December 2016

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 

Practising a method symmetrically

Most of the methods we ring are symmetrical, and we are used to the fact that each place bell has its reverse - for example, 2nd place bell and 5th place bell in Yorkshire Major - and there is one symmetrical place bell - for example, 3rd place bell in Yorkshire Major. A common convention is to show the line of a method in a way that puts the symmetrical place bell half way through. For Major, this means starting from 2nd place bell if the method has 2nd place at the lead end (e.g. Yorkshire) and starting from 8th place bell if the method has 8th place at the lead end (e.g. Bristol). There are two points of symmetry: one is when a place is made at the lead end, and the other is when a place is made at the half lead. Assuming that we want to start the line from a lead end rather than a half lead, showing the line in a way that puts the half-lead point of symmetry half way through requires starting from the lead-end point of symmetry, i.e. starting from the place bell that has just made a place at the lead end.

On handbells, when we go beyond simple rule-based methods such as Plain Bob and Kent, we begin to appreciate the fact that each pair of place bells has a reverse. For example, in the coursing course of Yorkshire Major, the work in the first lead (7th and 8th place bells) is the reverse of the work in the 7th lead (4th and 6th place bells). There is also a symmetrical lead, which is the one in which the pair of bells cross at the half lead: in the coursing course of Yorkshire, this is the 4th lead of the course, i.e. 6th and 8th place bells. (This diagram and the others in this article were produced by Martin Bright's website,

When considering a pair of bells and their lines, there are again two points of symmetry, one at a half lead and one at a lead end. Each point of symmetry is a point at which the bells cross. In the diagram of the tenors course of Yorkshire, above, the bells cross at the lead end (by dodging together) at the end of the course, which is where we start the lines from; this is why the symmetrical lead is half way through the course.

The situation is different for methods with 8th place at the lead end. For example, in Bristol, the symmetrical lead for each handbell pair is the first lead of the course, not the fourth lead. In Glasgow, the symmetrical lead is the last lead of the course. What if we want to practise 8th place methods with the symmetrical lead half way through, so that we ring new work in each of the first three leads, then ring the symmetrical lead, then reverse all then work? Well, we have to start from the lead end at which each handbell pair crosses with itself - that is, 17856342. Alternatively, we can practise the 7-8 position by ringing 2 and 3, practise the 5-6 position by ringing 4 and 5, and practise the 3-4 position by ringing 6 and 7. It is possible to do this with Abel, or (perhaps it would seem unnatural) in live ringing. Here is a whole course of Cornwall (just to take an example of an 8th place method) for each of the three handbell pairs, with the lines shown in this way. Notice the symmetrical lead half way through, for each pair.

Julie McDonnell Slow Course Minor

Last night our Albany Quadrant band joined the many hundreds of bell ringers who have rung quarter peals to support the campaign 'Strike Back Against Blood Cancer', by ringing a quarter peal of Julie McDonnell Slow Course Minor (named after the originator of the campaign).

The method itself is simple enough to learn, and is a twin-hunt method - meaning one of the place bells always does the same thing every lead.  Or, as we came to view it, 'trapped in the slow work until released by a bob'.

Julie McDonnell Slow Course Minor by blueline

You can view more information here too:

It is quite a static method, which for handbell ringers, is not always a good thing, and if you are used to methods with fixed frontworks like Kent or St Clements, then you will find this frustrating.  It take some concentration to lead six time in a row without attempting to swap with the second hunt bell (who makes seconds over you).  And there are little pieces of 'normality' which can also mislead the inattentive ringer into a more familiar pattern.

But, for a beginning band of handbell ringers, there is some merit in this method, which can help you develop some skills you can use in other methods.  Also it can make a change from the usual improvers repertoire.  Finally, the plain course is only 4 leads long, so not too much learning to do.

Let's take a look at some features:

  1. The treble pair is completely fixed in the plain course, but gives a new handbell ringer something different to do other than coursing.  This can be a very easy practice at ringing two blue lines, or two different paths.
  2. Notice the 3-4 places, which offers an opportunity to practice making places, where your other bell is doing something very straightforward (leading for a long time, or just making places at the back). 
  3. A little place notation as a pattern practice too:  note that when thirds is made, fifths place bell is always lying behind in sixths place.  Whenever fourths is made, there is a dodge at the back. 
  4. Practice awareness of the lead end and the half lead:  the 3-4 dodge at the lead end is matched by a dodge at the back (the middle dodge of three).  The 3-4 dodge at the half lead (when the treble is lying behind in sixths place), a bell is making fifths place.

Calling a quarter peal

For novice conductors, this is tricky to call, and there are a lot of calls to make.  We found information about quarter peal compositions quite hard to find, so we are sharing what we know here.

  • The bob is a 1-4 place.  The bell that is trapped in the slow work runs out and becomes a working bell, starting with 3-4 places.  The bell that has just finished its 3-4 places runs in and becomes the second hunt bell (doing the slow work).  The bell that has just lead 6 times, makes the bob in fourths place, and repeats that lead.
  • A Single is a 1-2-3-4 place.  In the composition that we used, it comes right at the end to bring it round, so don't stress about this too much.

Here is a link to the composition that we used:

Give it a go

So have a try at it, and if you can (and soon) ring a quarter peal.  The campaign goal is to ring 350 quarters by Christmas, and there is a substantial amount of money at stake if it makes that goal.

If a quarter is beyond your band, ring a plain course or two, and put it up on BellBoard as an associated performance, and add it to the campaign event (  Then make a donation.

For more information about Bellringers Strike Back Against Blood Cancer, check out Julie McDonnell's campaign website.