The Nottingham Eight on Handbells

The Northallerton band rang a peal of the Nottingham Eight recently:

Yorkshire Association
Northallerton, North Yorkshire
19 The Green, Romanby

Friday, 28 April 2017 in 2h32 (11)

5184 Spliced Surprise Major (8m) 
960 Cassiobury; 768 Cambridge; 576 Bristol, Cornwall, Glasgow, Lessness, London, Superlative; 149 com.
Composed by D F Morrison (no. 7344)

1-2  Jonathan J F Stokoe
3-4  Jennifer A Town
5-6  James W Holdsworth (C)
7-8  Peter J Sanderson

The composition is one of the ones I decided not to call in the tower, but it's a good one with lots of 5678s and 6578s at the front and back, as well as being handbell-friendly because 5-6 are fixed at the part-end.

This set me wondering how many previous handbell peals there have been of the Nottingham Eight. By searching BellBoard, I found two more, both of them Graham John's one-part all-the-work composition, conducted by Richard Pearce.

Middlesex County Association & London Diocesan Guild
Staines, 44 Sidney Road

Tuesday, 11 November 2008 in 2h21 (size 15)

5024 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
(8m: 800 London; 672 each Cambridge, Cornwall, Lessness; 640 Superlative; 544 Glasgow; 512 each Bristol, Cassiobury; 137 com, atw)
Composed by G A C John

1-2  Muffie King
3-4  David C Brown
5-6  Richard A Pearce (C)
7-8  Peter R King

Middlesex County Association & London Diocesan Guild
Islington, London, 9G Highbury Crescent

Thursday, 17 October 2013 in 2h20 (size 11)

5024 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
(800 London; 672 each Cambridge, Cornwall, Lessness; 640 Superlative; 544 Glasgow; 512 each Bristol, Cassiobury; 137 com, atw)
Composed by G A C John
1-2  Peter J Blight
3-4  Ruth Blackwell
5-6  Richard A Pearce (C)
7-8  David G Maynard


There might be other peals that were never published on Campanophile or BellBoard, but it's more difficult to find them through a combination of and checking details in the Ringing World. Even so, it's clear that there is some way to go before this combination of methods overtakes the Standard 8 in popularity.

The Nottingham Eight

Browsing peal compositions of Spliced Surprise Major, for example at, reveals several compositions of the "Nottingham 8". This collection of methods was proposed at least 20 years ago as an alternative to the "Standard 8".

The Standard 8, of course, are London, Bristol, Cambridge, Superlative, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland and Pudsey. I don't think I have come across a definitive explanation of how this combination of methods came to be considered standard. The first four (L, B, C, S) were used in early compositions of spliced by Albert Pitman and Harold Cashmore, but where did Y, N (Lincolnshire), R and P come from? One possibility is that they were first added to Pitman's 4 by Noel (Jim) Diserens, but I don't know whether that's true, and there's still the question of why those methods were chosen.

The Nottingham 8 also takes Pitman's 4 as a base, and adds Cassiobury, Cornwall, Lessness and Glasgow. This introduces a variety of place bell orders, with two 2nds place lead ends (Cassiobury and Lessness) and two 8ths place lead ends (Cornwall and Glasgow). As a result, there is a greater range of possible structures for courses than with the Standard 8. There is also agreement that the musical possibilities are better. The methods are reasonably standard: Cassiobury, Cornwall and Glasgow are all in Norman Smith's 23-spliced, and Lessness is a variation on Uxbridge, which is also one of Norman Smith's methods. So for many experienced bands, there is not much learning to do.

The reason why I am writing about the Nottingham 8 is that we decided to ring it for our latest local band tower-bell peal in Glasgow, which we succeeded with and rang a very good peal. I became interested in the origin of this particular collection of methods. When looking for compositions, I noticed that several of them were published in a certain issue of the Ringing World in 1999 (page 942). Three of the compositions are by Richard Allton, and the fourth is by Graham John. The composition review by Don Morrison explains that alternatives to the Standard 8 are frequently suggested, but that Richard Allton had gone further than most people by producing three compositions for his choice of methods and commissioning a fourth composition from Graham John. The first peal of the Nottingham 8 seems to have been on 6th March 1997 at Bulwell, and Graham John's composition was rung on 21st May 1998 at Greasley. The peal report from 1997 doesn't describe itself as the Nottingham 8, but that description is used in Don Morrison's review. Both Bulwell and Greasley are close to Nottingham, so I can only suppose that this combination of methods was adopted by a band in that area and that led to the name.

What about the compositions, bearing in mind that I had to find one for our peal in Glasgow? One of Richard Allton's compositions is a 6-part with part ends that permute 4, 5 and 6 (and swap 2 and 3); this plan is aimed at producing CRUs. The second is a 7-part on a cyclic plan, with part end 14567823. The third, which was rung at Bulwell, is a one-part all-the-work with some split tenors sections. Don Morrison explains that it has a short 7-part all-the-work block as its core, which is extended with tenors-together blocks. The composition by Graham John, which was rung at Greasley, is a one-part, tenors-together, bobs-only, all-the-work.

