100 Scottish Association Handbell Peals

The 100th handbell peal for the SACR has just been rung - Plain Bob Major, which was Isabella Scott's first peal. Congratulations, Isabella! To mark the occasion, here's a review of the history of Scottish handbell ringing.

The first handbell peal was in 1932, of Plain Bob Major. The band was Robert Preston, Stephen Wood, Henry Sargent and William Pickett, who were all Glasgow ringers. The peal was rung at 66 Hillhead Street, Glasgow. By checking the historical electoral registers I discovered that they rang it in Stephen Wood's flat. There was a previous peal by the same band at the same address, in 1931, which was the first peal by the St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, society, and predated the formation of the Scottish Association. We rang a peal for the 80th anniversary of the 1931 peal, using the same composition. I would also like to ring a peal at 66 Hillhead Street one day. The building is now owned by Glasgow University, where I work, so it should be possible to get access if I can find the right person to ask.

The next two peals, in 1936, were both rung at Kilmory Knap, in Argyll, at a house called Dun A' Bhuilg. It seems to still exist as a holiday house. The peals were on consecutive days in August with very similar bands, including Chris Woolley who wrote the Central Council booklet on handbell ringing. They rang Plain Bob Major and Plain Bob Royal. The Bob Major is claimed as the first peal in the county of Argyll, which is interesting because most peals in Argyll are tower bell peals at Inveraray. The Bob Royal was the first 10-bell peal for the association.

After that there is nothing until 1946, when there was a peal of doubles (Plain Bob, Grandsire and Stedman) at No. 4 Meiktila Camp, Kalyan Bombay Province, India. The band was the Reverend Captain Albert F Sargent (surely related to Henry Sargent), Captain John F Banks, and - wait for it - Wilfred F Moreton, who is better known as the organiser of the Hereford ringing course for many years. He is also known for teaching handbell ringing by the method of getting all the students to ring the same pair simultaneously in a mass participation exercise.

There is then a gap until 1978, which was the beginning of the first phase of regular handbell peal ringing in Scotland. From 1978 to 1990 there were a total of 30 peals, with a gradually changing population of ringers. Some of them were spending a few years in Scotland as students or for work; others were long-term residents who are still here. Activists included Steve Mitchell, who Tina and I did a lot of ringing with in Middlesex during the late 1990s; Nigel Booth, who is still around and has been to a couple of our handbell days; and Margaret and Martin Whiteley. One of the peals has a footnote for the first birthday of their son David, who we met much later while climbing David Brown's last Munro (we rang a course of Yorkshire on the summit). The peals during this period were mostly Plain Bob, from Minor to Royal, with occasional Treble Bob Major and some of Minor in several plain methods or including some Treble Bob. There was a peal of Cambridge Minor in 1987, which was the first of Surprise in hand for the association. The venue for a few peals was the Permanent Way Engineer's Office at Aberdeen Station, which would be another interesting one to try to get for a repeat performance.

From 1990 to 2007 there was another gap, interrupted by a single peal in 1999, of Plain Bob, Kent and Oxford Minor. In 2007, Mike Clay started ringing with Jonathan Frye, Lizzie Frye and William Dawson, who were students at Edinburgh University. Mike conducted several peals of Plain Bob and one of Kent, also bringing in Robin Churchill and Peter Williamson. I got involved in 2007 when we decided to practise 3 leads of Bristol to perform at the SACR 75th anniversary dinner - we did this with Mike, Jonathan and Lizzie.

Tina and I spent the autumn of 2007 in Lisbon, and when we came back, Jonathan Frye and Angela Deakin said they would like to start ringing handbells regularly. Our adventures from that point on have been well documented in the blog, and once we got up to peal standard with the Albany Quadrant band, I hope it's not too boastful to say that we advanced Scottish handbell ringing to a new level. We're still not so good at Royal and Maximus, but when it comes to Surprise Major, we can now ring anything on handbells that has been rung by the SACR on tower bells. We have also helped to develop other ringers, with several firsts of various Surprise Major methods.

The number of peals per year is fairly modest - so far, 2015 has been the peak with 11 peals. The number of ringers involved is also relatively small, with a peak of 13, also in 2015. The conducting is seriously unbalanced: since 2007 there have been 36 peals conducted by myself, 13 by Mike Clay, and 12 by Robin Churchill. The only other resident members to have conducted peals during this period are Dan Smith and Peter Kirton with one each.


Time to reach 100 peals: 85 years

Number of ringers: 58

Leading ringers: Simon Gay:40, Tina Stoecklin:36, Jonathan Frye:30

Number of conductors: 21

Leading conductors: Simon Gay:36, Mike Clay:13, Robin Churchill:12

Longest span of peal ringing: Ian Bell and Stephen Elwell-Sutton, 37 years

Leading methods: Plain Bob Major:24, Plain Bob Minor:13, Yorkshire Major:9

Number of venues: 27

Leading venue: 1 Albany Quadrant, Glasgow, 31