conjures up some
Giles Woodforde is a long-time resident of Kidlington Village
and was once a familiar voice to listeners of BBC Radio Oxford. He is best known as a
feature writer and reviewer for the Performing Arts for The Oxford Times newspaper.
In this article, Giles carefully leads as we slowly ascend the narrow stone staircase high into
the body of the spire where we join Kidlington's bell ringers at practice.
With Armistice Day last Sunday and Christmas not all that far away, it’s a busy time
of year for the bell ringers of St Mary’s Church.
But how do the St Mary’s ringers get ready for these big occasions?
If you’re taking part in an operatic or dramatic society production, mistakes
made during rehearsals are heard only by your fellow performers, not your audience.
Those inevitable red-face moments are shared only with your colleagues, and are no
doubt washed away with a laugh afterwards. But if you’re a bell ringer, rehearsal
mistakes are inevitably broadcast loud and clear across the neighbourhood.
Until now that is.
As I walk up the path towards a recent bell ringing practice at St Mary’s,
a distant emergency siren on the A34 is the only sound. But inside the thick stone
walls of the tower, the bells are ringing merrily.
“I’ve just booted up the laptop, and we’re on an app called Abel Ringing Simulator,” explains
Tower Captain Ron Burgess. “It produces a simulated sound of each bell, in the key of D, which
is the actual key of our bells – the key can be changed to match any bells anywhere.”
The laptop screen shows a row of ringers, their hands already positioned on the bell ropes.
Totally Realistic Sound
But the bell clappers are actually locked!
“The people on the screen reproduce whatever the actual bell ringers are doing.” Ron adds.
He proceeds to pull one of the actual ropes, the picture on the screen moves accordingly, and
the bell sounds – except that it doesn’t. The bell clapper is actually locked so that it can’t hit
the side of the bell, courtesy of an ingenious clamp designed and engineered by fellow Kidlington
ringer Phil Sampson.
The totally realistic sound is coming from a pair of loudspeakers on the
floor. “A sensor mounted up in the bell chamber overhead is sensing that the bell is moving,
and is sending a signal back down to the computer,” Ron explains.
Phil Sampson’s model showing a bell clamp in position.
Phil Sampson holding the actual clamp for the largest bell, no 8.
All of which means that new ringers can learn their craft without any risk of annoying the neighbours.
Ringers like Gary Bosher, who has just joined the band at St Mary’s.
What spiked his interest?
“I am keen on rock music, and this is another art form, so it’s a carry on from that,” he replies.
“Also, I like meeting people, and the atmosphere of the church. And bell ringing is good
exercise – I’ve heard that bell ringers live to a great age!”
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