More recently, other compositions have been produced. Don Morrison has a cyclic 7-part with a lot of 4-bell runs, a 6-part aimed at 5678 / 6578 combinations, and one which is essentially a 12-part, again going for 5678 / 6578 combinations. Tom Perrins has a neat 12-part with all the 5678s and 6578s off the front. A few years ago, following discussion on one of the email lists about Tom Perrins' 10-part composition of the Standard 8, I noticed that the idea works slightly more easily for the Nottingham 8, and produced this composition:

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

B M W H            23456
*     2  LEWWL.B.  34256
  - -    OO.C.B    52643
- -   -  SG.GS.CE. 65432
10 part, adding a bob at * (between WW) in alternate parts.

640 each Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W),
         Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative

129 changes of method.

I needed a composition for our peal in Glasgow. Ideally it would have been good to call Graham John's one-part all-the-work, but as we are still working on Horton's 4, I didn't have the energy to learn another difficult composition. The 6-part or 12-part compositions by Don Morrison are musical, but the method balance is uneven, which is also the case for Tom Perrins' 12-part. My own 10-part has equal amounts of each method, but I thought it might be a little dull to call. Instead, with a little help from my computer, I came up with the following 5-part, with equal amounts of each method, a change of method every lead, and all-the-work for everyone except 7 and 8.

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

W  B  H                    23456
-        BWLEW.E           52436
   3  2  COW.GB.GWS.CS.B.  43652
-     -  LS.OGC.           65432
      -  LEC.              46532
2     -  EOL.B.GOS.        56342
5 part.

640 Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W), Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative.

159 changes of method.

All the work for 2,3,4,5,6.

The 5-part plan is nowhere near as good for music as a 6-part plan, but you can't have everything.

"Wait a minute", I hear you say, "this is all very interesting, but isn't this a blog about handbell ringing?"

Yes it is, and I would like to ring my composition on handbells, as a (brief, I hope) diversion from the Horton's 4 project. I think I have convinced the rest of the Albany Quadrant band. We tried a quarter last Monday, to help us brush up on the methods before the tower-bell peal, which was promising although we didn't quite get to the end.

Finding a quarter peal composition was trickier than I expected. My ideal plan for a quarter of 8-spliced is a tenors-together 5-part composition with one lead of each method in each part. That's fine for the Standard 8, but it doesn't work for the Nottingham 8 because of the place bell orders. If we associate each place bell order with a number according to how many leads of Plain Bob it's equivalent to, we have B = +6 (equivalently, -1), C = +2, O = +3, W = -2, E = -1, L = -1, G = +1, S = +2. The total (ignoring multiples of 7) is +3, whereas it needs to be 0 if we are to arrange the leads into a number of complete courses. Calling a bob at Wrong, Middle or Home in one of the 8ths place lead end methods would add 1 to the total, and calling a Before in one of the 2nds place lead end methods would subtract 1, but it's not possible to get to 0 with exactly one lead of each method.

My solution was to use the first part of the peal composition as the basis for a quarter, and add the following block to bring it round at 1280.

M  W  H           56342
   2     LC.WC.B  64352
-     -  L.CW.    23456

In the end, we fell apart in the last course of the first part of the peal, and concluded that although Cassiobury, Cornwall and Lessness are not difficult in themselves, we suffered from lack of familiarity. I will report on our peal attempt in due course.

A Peal of Pudsey

On Wednesday we rang a good peal of Pudsey with Mike and Ian. It was our second attempt (I didn't blog about the unsuccessful one) and it was a huge improvement on last time. Very satisfying. That brings us to the end of the project to ring the right-place methods from the standard 8 (and, incidentally, completes the standard 8 as conductor on handbells for me, as well as being my 50th handbell peal as conductor). What next? There are several possibilities:

  • Ring some other straightforward right-place methods, such as Uxbridge or Cornwall.
  • Recruit another ringer and try Cambridge Royal.
  • Start working on Bristol.

A non-surprise possibility that I am becoming keen on is to try Grandsire Caters. Years ago, Tina and I had a phase of ringing Grandsire Triples and Caters with Steve Mitchell, Peter Felton and Philip Saddleton. It's quite nice once you get used to odd-bell ringing. I've never been a great Grandsire conductor, but a couple of years ago I called an unsuccessful peal attempt of Grandsire Caters at Inveraray. Mike Clay passed on to me a detailed set of instructions, written by Roy LeMarechal, for conducting the 5039 by Albert Tyler (the easier one, not the "all the music" one). The instructions made everything clear, and it's all fairly straightforward. I would like to try it on handbells to see whether we can adapt to a different style of ringing.

