More About Handbell Ringing (Ringing World Editorial)


(Editorial, The Ringing World, 14th June 1946)

It would defeat our object if what we have written about handbell ringing were to convey the impression that we consider the more modern systems have made handbell ringing as a whole easier to the ordinary aver­age ringer. What they have done, or what they could do, is to make it possible for a very large range of methods, usually reckoned to be most difficult and com­plex, to be rung double handed without excessive difficulty by a class of person who by mental equipment, and training and opportunity are specially fitted for the task. The qualities needed are of the highest kind and are rare among ordinary ringers. They include not merely alert­ness of mind, but extreme concentration, and the ability to do mentally things for which most people need visual and physical aids. The persons who possess this type of brain usually make good chess players and it is probable that these mental powers can only be developed in the time of youth. The results which in the last few years have been attained by the new system are remarkable, and, as Mr. John E. Spice fairly claims, have justified its use by those who practise it. No fair minded man would seek to disparage the record of handbell ringing made by the Oxford University Society or fail to recog­nise the extraordinary skill and cleverness shown by the members. But whether the system described so clearly by Mr. Spice is one to be recommended for general use in the Exercise is rather doubtful. Probably it could only be put into practice efficiently among persons who started without any previous knowledge of change ring­ing generally, and who were handbell ringers primarily and tower-bell ringers only casually, if at all. The man whose handbell ringing was only a more or less unimportant adjunct to his tower-bell ringing would find it hard to rid himself sufficiently of what he had learnt in the belfry. To tell such a one that he must ring Lon­don Surprise at the cross sections as he rings Double Norwich must seem unreal, though he recognises the truth of the statement. The defect of these new systems for ordinary persons is that they are too separate and remote from what is valuable in change ringing gener­ally.

Some time since one of the most skilful and success­ful of living handbell ringers was asked how he rang his peals, and the reply was that he just did it. It was a modest, and in the circumstances a sufficient, way of saying that he brought to the task of ringing a handbell peal of London Major, or Spliced Surprise, or Stedman, or Grandsire Triples, all the knowledge and experience he had gained of tower bell ringing and handbell ring­ing, of the work of the method and its construction, of the coursing order and the position of the places; in fact the full equipment of an efficient ringer. That, in varying degree, is, we believe, the plan of the ordinary good handbell ringer, and, on the whole, it is the one to be recommended. The young people at Oxford and Cambridge are differently situated and what is good for them is not necessarily the best for others.

A few important words must be added. Any doubts about the advisability of the new systems for general use must be confined to those systems when they are treated as the fundamental and essential methods of handbell ringing and do not extend to the knowledge on which the systems are based. That knowledge can be and usually is employed in varying degree by good handbell ringers who employ the more traditional style. The traditional style is a fitting development of the art of change ringing and has its proper place in it. The new systems in their stark nakedness stand outside the art, and, for all their efficiency, have no real place in it. Perhaps for that reason they will never come into general use.