The unexpected significance of rope guides for handbell ringing

There is currently no ringing at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, while the rope guides are being repaired after a freak accident in which a wayward rope damaged the structure. As well as occasional visits to other practices, Ian and Barbara Bell have been running a weekly handbell practice at their house. They have introduced several people to handbell ringing for the first time, and some of them are showing good potential.

It won't be too long before tower bell ringing resumes, but it will be good if some of the Edinburgh ringers develop a taste for handbells and manage to keep it up.

London Royal: Part 3

We had another attempt for our peal, which started very well, but we didn't manage to keep it up and we stopped at half way again. After a couple of courses, the rate of making trips increased to the point of being a significant distraction, and eventually we found that although we could get ourselves right at the lead ends, the ringing immediately deteriorated again when entering the next lead. That was time to stop.

It's just a sign that we need more practice - what happens is that the effort of concentration becomes unsustainable, which means that we need to get to a point where ringing the method takes less concentration.

We'll get there, but for the moment, that's it for this year. We'll restart the project in 2018.

Apart from that, we are making good progress with quarters of Surprise Major, with Angela inside and Jonathan and Tina conducting. We rang Lincolnshire this week, so next week might be Rutland. After the quarter we rang a course of London, which was a good achievement for Angela's first attempt at it on 3-4. Maybe the London Royal is doing us some good.

London Royal: Part 2

We went for our peal of London Royal on Sunday, but didn't succeed. We had two good attempts though: the first lasted four courses and the second time we made it to half way. So that was a total of eleven courses, which must have been good practice. We feel we're nearly there, and we're going to have another attempt on Monday.

While preparing for the peal, I noticed a few things about London that I don't remember spotting before. According to PealBase, I've only called one peal of London Royal (on tower bells, of course), and that was 20 years ago. So it's not surprising that I'm not very well up on the details of how you work with other bells in relation to the coursing order.

The first point is about keeping track of the wrong hunting on the front. I have always thought of 2nds and 4ths place bells going to 4ths and back twice, and 3rds and 6ths place bells going to 4ths and back just once. However, on Sunday I suddenly realised that all four place bells lead twice each, which is a more uniform way of looking at it. I told the rest of the band about it - they have all rung plenty of London Royal before, but no-one said "Well, of course, didn't you know that?". After we had finished ringing, Julia said she had found it useful.

The next point is the order in which bells lead, during the wrong hunting on the front four. In London Major, after 7th place bell leads, the sequence is 3, 2, 4, 6, and then the 7th returns to lead. So that's a sequence of four bells in coursing order, which I sometimes manage to observe as a check on the ringing. In Royal, after the 7th leads, the sequence is 3, 2, 4, 6, 3, 2, 4, 6, and then the 10th appears. This is actually what made me spot that every bell leads twice. I haven't been able to observe this sequence yet, but the potential is there.

If both your bells are in the frontwork, they can be either coursing or in the 2-3 position. Pairs of bells that are in the coursing position (3-2, 2-4, 4-6) are coursing in the frontwork. Pairs of bells that are in the 3-4 position (3-4, 2-6) are in the 2-3 position in the frontwork. Pairs of bells that are in the 7-8 position (3-6) are also coursing in the frontwork - more about that later.

Let's think about the backwork for a moment. There's a fair bit of treble bob hunting, and after the fishtails near the beginning of the lead, the back bells stay in their natural coursing order for a while. As a result, 9ths place bell becomes rather like 3rds place bell in Cambridge, passing all the other bells in coursing order. The difference is that the pattern doesn't start until the fishtail has finished.

On the subject of passing bells in coursing order, let's look again at the frontwork. A bell in the frontwork is working with three other bells that are near it in the coursing order: for example, the 4th is working with 3, 2 and 6. So there is potential for a coursing order check while on the front, although I expect it will take more practice to be able to see it.

