The Nottingham Eight

Browsing peal compositions of Spliced Surprise Major, for example at, reveals several compositions of the "Nottingham 8". This collection of methods was proposed at least 20 years ago as an alternative to the "Standard 8".

The Standard 8, of course, are London, Bristol, Cambridge, Superlative, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland and Pudsey. I don't think I have come across a definitive explanation of how this combination of methods came to be considered standard. The first four (L, B, C, S) were used in early compositions of spliced by Albert Pitman and Harold Cashmore, but where did Y, N (Lincolnshire), R and P come from? One possibility is that they were first added to Pitman's 4 by Noel (Jim) Diserens, but I don't know whether that's true, and there's still the question of why those methods were chosen.

The Nottingham 8 also takes Pitman's 4 as a base, and adds Cassiobury, Cornwall, Lessness and Glasgow. This introduces a variety of place bell orders, with two 2nds place lead ends (Cassiobury and Lessness) and two 8ths place lead ends (Cornwall and Glasgow). As a result, there is a greater range of possible structures for courses than with the Standard 8. There is also agreement that the musical possibilities are better. The methods are reasonably standard: Cassiobury, Cornwall and Glasgow are all in Norman Smith's 23-spliced, and Lessness is a variation on Uxbridge, which is also one of Norman Smith's methods. So for many experienced bands, there is not much learning to do.

The reason why I am writing about the Nottingham 8 is that we decided to ring it for our latest local band tower-bell peal in Glasgow, which we succeeded with and rang a very good peal. I became interested in the origin of this particular collection of methods. When looking for compositions, I noticed that several of them were published in a certain issue of the Ringing World in 1999 (page 942). Three of the compositions are by Richard Allton, and the fourth is by Graham John. The composition review by Don Morrison explains that alternatives to the Standard 8 are frequently suggested, but that Richard Allton had gone further than most people by producing three compositions for his choice of methods and commissioning a fourth composition from Graham John. The first peal of the Nottingham 8 seems to have been on 6th March 1997 at Bulwell, and Graham John's composition was rung on 21st May 1998 at Greasley. The peal report from 1997 doesn't describe itself as the Nottingham 8, but that description is used in Don Morrison's review. Both Bulwell and Greasley are close to Nottingham, so I can only suppose that this combination of methods was adopted by a band in that area and that led to the name.

What about the compositions, bearing in mind that I had to find one for our peal in Glasgow? One of Richard Allton's compositions is a 6-part with part ends that permute 4, 5 and 6 (and swap 2 and 3); this plan is aimed at producing CRUs. The second is a 7-part on a cyclic plan, with part end 14567823. The third, which was rung at Bulwell, is a one-part all-the-work with some split tenors sections. Don Morrison explains that it has a short 7-part all-the-work block as its core, which is extended with tenors-together blocks. The composition by Graham John, which was rung at Greasley, is a one-part, tenors-together, bobs-only, all-the-work.

More recently, other compositions have been produced. Don Morrison has a cyclic 7-part with a lot of 4-bell runs, a 6-part aimed at 5678 / 6578 combinations, and one which is essentially a 12-part, again going for 5678 / 6578 combinations. Tom Perrins has a neat 12-part with all the 5678s and 6578s off the front. A few years ago, following discussion on one of the email lists about Tom Perrins' 10-part composition of the Standard 8, I noticed that the idea works slightly more easily for the Nottingham 8, and produced this composition:

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

B M W H            23456
*     2  LEWWL.B.  34256
  - -    OO.C.B    52643
- -   -  SG.GS.CE. 65432
10 part, adding a bob at * (between WW) in alternate parts.

640 each Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W),
         Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative

129 changes of method.

I needed a composition for our peal in Glasgow. Ideally it would have been good to call Graham John's one-part all-the-work, but as we are still working on Horton's 4, I didn't have the energy to learn another difficult composition. The 6-part or 12-part compositions by Don Morrison are musical, but the method balance is uneven, which is also the case for Tom Perrins' 12-part. My own 10-part has equal amounts of each method, but I thought it might be a little dull to call. Instead, with a little help from my computer, I came up with the following 5-part, with equal amounts of each method, a change of method every lead, and all-the-work for everyone except 7 and 8.

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

W  B  H                    23456
-        BWLEW.E           52436
   3  2  COW.GB.GWS.CS.B.  43652
-     -  LS.OGC.           65432
      -  LEC.              46532
2     -  EOL.B.GOS.        56342
5 part.

640 Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W), Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative.

159 changes of method.

All the work for 2,3,4,5,6.

The 5-part plan is nowhere near as good for music as a 6-part plan, but you can't have everything.

"Wait a minute", I hear you say, "this is all very interesting, but isn't this a blog about handbell ringing?"

Yes it is, and I would like to ring my composition on handbells, as a (brief, I hope) diversion from the Horton's 4 project. I think I have convinced the rest of the Albany Quadrant band. We tried a quarter last Monday, to help us brush up on the methods before the tower-bell peal, which was promising although we didn't quite get to the end.

Finding a quarter peal composition was trickier than I expected. My ideal plan for a quarter of 8-spliced is a tenors-together 5-part composition with one lead of each method in each part. That's fine for the Standard 8, but it doesn't work for the Nottingham 8 because of the place bell orders. If we associate each place bell order with a number according to how many leads of Plain Bob it's equivalent to, we have B = +6 (equivalently, -1), C = +2, O = +3, W = -2, E = -1, L = -1, G = +1, S = +2. The total (ignoring multiples of 7) is +3, whereas it needs to be 0 if we are to arrange the leads into a number of complete courses. Calling a bob at Wrong, Middle or Home in one of the 8ths place lead end methods would add 1 to the total, and calling a Before in one of the 2nds place lead end methods would subtract 1, but it's not possible to get to 0 with exactly one lead of each method.

My solution was to use the first part of the peal composition as the basis for a quarter, and add the following block to bring it round at 1280.

M  W  H           56342
   2     LC.WC.B  64352
-     -  L.CW.    23456

In the end, we fell apart in the last course of the first part of the peal, and concluded that although Cassiobury, Cornwall and Lessness are not difficult in themselves, we suffered from lack of familiarity. I will report on our peal attempt in due course.