Handbell Ringing (Second Ringing World Editorial)


(Editorial, The Ringing World, 31st May 1946)

If the object of peal ringing was merely to ring peals, then anything which made peal ringing easier would un­doubtedly be an advantage. But since the object of peal ringing is not merely to ring peals, it may well be that things which make peal ringing easier can defeat the object for which peals are really rung.

If that is a hard saying, we will illustrate the point by an analogy. If the object of mountaineering was merely to get to the summit of a mountain, then the funicular railways which have been erected on several peaks would be a blessing to mountaineers, and they would be in­clined to agree with Dean Inge when he says in his clever parody of Bishop Heber’s familiar hymn, "They climbed the steep ascent of heaven, Through peril, toil and pain. But oh ! to me may sense be given to follow by the train". The ultimate object of the mountaineer and of the railway passenger is the same - to arrive at the sum­mit - but their essential objects are poles apart.

For the change ringer in tower-bell ringing the essen­tial thing is the mental journey he takes through the other bells. He has a continuous connected path to fol­low, and he reacts to his journey much in the same way and spirit as he reacts to a walk through the country.

What he values are ease and comfort (sometimes); diffi­culty and hard work (sometimes); novelty (sometimes); old familiar scenes (sometimes); the things he meets and the people he passes; and at the end the feeling he has done something worth doing. All other things in change ringing are subordinate to this mental journey and are of value only so far as they minister to it.

In the traditional style of handbell ringing this idea of a personal journey is somewhat blurred. Movement in a continuous connected path is still the root idea, but it is rather as if the man were moving two separate things than as if he were himself moving; but since the things moved are represented by his two hands, and therefore by parts of himself, the idea of personal movement is by no means lost.

In Mr. Woodhouse’s system of handbell ringing, when it is carried out completely and logically, the idea of per­sonal movement along a connected path entirely dis­appears, and with it the most characteristic feature of change ringing.

Correspondents have written to say that there is nothing in the system with which they are not already familiar, and one goes so far as to say he has found it all in the eighteenth century "Campanalogia". Perhaps the truth is that they have not yet realised what the sys­tem is. Broadly it may be said that the difference be­tween it and the traditional style is the difference between pricking a lead of a method on paper and the drawing of a skeleton course, only instead of it being done visually it is done mentally. About a year ago we published an article on "The Art of Pricking Changes". The article was intended for beginners, and was indeed written as a chapter in a projected elementary book on Grandsire. We showed how, once a few simple rules are under­stood, it is quite easy to prick any method when the positions of the places are known; and they can be known in a couple of minutes or so. Scores of methods can be written out quickly, and those which are reckoned complex and difficult as readily as simple and easy ones. All methods are reduced to one dead level of merit and difficulty. That is the tendency of Mr. Woodhouse’s system. The man who used it without any other aid (if such a man there could be) would find London Surprise little more difficult than Bob Major, or (if you like to put it the other way) would find Bob Major little less difficult than London Surprise.

Perhaps it is in thus destroying old standards of value that the revolutionary nature of the new system is most shown. In some ways, no doubt, it is a good thing that London Surprise, once so far above not only the capacity but the ambition of ordinary, ringers, should be made generally available; but it is rather sad to think of the old lion with his claws pared and his teeth drawn, turned out to graze among a flock of sheep.

There is a lot more to be said on this subject. We have dealt with one point only, and we have not referred to Mr. Spice’s clear explanation because it introduces practical modifications which are absent from Mr. Woodhouse’s more elemental system.