Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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It was not my intention to include a report of this tour in this issue, as by rights, having taken place in July, it should appear in the October issue. However, I went on the tour, it was very successful, it took place in glorious sunshine and it included some lovely countryside. It seemed a travesty to delay it until October, particularly as the printing date for the July issue followed by a few days…..So, out of sequence but not out of the minds of those who went, here it is.

The 2013 Guild Ringing Tour took place around Ludlow in South Shropshire. That area, S. Shropshire and N. Herefordshire, is very much ‘the land that time forgot’. Indications of a slower way of life occur after crossing the Severn. Those indications are much larger after Abberley Hill; and the rate of change accelerates as Ludlow approaches.

Holy Trinity, Wistanstow.

A few intrepid members chugged down there on the Friday to rendezvous at a campsite just outside Ludlow. The weather was fine and dandy, and simply encouraged such a move. There was another advantage; the chance to ring at Stoke Lacy in the evening, and therefore to grab another tower. There were favourable reports of Stoke Lacy’s bells, so this was a good bonus for the early birds.

The Saturday towers started at 9.00am at Holy Trinity Church, Wistanstow, just north of Craven Arms. Luckily for those travelling from home that morning to join in the tour, the day dawned magnificently and the journey was a pleasure. I arrived at Wistanstow a few minutes past 9.00am, but there were probably a dozen already waiting to go into the tower. The Church has a central tower with a ring of 8, tenor 9-2-18. Various 8-bell touches were rung here, but perhaps not as well as we might have done. OK, we were warming up….

St John the Bapt, Stokesay

The second tower was St John the Baptist, Stokesay. It was in a superb location, adjacent to Stokesay Castle. The brilliant sunshine allowed some excellent photos of the Church and Castle, and some of the party managed a quick tour round the Castle (you get so much extra on a FSG ringing tour….). Stokesay has 6 bells, tenor 9cwt. The village itself is merely the castle and one or two houses. However, it is the parish church of nearby Craven Arms. Even though the bells were a bit of a mix of founders, they were nice, and a variety of methods were rung. It was a very pleasant visit. As might be imagined, the interior of the church was from a past age: all box pews, and a large and magnificent one at the front for the Lord of the Manor and his family.

St Cuthbert's, Clungunford

St Cuthbert’s, Clungunford was the next stop. It was a strange experience walking into the church, as there were no pews, just lots of large tables and chairs, each table were laid with table cloths and cutlery. Did they need to welcome us quite so fully? Sadly it wasn’t for us, but for a large dinner that evening. It was a good idea to use the church for other functions, we were told. Unlike Stokesay, the flat floor throughout the nave and the use of chairs rather than pews clearly helped in this endeavour. This tower had only three bells until the mid-1990s. Two bells (the 5th and tenor) are medieval bells from the Worcester and Gloucester foundries. A redundant church provided two trebles to make 5, and new treble cast by Taylors completed the 6. The tower is unusually located; it is attached to the north wall of the nave in the middle. The access to the Ringing Room is a little convoluted, with a near vertical ladder as part. Sophia L-S does not like these at all, but she managed: just. I imagine the augmentation work included a new frame and new fittings, as the bells went well. The rise provided some mirth, as Michael and Stuart Cummings caught hold of the 5th and tenor of this 7½cwt ring (they ring at Brailes: 29cwt tenor). They were reminded that they only had small bells this time and were asked not to overtake the bells in front of them.

Still in brilliant sunshine we broke for lunch at The Sun Inn, Leintwardine. This was the recommended watering hole, and very pleasant it proved to be. When arranging, Richard L-S had enquired about food, but was told they didn’t do any, but the fish & chip shop next door did this and would bring anything ordered around to the pub garden. And so it turned out: a very novel arrangement, but perfectly executed! Not only that, the pub had some decent local ales on tap. Ah! the joys of sitting in a quiet pub garden in (by now very hot) sunshine, enjoying well-cooked and large portions of fish & chips with good ale in the land that time forgot. As I said earlier, a FSG tour gives you so much more…..

St Mary Magdalene's, Leintwardine

Eventually we had to move to ring at St Mary Magdalen’s Church, Leintwardine, which was a shortish walk up the road. As the photo shows, the tower is quite ancient. There are 8 bells here, tenor about 13cwt. Dove doesn’t show exact weights for the back 6 bells, which were all cast by Abel Rudhall in 1755, only for the two trebles, which were cast by Mears & Stainbank in 1953. This suggests the back 6 weren’t removed from the tower for the removal of their canons, and, if so, they would not have been tuned or weighed. There were a few problems with their ‘go’, so the bellframe may be old, but some of this must have been due to tower movement, which could be felt when standing next to a wall. A bells website says the back 6 aren’t well-toned, but I’m inclined to be more charitable and say they are a ring with some character, and I didn’t mind them. Some touches did not go, but the last touch of the visit, some Original Major called by Richard, proved they could be handled and struck.

