropes would not last that long so we decided to order new ones. Equally over the years we have done our homework on bell rope makers and went to a small family company of Peter Minchin. The surprise came with the unexpected promptness of completing the order and we have now almost replaced the old ones with new ones. The cost for eight ropes was £833.00 and was a gift paid for by the bell ringers. We now need two spare ropes and to get two repaired.

    We ring every Sunday from 10.00 to 10.30 a.m. for the morning Service and at least once a month for the 06.30 p.m. evening Service, we also ring for various other Services. We always need new ringers and can teach people to ring, so have a time for learners at 07.00 p.m. before the main Monday Practise Night of 07.45 to 09.15 p.m. which is always open to all ringers. As well a regular visitors from local ‘towers’, our furthest visitor in 2012 came from Australia.

    Kind regards,

    Michael (Ringing Master)



  • Bell Ropes

    Over the last four of five Bell reports in St. John's Annual Reports for the A.G.M. I've pointed out that we are desperately in need of new bell ropes. Our ropes are over 15 years old, most have been spliced and only with the help of kindly donated ropes, mostly from Chigwell, and the tenor (the heaviest bell) rope we are using comes from Prittelwell; have we been able to continue to ring. If you are not a bellringer you will not understand the relationship we have with bell ropes, most of the time we never see a bell, we only see the rope! Some churches are fortunate as they have ancient endowments to fund bell ropes and some churches are fairly rich but we are neither. Almost all churches with bells are funded by the church P.C.C. for new ropes as they are part of the fabric of the church and without ropes we cannot ring the bells. Having had no response from P.C.C. members or officers, the St. John's bellringers have come to the conclusion that the only way to get new ropes is to pay for themselves. We need eight ropes and two spares, each rope costs £108 (not including p&p) and we have put in an order for the first eight. We are not launching an appeal in the church as in recent time they have had so many others.

    This year we finished buying some new chairs for the 'ringing room' so no more splinters! A 'stay' is a wooden block that stops the bell from doing a complete revolution and stops us hitting the ceiling. Bells 1 and 2 have a design fault which means the stays break on a very regular basis. I've only changed one stay in over 40 years, on the other six bells. We've just bought six, straight grain ash stays for the 1 and 2 costing £70 in total.

    It is a busy time for us as we will be ringing for the Diamond Jubilee with a church open day on the 4th June and have a Bellringers Picnic Jubilee lunch. We will also be ringing on Tuesday 5th as the Queen has a special Jubilee service on that day and we will be trying to ring a couple of Quarter peals, each lasting about 45 minutes, over the period. We are also trying to put together Heavy Metal Two, our presentation on the history of ringing both in the UK and locally, for the Leytonstone Art Festival for Monday July 16th 2012. It is hard to find the history of past St. John's ringers.




  • Jubilee Celebrations Past and Present

    Over the past 40 years that I've been St. John's Bell Ringing Master we have had a lot of celebrations. Lots of birthdays, quite a few of the '0' years, a few weddings, including my own, lots of church related celebrations and some sad ones. We've also celebrated some national events and it seems ringing bells still plays a role in the celebrations and this year is no exception with Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee.

    On Sunday 3rd June 2012 between 2pm. and 4pm. one of the largest flotillas ever mustered on the River Thames will be celebrating the Queen's Jubilee and the first music barge will be a floating bell tower with eight bells, cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Eight ringers will be ringing a quarter peal and along the route, local churches will be joining in. The bells called the Royal Jubilee Bells, with the heaviest, the tenor, weighing half a ton and each bell is named after a senior member of the Royal family and have the Royal Arms cast on each one of them. The bells will then be installed at the church of St. James Garlichythe as a ringing peal.

    On June 7th 1977 we celebrated the Queen's Silver Jubilee at St. John's by ringing a quarter peal and then all the band ringing and firing the bells 21 times, it is similar in ringing to a 21 gun salute. Those ringing were: Malcolm Burns, Tom Coles, Rosemary and Margaret Finzel, Kate Harris, Bet and Denis Mitchell and Lynda and Michael Wareing and the Vicar was Rev. Chris Edmondson. Afterwards, with other friends we had a barbeque in Rosemary and Margaret's garden.

    Tom Coles was a third generation ringer at St. Mary's Walthamstow but at the time St. John's was the only ringing church in Waltham Forest. He came to ring with us with Ernie Holman and Charlie Hughes, from St. Mary's Leyton and was still ringing well into his nineties ...... they became our 'old boys'. Malcolm Burns came as a fresh faced youth along with Ian Boyce, they came as Sea Scouts, which is interesting in Leytonstone ~ well we did have a large ships chandlers in the Railway Arches ~ in Leytonstone! Kate Harris returned to St. John's after she was twice bombed out of her home, she was one of the mainstays of the church and took her degree with Open University at the age of 69. Margaret and Rosemay Finzel came ringing with a rather round dog called Pop, who seemed quite content to be with us when we were ringing. So that was our Silver Jubilee, I wonder what the next one will be like as we join in with the history of our time.

    Our ringers will be: Sue, Anna, June, Jennifer, Sherry, Ian, Nathan, Ben, John, Brian and myself ...... but what about you, for the next celebration???

    Royal Diamond Jubilee's are a fairly new royal celebration that has been documented, so far the count has been four, like Queen Victoria but one is still alive and going for the Platinum and he is the King of Thailand.




Bellringing at St. John's Leytonstone


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