Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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St George's Day Ringing 2011 (and associated aspects)

Did you ring on St George's Day this year? After a successful campaign over two years ago to encourage the Church to have their bells rung for St George's Day (April 23rd if you didn't know it — although Stratford-upon-Avon has difficulty with it, as that date is The Bard's birthday; and his death date, too!), even getting as far up as the Diocesan Bishops and possibly above, there was enthusiastic ringing on the day in 2009 and 2010. A problem that threatened to derail the campaign was foreseen for 2011: April 23rd lay between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, a time when church bells are not rung due to the Holy Week restriction. If I remember rightly, there was a suggestion that the 2011 St George's Day ringing should be postponed to the May Day Bank Holiday to overcome the problem. This seemed a bit of a sham.

I have to admit that I don't (and still don't) know the precise reasons for the Holy Week ringing restriction. No, I wouldn't willingly ring on Good Friday (although some do); but the days up to Good Friday and the Saturday between then and Easter Sunday? That the practice is traditional is obvious: it has been around for all my almost-50 years of ringing and very much before then. I have little doubt it was originally a church edict, but I am inclined to wonder whether the Church is still fully behind this practice, or whether, because of its very long existence, it has seeped fully into ringers and therefore has also become a 'ringers' restriction'. If so, has the ringers' restriction become greater than the church restriction? I don't know.

Evesham Bell Tower has had a Wednesday practice in Holy Week since 1985. Did we just ignore the Church then and hammer on regardless, risking Hell, Fire and Damnation? Well, no. The suggestion came from the Vicar of the time, Canon Bertie Webb, who was a ringer. We have continued the practice since 1985, through three more incumbents, who have never, ever, commented about it. Have we experienced Hell, Fire and Damnation? Not that I'm aware, although I've had a few aches and pains over the years, but that might be due to being nearly 30 years older! It's possible St Michael at The Pearly Gates is going to have a word, but I'm convinced Bertie will have got through without any difficulty, so there's a chance. The complete lack of clerical comment (and remember it is the Incumbent who has full and final control of when and how his or her bells are rung) leads me to wonder whether the Church has moved on a bit, and whether in some cases the restriction on Holy Week ringing is mainly ringer-led. Let me say here and now that I have no disagreement with anybody, cleric or ringer, who wishes not to ring in Holy Week, but it would be nice to think their decision is based on known reason. As I said, I've been around some time and don't believe I know what it really is. It is possible the restriction is, in many cases, pure tradition. (I should say, though, that I respect the decision of any incumbent or ringer not to ring in Holy Week, howsoever that decision is made.)

When the discussions about St George's Day 2011 were doing the rounds last year, I emailed the primary person involved to say that Evesham had run its practice in Holy Week for many years and that there had been no clerical restriction from any of the four incumbents in the time. I suggested that the Church itself might have moved forward on the Holy Week restriction, particularly as the ringing in this case was to be for England's patron saint. I said then that although I could not be absolutely sure, I was 99% sure Evesham's Vicar would give his permission willingly when the time came, as he may be described as one of the more 'progressive' clerics.

It so happens St George's Day in Evesham is also The Asparagus Festival (unlike Stratford, our star performer is still alive!!). The St George's Day ringing takes place early, 7.30-8.15am, so it doesn't become confused with this event. I thought I'd better obtain the Vicar's permission this year, even though he's been enthusiastic about ringing for St George in the past. His reply was short and to the point: 'Ring away' he said! No trace of reluctance there, then.

So ring for St George we did (one of our band said he would ring for endangered dragons, but that also seemed perfectly reasonable). The big surprise I had when I got to the Tower was to find this year's Asparagus Festival was being set up in the Churchyard instead of The Park. So, no hint of Holy Week silence in that respect either! I cannot think the decision to allow the Festival to occur in the Churchyard was taken entirely by the Vicar. The PCC and churchwardens must have been involved, too.

Did this apparent invasion of Holy Week affect things ecclesiastically and spiritually? I did not feel it did, although to be fair I'm just a ringer and the actions taken at Evesham involved a much wider audience than the ringers. I've not heard gripes from anywhere, though. I do not believe, either, that Evesham's Vicar has been hauled before the Bishop of Worcester for a severe dressing down!

So where is all this all leading? I suppose it was the chain of events this year that has brought the Holy Week ringing restriction into much sharper focus and how one Incumbent has acted (and there may have been others), ie where's the consistency in the Church; and what, exactly, is the Church's view on this now?

I thought I should seek advice on the subject from the Guild's Chaplain, the Rev Patrick Wooster, firstly to ask how the restriction came about in the first place and secondly to ask whether there is now a general view in the Church about it; and if so, what it is (if you've got a Chaplain, you've got to use him!). Patrick's answers to these questions are outlined below.