The place bells in the frontwork are 6, 4, 2, 3 (in the order in which they occur in the method). A coursing pair, for example 9-10, overlap in the frontwork for three leads: when they are 4th and 6th place bells, then 2nd and 4th place bells, then 3rd and 2nd place bells. The 3-4 pair overlap in the frontwork for two leads: when they are 6th and 2nd place bells, then 4th and 3rd place bells. The 7-8 pair overlap in the frontwork for only one lead, when they are 6th and 3rd place bells. Finally, the 5-6 pair are never in the frontwork together.

What this means is that 7-8 is the ideal pair for the conductor, in order to take advantage of the groups of four bells in the frontwork. For seven leads of the course, one or both of 7-8 are in the frontwork, giving maximum opportunity to check that the other bells are working correctly together on the front.

I'll write more about ringing London, and about the composition, after our next peal attempt.

London Royal

After our success with Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, we have decided to try London next. Other possibilities would have been Rutland, or spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, or Bristol. I don't think Rutland would be very rewarding - we don't ring it in the tower, so we would probably just be hampered by lack of familiarity with the method. The band thought that spliced would be more difficult without any particular benefit in learning new skills. Probably we could get through it with a simple composition such as this one in whole courses, but I would expect trippiness on going into each new method. Of course you could argue that if there's anything we can't  do well then we should practise it until we get better, but life is busy and we have to prioritise.

I hope we can eventually progress to Bristol, as I would ultimately like to be able to ring Kippin's Four (Cambridge, Yorkshire, London, Bristol). However, I think London will be easier (contrary to our experience of Major, where we found London much harder to master than Bristol).

The composition we have been using for the Cambridge-above methods isn't true to London, so I have to find something different. I searched BellBoard for peals of London Royal on handbells for which the composition has been entered, and found several 2-parts (always a good start), with handbell-friendly features. Let's have a look at them, with the help of Graham John's Composition Library which can analyse the amount of each position rung by each handbell pair.

The first composition is by Richard Pearce. The part-end 26543 means that 3-4 and 5-6 do the same work as each other, with a majority of coursing. It starts with the whole plain course, which is a good warm-up. 

5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Richard A Pearce

23456  M   W   H
----------------
42356          -
54326      -   
64235  -   2   -
35642  2   -
26543  -       -
----------------
2 part.
Both 3-4 and 5-6 do 65% coursing, 15% 3-4 position & 20% 5-6 position.

Next is a composition by Graham John, which gives more coursing to 3-4 and keeps them out of the 5-6 and 7-8 positions. 5-6 have a few leads of the 3-4 and 7-8 positions, but mostly coursing and 5-6.

5040 London No. 3 Surprise Royal
Graham A C John

23456  M   W   H
----------------
45326      s   -
26354  s   -  
52364  3   -  
24365  -       2
----------------
2 part.
Handbell-friendly for 3-4 (71% coursing; 29% 3-4 position) and 5-6 (54% coursing; 40% 5-6 position).

Finally, there is a composition by Don Morrison, in which 3-4 have 95% coursing and 5% in the 3-4 position. 5-6 have a more balanced diet.

5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Donald F Morrison (no. 1705)

23456  M  W  H
--------------
46352  -     s
32654  s     -
34256  2     -
53246     -
46325  -  s  s
24365     -   
--------------
Repeat.

I also put one together myself, inspired by David Maynard's compositions of Bristol Major in which the idea is to use blocks of 5 befores, with bobs at wrong and home to connect coursing orders in which both 3-4 and 5-6 are coursing. To apply this idea to London Royal, I used 6th place bobs. The result is that 3-4 ring 78% coursing and 19% 5-6, and 5-6 ring 73% coursing and 20% 5-6. The befores can be replaced by in-and-fifths, which replaces some of the coursing by the 7-8 position and splits the tenors for two leads per course. A drawback of having either a before in every course or in-and-fifths in every course is that the tenors don't ring all the work.

