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The Socumentaries: On The Pull With Bell Ringing Society

Not sure if you want to take the plunge into the dizzying world of the University’s 200+ societies? Don’t know your Blowsoc from your Bladesoc? The Socumentaries team endeavours to sample as many societies as possible so you don’t have to.

Soc-umentary – A factual article about a society, presenting the facts with little or no fiction. As in, ‘Did you see that socumentary about Fashion? That shit cray.’

Society of Change Ringers

I didn’t know too much about bell ringing in general or Nottingham University’s Society of Change Ringers (NUSCR for short) in particular before attending their taster session. All I really knew was the following: the society is one of the oldest affiliated with the Students’ Union, having been founded in 1958, and it recently came tenth on the Telegraph’s list of the UK’s weirdest university societies.

bells

It began with a narrow spiral staircase that was inordinately tall in relation to its tiny width. It led to the top of the bell tower at All Saints Church in Radford, only about a fifteen minute walk from the town square, where the Bell Ringing Society meets every Tuesday evening to perform this  traditional English art.

Technically this practice is called change ringing, to differentiate from other forms of bell ringing that exist around the world. This means that the bells, each tuned to a different note, are rung in a series of patterns called ‘changes’ that are actually mathematical in nature. This also means that ringing bells is a lot more complex than I had first presumed.

Church

From the ceiling of the bell tower hung several long ropes, six of which were ready to be yanked. These were bell ropes – the bells above ranged in weight from a quarter of a ton to a ton. The society president, Chris Field, began by showing us exactly what change ringing involved: a bell, a rope (obviously) and far more technique than expected.

Then it was my turn. Oh yes. First I tried something called a ‘backstroke’ – I was told to hold onto the looped end of the bell rope while it was at rest. Next my partner yanked on the fuzzy woollen grip further up the rope, called ‘the sally’, forcing the bell into motion. When this force began to pull the rope upwards and my arms above my head I was instructed to pull down sharply, which resulted in a loud ‘ding’ from the bell high above.

Once we had got used to this action we swapped and I got a turn at doing the ‘handstroke’. At this point innuendos were being thrown around with abandon, what with all the tugging and pulling and jerking going on. When the handstroke and backstroke are put together and repeated in a pattern, we were assured, it was possible to ring a bell continuously all by yourself.

Change ringing is definitely not about exerting brute strength. It is much more important to get into a rhythm and master your technique. If you can pull the bell at exactly the right time in its swinging sequence, very little physical effort needs to be applied at all. While it takes a while to get used to the tempo of the bells – and I did obtain a few scrapes and burns thanks to my poor beat-keeping skills – once you have it down, I can see how the act of bell ringing can be quite fun.

Finally we were treated to an example of change ringing performed by members of the society. First, six bells were rung in a round: a simple repeated sequence from the highest to the lowest pitch. Then changes were called out, which meant different bells had to swap places with each other in the sequence to form variations.

Bell rings

Though it looked complicated, it was also beautiful and entrancing and ultimately a testament to the practice and determination of the society’s members. I would recommend bell ringing to anyone looking to try something a little different in a fun and friendly environment that welcomes all, from beginners to old hands. Discover for yourself why the art of change ringing has, over four centuries, permeated so deeply into the roots of English culture.

Lydia Cockerham

To find out more about NUSCR, visit their SU page or website.

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