By sheer coincidence (it must have been so) Tim Pinner passed on to me an article by Val Magan that appeared in the Badsey Society Magazine about Holy Week ringing. This is a truly fascinating piece and it shows that things have moved forward, but only in not taking ringers to court for such misdemeanours! It is certainly worth reading and appears below. (Val agreed to publication here.)

It would be nice to receive some letters on this subject, particularly as we haven't had any letters in the Newsletter for a few issues now. Let's have some views, folks!

Chris Povey

Bell-Ringers, Beware!

Valerie Magan, in her researches at Evesham Library, came across an interesting article in The Evesham Journal of March 1869, in which a case of overexuberance on the part of the bell-ringing fraternity almost resulted in them ending in gaol.

On Thursday 18th February 1829, Mr George Field and Miss Elizabeth Hambler, eldest daughter of the late Mr Robert Hambler of Badsey, were married in Badsey parish church. The marriage ceremony was performed by the Reverend T H Hunt; the church was well filled by spectators and the festivities carried on right heartily throughout the day. Towards the close of the marriage ceremony, the bell-ringers, namely William Field, Elisha Hopkins, Charles Hall, William Williams and Joseph Harris decided amongst themselves they would ring the church bells, in opposition to the ruling that the bells of Badsey church may not be rung during Lent.

John Phillips and Joseph Jones, both churchwardens, brought a case against the bell-ringers for riotous and unlawful behaviour in church. P.C. Surrell from Bretforton issued a summons for all to attend Evesham Petty Sessions Court on 1st March. On the day of the court session, the bell-ringers offered their deep regret at what had happened. The Churchwardens accepted their deep regret and said that they did not wish to go into the charge. The Magistrates felt that, although the Vicar and Churchwardens had the right to compromise the matter, they still wished to investigate the case. It was felt the bell-ringers had committed a serious offence and they should know exactly how the law stood. Had there been a charge, they could have received a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding two months.

The Reverend Hunt was also in court and stated he was desirous of saying that it was not on account of any personal feelings that the bells were not allowed to be rung; he believed the ruling had been in place before his sojourn in Badsey. In fact the bride had been a friend of his for the past 17 years and, he added, he had given her a bridal present, as had his wife and sister. He felt the rule should not be broken for rich or poor. The only time when the bells were rung in Lent was on the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales, and never before.

The Chairman felt Reverend Hunt and the Churchwardens were right on the subject of the law regarding the ringing of the bells and probably the parties who caused the disturbance were ignorant of the law — doubtless they were entirely ignorant. The Court was crowded, and the greatest interest seemed to be manifested in the proceedings.

Val's comment:_

It was obviously a relief to the bell-ringers and their families that they got away with just a ticking-off. Does anyone know when Badsey church's rules about bell ringing in Lent were relaxed?

Answers please to (and to this Editor, too, please!)

Our Chaplain's Reply

Dear Chris,
Before replying to your article about ringing during Lent, I would like to comment on the one about the incident at Badsey in 1829, as it contains examples of a particular bête noir of mine. Mention is made of The Reverend Hunt and in the following paragraph to Reverend Hunt. These are improper forms of address. Reverend is a description (not a title), which should always be preceded by the definite article and followed by a Christian name or initials, in much the same way as one would not say Sir Jones, but Sir Davy Jones. So it is not Reverend Hunt, but The Reverend T H Hunt. If you don't know the clergyman's first name or initials it is permissible to write The Reverend Mr Hunt, but if all that seems a bit of a mouthful it is quite proper to say Mr Hunt (or if he is of the high church persuasion, Fr Hunt), but never Reverent Hunt.

Here endeth the First Lesson on How to address the Clergy. For more information see the relevant pages of Crockford's Clerical Directory, or even Mrs Beeton's Household Management.

What puzzles me is why, since he objected to the ringing of bells during Lent, the worthy Mr Hunt did not conform to what was then a widespread custom, (though perhaps so a decade or two later, thanks to the Oxford Movement) of not allowing weddings during Lent, a policy still adhered to today by quite a number of clergy. In celebrating the wedding but refusing the bells the man proves himself duplicitous; I blame him for all the trouble!

Since Ye Ed has already written that I will provide this article, I'd better get on with it!

