Ringing a new set of ten

Ten handbells

A handbell

My dad has a large collection of small bells, most of them originally servants bells. For many years they festooned his house, hanging from the picture rails, but recently he has been trying to assemble them into tuned (or tunable) sets for other projects. The first result is the set of ten pictured here. Tina and I used these pictures in Change-Ringing on Handbells Volume 1 among other illustrations of handbells from different founders. These bells were cast by Barwell, tuned by Tony Crabtree, and my dad, Phil Gay, made the fittings.

We've rung a couple of quarters on the front six and the back six, but the ten had not been rung until yesterday. There were a lot of ringers coming and going during the weekend because Tina and I had a party for our 25th wedding anniversary. Yesterday afternoon we managed to get a ten-bell band in the house at the same time: myself, Tina, Dad, Dorothy and Julia. We rang some plain hunting on ten, followed by a course of Grandsire Caters.

1 Albany Quadrant
Sunday 5th May 2024
126 Grandsire Caters
1-2 Dorothy G S Gay
3-4 Julia R Cater
5-6 Simon J Gay
7-8 Tina R Stoecklin
9-10 Philip W Gay

A handbell

Dad has a couple of other tuned sets of eight, and there might be more to come. If anyone is interested in buying a set for a homemade handbells project, let me know. I wouldn't mind trying it myself, but the tools required are a step above a typical DIY workshop and more in line with a serious model engineering workshop. The main challenge is making a good clapper. The clappers in these bells are made from hexagonal brass bar, turned down to a cylindrical shaft, with the end threaded (and a shorter section tapped) to make a screw-on flight. To do that you either need a lathe and expertise, or a friend who has them.

Getting leather thick enough for a good handle is another difficulty. Apparently the reason is that for some commercial reason, cattle these days are slaughtered at a younger age than in the past, which means that their hides are not as thick. That's why these bells have brass inserts to stiffen the handles.

The notes and tone aren't perfect, because of the starting point - a mixed bag of bells that have a different profile (thicker soundbow) than usual handbells. But Tony did a good job with what he had to work with, and we reckon the end result would be acceptable for a longer piece of ringing.