History of Bell Ringing

Short History of Bell Ringing

 By 750, bells were common enough for the Archbishop of York to order all priests to toll their bell at certain times.- 6:00 a.m., 12 noon and 6:00 p.m., summoning the Christian faithful to recite the Lord’s Prayer –  the Angelus, a prayer recited in honour of the Incarnation of God – also to signify the hour or the time for worshippers to go to church, perhaps to attend weddings, funerals, or other services. Churches would have one bell only, rung for all occasions.

Pre Reformation – 1350

Most bells in churches and monasteries were hung on a simple spindle and chimed by Deacons pulling a rope.  Ringers began to experiment with new ways of hanging the bell to get greater control. The first improvement was mounting the bell to a quarter wheel with a spindle serving as the axle and the rope attached to the rim of the wheel. As this method grew popular, bells then began to be mounted on half wheels.

After the Reformation – whole wheels developed and ringing could be controlled.

1639 – Time of Charles I

In the rural churches bands of ringers tried to outdo one another. On days of competition the ringing was often preceded by a large meal at the local pub and followed by the presentation of a ‘good hat’ or a pair of gloves to each ringer in the band that had performed the best.

1650/1654 – time of Oliver Cromwell

Bell ringing was considered a secular pursuit. The ringing chamber was often constructed so ringers could enter and exit the building without attending a service! St Faith’s has a separate entrance.

 1668 – after the Restoration of the monarchy

An important milestone was the 1668 publication by Richard Duckworth and Fabian Stedman of their book Tintinnalogia, which promised in its subtitle to lay down “plain and easie Rules for Ringing all sorts of Plain Changes.” Stedman followed this in 1677 with another famous early guide, Campanalogia. It revealed the technical improvements in change ringing in only nine years. Tintinnalogia had mentioned a few of the methods; Campanologia mentions dozens of newer methods including introducing his Grandsire Method and his Stedman’s Principle, methods which are still taught and rung today.


The first true peal with over 5,000 different variations was believed to have been rung on May 2nd 1715 at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich.


Change ringing began to lower in social esteem, with swearing, smoking and a barrel of beer in the tower a normal state of affairs. Some belfries became notorious as the meeting place of the village riff-raff, who indulged in heavy drinking and riotous behaviour. A deep rift developed between ringers and clergy, with some towers closed by their vicars.

1997 – Ringing in the Millennium –

A £3m Lottery Grant led to 150 separate bell restoration and augmentation projects.

Ring In 2000

This project was the largest national ringing event ever staged, aiming to attract 5,000 new ringers who learnt to ring in time for the Millennium. Approximately 95% of all the church bells in the UK were rung on 1 January 2000.

2012 – XXX Olympic Games in London.

Along the 8,000 miles of the Torch Relay bells rang to celebrate the passing of the Olympic Torch and at the culmination of the Torch Relay, and, as part of the London 2012 Festival, at 8.12am on the day of the Opening Ceremony three minutes of ringing all kinds of bells captured the public’s attention to bell ringing and broadcast to an estimated audience of over 12 million people.

The great Olympic Bell then featured prominently in the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Commissioned from Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London it was tolled by Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins to open the Ceremony. At 23 tonnes it is the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world.