St Mary V's, Bromfield

We chugged onwards to St Mary the V Church, Bromfield, with its 6 bells, 8-2-19 tenor. Abel Rudhall cast five of the 6 bells in 1737. The odd one out is the 5th, cast by John Taylor in 1890, so it may be safe to assume Abel Rudhall originally cast this, too. We were informed the bells were on plain bearings. They didn’t go badly for that, but the squeaking above during ringing pointed to the pulleys being on plain bearings, too, and that they hadn’t been lubricated. This was a shame, as the bells sounded quite good outside (better than inside). Again, a variety of methods were rung before our time was up.

St Laurence, Ludlow, rising above the rooflines

I arrived in Ludlow early and, being totally parched, headed for a very old teashop in Broad Street I’ve known for many years. A notice requests one waits to be seated and then a uniformed waiter takes your order. I asked for a pot of tea. A little later a uniformed waitress arrived with a tray, upon which was a teapot, a secondary pot with hot water, a jug of milk, a sugar pot with tongs for the cube sugar, a tea strainer, and cup and saucer. What a delightful and comforting sight! The tea was indeed leaf tea, as the strainer proved, and it was a life-saver. I wasn’t sure what this lot was to cost, but I didn’t care because it was just what I wanted: £4 on Broadway, Campden, Stow prices? Dunno, because I don’t go to such places in that way. After four cups of thirst-quenching tea, I asked for the bill. The cost? £2.10. What a treat!

St Laurence’s Church, Ludlow, was the climax of the day. Incorrectly billed as a ring of 8 in the Notice of the tour in the Newsletter (I should have known much better, as I played a part, albeit very small, in bringing about the augmentation), the 10 bells, tenor 16-2-16 in E, were to give us a challenge: 10 bells being outside the comfort zone of some on the tour; a long drag of 138 steps up the tower; and the end of the day in by now searing heat (up near 30 degrees). Lastly, the church is in the middle of the town, and as only two buildings rise above the general roofline (the castle and the church), any bad ringing would be heard by lots of people, ie we were very much ‘on show’.

Ludlow had a 25cwt 8 until recently. A scheme to augment to 12 foundered, because it was thought the considerable tower movement experienced at that time with those bells would be increased to an unacceptable degree. This was later proved by some dynamic testing, which recommended that a ring of 10 with the 7th bell at the time as the tenor would be a more sensible option, to contain, or preferably reduce, tower movement. This was the path that was adopted and the present ring is the result. The bells were down, so had to be risen. What should we do: pull up 10, or the back 8? Sense prevailed and we pulled up the back 8. The bells went nicely. The trebles were pulled up. We now had 10 bells: here goes! Rounds and call changes proved the recent work had provided an excellent 10; and they went well. In my humble opinion there’s nothing quite like 10! Yes, occasionally a bell might not make the back-stroke, which was probably down to tower movement, but all-in-all they were very good indeed: a worthy ring. Tower movement is still significant. As Michael Cummings remarked: ‘They say Brailes moves, but so does this place’. Indeed, when sitting out it is possible to feel this movement, but more remarkably it does not stop when the bells have been set, as it’s possible to feel the movement gradually damping down afterwards: interesting!

Ringing at Ludlow

We rang a very nice course of Grandsire Caters. Stedman Triples was thought to be a safer option than Caters, and a good touch resulted. The time came to fall the bells and there was some discussion about how many to bring down: 10 or 8? The argument for 10 won, but we were aware it had the potential to go pear-shaped if all the bells weren’t kept up tightly together. It is extremely pleasing to report that the fall was accomplished successfully, indeed extremely successfully, such that there was jubilation about its quality and that the memory of this fall would live long. What a wonderful end to a wonderful tour!

Richard had arranged a venue for a post-tour dinner later in the evening, but I was unable to stay for it, as I had to be home for a function. Also, too, Richard had arranged for those who were staying overnight to have another ring at Ludlow next morning. It was a memorable tour. Thank you Richard for all your hard work.

I emailed Richard to thank him for arranging such a good day. I also asked whether he might be minded to organise another in this format for 2014. He replied saying he would if he were asked. I replied saying, ‘Oh, you will be asked…’        CMP