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.