5120 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Simon J Gay

23456   M   B   W   H
---------------------
42356   –   -   –   –
34256       5       –
36452       -   –   –
45362       5   –   –
23456       4       –
---------------------
Bobs at B are place notation 16.

I'm inclined towards Richard Pearce's composition, but I will give it some more thought before the attempt. We've agreed to go for the peal the day after the next handbell day at the beginning of October. We should be able to fit in some practice during the handbell day. I think the main hazard is failing to turn round in 4th place during 2nd and 3rd place bells. I hope we can develop a way of doing this based on the position of the treble. 

Lincolnshire Royal

Yesterday we scored a peal of Lincolnshire Royal, at the second attempt. We rang it on a new set of bells: the light 10 of Jonathan's 12. As well as becoming more familiar with the method (improved since the first attempt), we are getting better at 10-bell ringing. There were fewer crunches due to difficulty in finding the position that someone wanted to ring in, and fewer instances of "lagging at the back".

Graham John's observation (in a comment on the "Cambridge or Yorkshire" article) is really helpful. If you have one bell above the treble and one below, then they always dodge and hunt out of step with each other: if one hunts then the other dodges, and vice versa, unless the bell above the treble is in a set of places and is making the place immediately adjacent to dodging with the treble. This means that when one bell double dodges at the back, the other bell hunts twice near the front, which explains the missed dodge on either side of the 5-pull dodges. I found that by focusing my attention on the bell at the front, I was able to ring the other bell by this rule without thinking about what its line was. Once or twice I lost track of whether the bell at the front was hunting or dodging, but in general the system worked well. The diagram is from Martin Bright's method printer.

Although we rang the same composition that we have rung for Cambridge (several times) and Yorkshire, in the first attempt I was having difficulty fixing the coursing order in my mind. To prepare for the second attempt, I spent some time thinking about all the coursing orders that occur in the composition, with the idea that during the peal I would be able to remember which coursing order we were in, rather than remembering what the coursing order was. What I mean by this is that, for example, if the coursing order is 52436, I don't think of it as a random sequence of digits that I have to hold in my mind; I think of it as the coursing order that you get to by calling a home from the plain course. I know which coursing order it is, rather than (actually, as well as) what it is.

The coursing orders in the CUG Collective composition are the following, grouped logically.

  • 53246, 52436, 54326: 5-6 home and 2-3-4 in-course
  • 63245, 62435, 64325: 5-6 reversed and 2-3-4 in-course
  • 53642, 63542: 3-4 home, 2 at the end
  • 23546, 23645: 3-4 home, 2 at the beginning
  • 52634, 62534: 3-4 coursing at the end, 5-6 in the 3-4 position
  • 34526, 34625: 3-4 coursing at the beginning, 5-6 in the 3-4 position

This was helpful in remembering the coursing order, although I should also say that when ringing on 10 I make much less use of the coursing order than I do on 8. This is partly because I find it much more difficult to work out people's place bells on 10, and partly because the kind of mistakes we make are mostly people getting a little out of step rather than forgetting their place bells. However, I always feel that if I don't follow the coursing order, I have nothing to go on; and it is good to be able to check the course ends and see the bells hunting down from the back in the correct order.

On the subject of checking the coursing order, I realised something that should have been completely obvious all along. In Cambridge-above methods I have always found that the treble's backstroke snap after the wrong is a useful checkpoint in the coursing orders 52436 and 54326 (and indeed the plain course). At the snap, 2-3-4 strike in their coursing order, followed by the 5678 roll-up. For example, in the coursing order 54326, the change at the backstroke snap when the tenor is 7th place bell, is 14325678. What I realised last week is that this must be true at every backstroke snap: three bells strike in their coursing order in 2nd, 3rd and 4th place. For example, two changes into Yorkshire Major the change is 12463857, with 2-4-6 striking in their coursing order. So that's a potentially useful way of checking the coursing order, as an alternative to watching the bells coming down from the back (which I always find easier than watching them hunting towards the back).

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