5000 changes. As many as 16,000 changes, occupying from nine to ten hours, have been rung upon church bells. But the great physical strain upon the ringers—to say nothing of the effect upon those who are within hearing—makes such performances exceptional. The word “peal” is often, though incorrectly, used (1) for a set of church bells (“a peal of six,” “a peal of eight”), for which the correct term is “a ring” of bells; (2) for any shorter performance than a full peal (e.g. “wedding-peal,” “muffled peal,” &c.), called in ringing language a “touch.” Its use as equivalent for “method,” found in old campanological works, is now obsolete.
Change-ringing upon five bells is called “Doubles,” upon seven bells “Triples,” upon nine “Caters” (Fr. quatre), and upon eleven “Cinques,” from the fact that at each change two, three, four or five pairs of bells change places with each other. “Doubles” can be and are rung when there are only five bells; but as a rule these “odd-bell” systems are rung with a “tenor behind,” i.e. struck at the end of each change; the number of bells in a tower being usually an even number—six, eight, ten or twelve. In “even-bell” systems the tenor is “rung in” or “turned in,” i.e. changes with the other bells, and a different terminology is employed; change-ringing on six bells being called “Minor”; on eight bells, “Major”; on ten bells, “Royal”; and on twelve, “Maximus.” The principal “methods” of change-ringing, each of which has its special rules, are—(1) “Grandsire”; (2) “Plain Bob”; (3) “Treble Bob”; (4) “Stedman,” from the name of its inventor, Fabian Stedman, about 1670. In “Grandsire” the treble and one other bell, in “Plain Bob” the treble alone, has a “plain hunt,” i.e. works from the first place, or “lead,” to the last place, or “behind,” and back again, without any dodging; in “Treble Bob” the treble has a uniform but zigzag course, dodging in each place on its way up and down. This is called a “Treble Bob hunt”; and under these two heads, according to the work of the treble, are classified a variety of “plain methods” and “Treble Bob methods,” among the latter being the so-called “Surprise” methods, the most complicated and difficult of all. “Stedman’s principle,” which is sui generis, consists in the three front bells ringing their six possible changes, while the remaining pair or pairs of bells dodge. It is thus an “odd-bell” method adapted to five, seven, nine or eleven bells; as also is “Grandsire,” though occasionally rung on even numbers of bells. “Treble Bob” is always, and “Plain Bob” generally, rung on even numbers—six, eight, ten or twelve. In ringing, whenever the treble has a uniform course, unaffected by “Bobs” or “Singles,” it serves as a guide to the other changing bells, according to the place in which they meet and cross its path from “behind” to the “lead.” The order in which the different dodges occur, and the “course bell,” i.e. the bell which he follows from behind to lead, are also useful, and on large numbers of bells indispensable, guides to the ringer.
Quite distinct from the art of change-ringing is the science of “composing,” i.e. arranging and uniting by the proper “calls,” subject to certain fixed laws and conditions, a number of groups of changes, so that no one change, or series of changes represented in those groups, shall be repeated. A composition, long or short, is said to be “true” if it is free from, “false” if it involves, such repetition; and the body of ascertained laws and conditions governing true composition in any method constitutes the test or “proof” to be applied to a composition in that method to demonstrate its truth or falseness. Many practical ringers know little or nothing of the principles of composition, and are content with performing compositions received from composers, or published in ringing books and periodicals. An elaborate statement of the principles of composition in the “Grandsire” method may be found in an appendix to Snowdon’s Grandsire (1888), by the Rev. C. D. P. Davies. Those which apply to “Treble Bob” are explained in Snowdon’s Treatise on Treble Bob, Part I. But, so far as can be ascertained, there is no treatise dealing with the science of composition as a whole; nor is it possible here to attempt a popular exposition of its principles.
One of the objects kept in view by composers is musical effect. Certain sequences or contrasts of notes strike the ear as more musical than others; and an arrangement which brings up the more musical changes in quicker succession improves the musical effect of the “peal” or “touch.” On seven bells all the possible changes must be inserted in a true peal; but on larger numbers of bells, where the choice is from an immense number of possible changes, the composer is free to select those which are most musical. Unless, however, the bells of any given “ring” are in perfect tune and harmony with each other, their musical effect must be impaired, however well they are rung. This gives importance to the science and art of bell-tuning, in which great progress has been made (see above).
The art of scientific change-ringing, peculiar to England, does not seem to have been evolved before the middle of the 17th century. Societies or gilds of ringers, however, existed much earlier. A patent roll of 39 Henry III. (1255) confirms the “Brethren of the Guild of Westminster, who are appointed to ring the great bells there,” in the enjoyment of the “privileges and free customs which they have enjoyed from the time of Edward the Confessor.” In 1602 (as appears from a MS. in the library of All Souls’ College, Oxford) was founded a society called the “Scholars of Cheapside.” In 1637 began the “Ancient Society of College Youths,” so called from their meeting to practise on the six bells at St Martin’s, College Hill, a church destroyed in the Great Fire of London, 1666. At first only “rounds” and “call-changes” were rung, till about 1642, when 120 “Bob Doubles” were achieved; but slow progress was made till 1677, when Fabian Stedman of Cambridge published his Campanologia, dedicating it to this society, his method being first rung about this time by some of its members. Before the end of the 17th century was founded the “Society of London Scholars,” the name of which was changed in 1746 to “Cumberland Youths” in compliment to the victor of Culloden. These two metropolitan societies still exist, and include in their membership most of the leading change-ringers of England: one of the oldest provincial societies being that of Saffron Walden in Essex, founded in 1623, and still holding an annual ringing festival. In the latter half of the 18th and first half of the 19th century change-ringing, which at first seems to have been an aristocratic pastime, degenerated in social repute. Church bells and their ringers, neglected by church authorities, became associated with the lower and least reputable phases of parochial life; and belfries were too often an adjunct to the pothouse. In the last half of the 19th century there was a great revival of change-ringing, leading to improvements in belfries and in ringers, and to their gradual recognition as church workers. Diocesan or county associations for the promotion of change-ringing and of belfry reform spread knowledge of the art and aroused church officials to greater interest in and care for their bells. A Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, consisting of delegates from these various societies, meets annually in London or at some provincial centre to discuss ringing matters, and to collect and formulate useful knowledge upon practical questions—e.g. the proper care of bells and the means of preventing annoyance from their use in the neighbourhood of houses, rules for the conduct of belfries, &c. It is now less likely than ever that the Belgian carillons will be preferred in England to the peculiarly English system of ringing bells in peal; by which, whatever its difficulties, the musical sound of bells is most fully brought out, and their scientific construction best stimulated.
Authorities.—The literature of bell-lore (or campanology) consists chiefly of scattered treatises or pamphlets upon the technique of different methods of change-ringing, or upon the bells of particular counties or districts. The earliest that deal with the science and art of change-ringing are Campanologia or the Art of Ringing Improved (1677), and a chapter of “Advice to a Ringer” in the School of Recreations, or Gentleman’s Tutor (1684), showing that in its early days bell-ringing was a fashionable pastime. Then follow Campanologia, or the Art of Ringing made Easy (1766), Clavis Campanologia, a Key to Ringing (1788), and Shipway’s Campanologia (1816). The revival of change-ringing in recent years has produced many manuals: e.g. Snowdon’s Rope-Sight (explaining the “Plain Bob” method), Grandsire, Treatise on Treble Bob, Double Norwich Court Bob Major, and Standard Methods (with a book of diagrams);