New Year Handbells

The New Year holiday seems to be a popular time for intensive handbell ringing. On Saturday 31st December there were 9 quarters at 26 Wilsthorpe Road, Breaston. On Monday 2nd January there were 6 quarters at 64 Mount Pleasant Road, Exeter. We had a modest handbell day at Tulloch Lodge on Monday 2nd, enjoying the hospitality of Helen McGregor and Peter Bevis. Most of the sessions were general practice, including good progress by two of the Tulloch local band, and we even managed to refresh our children's memories of Plain Bob Minor. Thomas got really keen and worked his way up to three leads of Kent Major on the tenors.

We rang just the one quarter, of Cambridge Major. One of our aims for this year is to give Tina and Jonathan more practice at conducting, so Tina called the quarter of Cambridge. She called a handbell-friendly composition by Steve Coleman: 5 befores, single home, repeated. Because there's a before in every course, the tenors only ring the first two leads and the last two leads of the course, so it's just two leads and their reverses. It's also a good composition for 5-6, as the 5 befores keep them coursing most of the time, and the 2nd is unaffected except for making one bob in each half.

We also had a sneak preview of the new handbell version of the "learning the ropes" teaching scheme by ART. There's a logbook with targets at each of five levels, ranging from plain hunting positions on six through to a quarter of treble bob. When it's accompanied by a set of teaching materials, it will be interesting to see whether it can encourage the teaching of handbell ringing alongside tower bell ringing, or indeed as a separate activity. I expect we will have more to say about this once the scheme is launched officially.

In Scotland we get an extra holiday for 2nd January, postponed this year to Tuesday 3rd because of the weekend, and we took advantage of it by ringing a peal of Cambridge Royal with the help of Julia Cater from the "southern branch". Once again I called the composition that I have written about before, in which 3-4 and 5-6 only ring two positions each. It's two years since we last rang a quarter of Surprise Royal, and three years since our last peal, but we were pleased to find that we haven't forgotten how to do it. If everyone can basically ring it, there's no danger of firing out, but we have to be careful to minimise trips (usually missed dodges) because they disrupt the rhythm.

Forthcoming plans include more Horton's Four, of course, and a peal of Pudsey with Mike and Ian.

Date touches

2016 is an easy year for date touches, as it's a multiple of 32, so it's possible to ring a whole number of leads of Surprise Major. Not only that, but the number of leads is 63 = 9 x 7, so it's 9 full courses. For example, (W 3H) x 3 would work for Yorkshire. Several bands have taken advantage of 63 = 9 x 7 in a different way by ringing 7-part compositions of spliced, with 9 leads per part: the Standard 8 + another method is an obvious possibility.

It seems that what we mainly ring these days is Horton's Four, until we finally manage to get the peal, so we decided to ring a date touch of it this week. It's straightforward to produce a 7-part composition, with a little help from the computer, and I seem to remember something along those lines appearing in the 2016 Ringing World diary (or maybe it was just a quarter peal length). However, with all the practice we've done, it's easier to ring part of the peal with a variation to bring it round after 2016. Here is what I came up with, which we rang on Monday.

2016 Spliced Surprise Major (4 methods)
Roderick R Horton (arranged by Simon J Gay)

23456  M   B   W   H                  
35264      -           BBL.BFF        
42563  -           -   BLLG.BFBFLL.   
64523          -       GB.L           
26543          -       LG.B           
64235      -           FBFLLG.BFB     
36524      3   -       BLL.GB.BG.FL.GGGGG.
23564          -       FFBFBFF.F
45362  -           -   L.GB.
34562              -   LLG.
35426              s   B.
23456          -       BG.B
s = 123456 

640 Bristol, 480 London, 448 Belfast (F), 448 Glasgow

It's just the last four leads that are different. It would be possible to ring the single at the beginning, and get the non-standard call out of the way, but I preferred to have the familiar coursing orders.

As the New Year is approaching, what about 2017? We can add the extra change by starting at backstroke with a non-standard call at which the tenors stay in the same place, producing a tenors-together lead end. With a non-standard start, it's natural to finish at the normal end of the peal, so we need a few leads to connect the start to the main composition. The composition includes the whole of the tenors-parted section of the peal, which we should practise again in any case. So we will probably ring our 2017 date touch earlier in the year than the 2016.

2017 Spliced Surprise Major (4 methods)
Roderick R Horton (arranged by Simon J Gay)

 23645   W/H/H           BBBBBL.BF.F.
 46532   M/W             L.G.F
(723465) B/I/B/V/W       BFBB.G.F.L.FF.
 273564        V/W        GB.L.F
(742365) I/V/V           LL.BL.GL.
 275463  F/I/B/B/F/3H     BG.F.F.GB.B.G.F.F.
 742653  M/M/W/W         L.GL.G.B.L
 352764  V/I/F/3V/W      G.GG.BF.FFL.GL.F.L.B
 23456   V/H             G.FL.                
Start at backstroke with the place notation 1278.

544 Belfast (F), 545 Bristol, 480 London, 448 Glasgow 


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