From earliest times the Christian Church, in common with all other major religions, has acknowledged the value of keeping times of fasting and self-discipline. In The Prayer Book there is a Table of days of Fasting and Abstinence, which begins with The Forty Days of Lent (there are only 40 days in Lent; Sundays are not part of Lent), and ends with All Fridays in the Year, except Christmas Day. You may think this a bit old fashioned and doesn't apply any more, but the 21st Century Common Worship also has a list of Days of Discipline and Self Denial. It begins, The weekdays of Lent and every Friday in the year are days of discipline and self-denial, except all Principal Feasts and Festivals outside Lent and Fridays from Easter Day to Pentecost. So the Roman Catholic Church is only just catching up with its recent reinstatement of Fish Fridays! I've never heard of anybody not ringing because it's Friday.

There are still many people, though, who give something up for Lent, and others who do things like extra Bible reading, or attending extra church services, but by and large the rigorous observance of the Lenten Fast has considerably slackened. Nevertheless, it is appropriate that this season of Lent should be kept with all due solemnity, and usually there are no flowers in church during Lent, the alterhangings and vestments are often Sackcloth, the Gloria in Excelsis is not sung during the eucharist, and some people feel there should be no undue ringing of bells. Some years ago I was invited to take part in a peal at a tower in Kent where the incumbent insisted that we should ring half-muffled because it was during Lent. I have heard of churches where Sunday service ringing during Lent was reduced to the tolling of a single bell, but I think the reason for this is very doubtful, especially as Sundays are not, technically, part of Lent.

The season of Lent works up to its climax in Holy Week, when we remember on Good Friday our Saviour's death for us on the Cross. There has always been a widespread practice of not ringing at all during this solemn week, though the final word is always with the incumbent. Personally I always encouraged open ringing for the Maundy Eucharist, celebrating the institution of the Last Supper. In some parishes it may be necessary to suspend or change practice night to accommodate some special services.

The Reverend Percy Dearmer, who was once considered the authority on all Church matters, has very little to say at all about church bells; in fact his book has only one short paragraph, which I quote in full: All the church bells should be silent during the last three days of Holy Week after the Maundy Mass. Therefore we have no precedent for the objectionable and morbid practice of tolling a bell at 3pm on Good Friday.

Well, times move on and things change. It is not unusual now to have half-muffled ringing and even quarter-peals on Good Friday. Such ringing sounds 'different', and is a reminder to the general public that Good Friday is a special day, something which is increasingly ignored in our secular and commercially motivated age.

With regards to your last question, Chris, about ringer-led restrictions, all the ringers I have ever known are only too happy to ring on any reasonable occasion (and some on unreasonable occasions, too!). I don't see any ringer voluntarily initiating restrictions on ringing, so the answer is No.

Now we come to the matter of St George's Day. The Church Calendar has a Table of Preference, which tells us what to do if two Holy Days fall on the same date, for instance if Lady Day falls on Good Friday. In such cases the preferred Holy Day is kept on the usual date, and if the second one is a Major Feast it is moved to the next available date, or if the second one is a Minor Feast it is praetermitted (which is just a posh way of saying that it is left out for that year). Technically St George is a minor saint, so since this year 23rd April was Holy Saturday he would normally have been praetermitted, but as he is our patron saint a special case was made for England. In fact this year several days got moved because they fell in Holy Week or Easter Week, and on the Monday after Low Sunday (2nd May) we had St George, moved from 23rd April; on the Tuesday we had St Mark, moved from 25th April; and on the Wednesday we has Ss Philip & James, moved from 1st May.

Of course, you still keep Shakespeare Day and Asparagus Day on 23rd April, but the Church celebrated St George on 2nd May this year, which meant that St Athanasius had to be praetermitted. It all happened because of the exceptionally late date of Easter, and you will be pleased to know that St George will not have his Feast Day moved again for many years to come!


(Thank you for this very valuable contribution, Patrick, which explains how the Church copes with ecclesiastical blips and why some clergy think the way they do about Holy Week.

So the Church celebrated the Feast of St George on May 2nd, while (presumably) the wider English public continued with 23rd April. I notice the Ringing World Diary shows the following entry for April 23rd: 'St George's Day (feast transferred to 2nd May)'. At least the confusion won't happen again for a very long time. I guess a similar, but permanent, situation exists with St Thomas's Day, which used to be on 21st December, but which was moved to 3rd July some years ago. Should the St Thomas's Day ringing now be called 'Old St Thomas's Day ringing'?

Although I could probably have managed without knowing about 'praetermitted', this was very definitely not the case with a clergyman's correct form of address. The incorrect use is widespread, which is why I am very pleased you have included that aspect in your reply: to make people more aware. I have been as guilty as anyone — and you will notice the headings on p.2 for both you and Peter Newing have been altered accordingly.

As an aside, I wonder whether the Irish would be happy to celebrate St Patrick's Day, as they do in inimitable fashion, on a date other than March 17th if that day clashed with a Holy Week day — which may be a possibility? Ed)