Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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"Tie up your shoes and ring the bells!"

As you will see below, Julia came to the Vale of Evesham from Hamburg to learn more about specialist shoe making. Tom Sandham encouraged her to see English bell ringing, which fascinated her. In addition to shoe making, Julia writes and presents articles on various subjects for Radio Hamburg and said she intended doing one on English bell ringing. As she had to spend a short time in London, a visit to see the ringing at St Paul's was arranged so she could see what happens at the top end of the spectrum. The St Paul's ringers were extremely kind to Julia and all thanks are due to them for accommodating her in this way. Julia's spoken and written English is excellent, as you will see below. Although I agreed to her condition of writing the article below that I would correct any grammatical errors, I knew I would have to do little: her wording is almost unaltered. Pretty good, eh? We were sad to lose Julia, as she is a delightful - and very pretty - lady. Her observations of ringing and ringers in her article, particularly how ringing is a great leveller, are very perceptive. We hope she will return one day to see us all again. Alan Ainsworth, one of the St Paul's ringers, told me Julia would be overwhelmed with orders for her shoes if she stayed in London. Perhaps she might take that advice! Chris Povey

This article will tell you about a 3 months bell-ringing experience of a German shoemaker from Hamburg. It's a story which I have told to so many people by now and there will more to come: and a radio show in September.

Let's start at the beginning.

In November 2012 I arrived in Badsey for a 4 months internship in England. I'm a shoemaker and was willing to learn a lot more about orthopedic bespoke shoes at Bill Bird Shoes, placed in Blockley, Gloucestershire.

Since I was interested to spend my leisure time with the local community, I went to the local pub where a film club was going on once a month.

In January the lovely people invited me to have a beer with them when the movie was finished. Tom told me that he was a bell-ringer. A bell-ringer? I have never ever met a bell-ringer in my life before. To be honest, I never really thought about how the bells of churches are used these days. By now I know that there is a big difference between German bell-ringing and the English way…

At Badsey with Hilary explaining a method

Tom invited me to come along, to see how this is being done in Badsey. So I went the following Monday to the local church. I was astonished how many people came to ring the bells. All of  them were very kind and open to me and I noticed the sparkle in the eyes when they took the ropes and started bell-ringing.

I couldn’t really figure out how they knew when it’s their turn. Some explanations helped, but I realised it’s a really big subject to ring the methods. As if it wasn’t enough excitement, the bell-ringers gave me a quick introduction how to take the sally or the back-rope — and let me have a go with someone standing beside me. It was really exciting for me, and it made me laugh that everybody in the village could hear me learning how to ring the bell. Thank you for your patience, Badsey! The chocolate that was passed around was really good after this excitement. This was the very special moment, when the bell-ringing bug hit me.

Me trying ringing a bell at Badsey with John

Tom said, if I was interested, he would pick me up next evening to visit another tower in Offenham. So I met even more enthusiastic bell-ringers next day. This time there was a teacher, Claire, who gave the bell-ringers even more instructions if there was the need. It was interesting and good to see that bell-ringers of different levels were ringing the bells together. After this evening I decided to use my dictaphone to record sessions and to make a radio show about the culture of English bell-ringing which I run once in each month in Hamburg on a local radio station.

At Offenham with Claire, Christina and Stephanie

Tom told me about the 12 bells in Evesham tower and so I went with him on a Sunday. In Evesham I met some people who I’d met before and even more bell-ringers. Chris was so kind and took me up to the bells, gave me ear protectors and the bell-ringers downstairs were ringing the bells. This was awesome, I’ve never seen big bells like this, nor when they were in use, magical and beautiful.

It helped a lot to understand how the English bells work. Chris also showed me a little model downstairs and let me participate of his knowledge about the technical things of the bells.

My next place was Willersey, where David showed me the bells as well. Each tower has its own spirit and sound, which was really nice to see and to listen.

At Willersey with David

Since then I went bell-ringing two or three times a week. If I was not ringing I enjoyed being with the people and trying to understand the calls, methods and the system of balance and speed.

So many people tried to give me as much information as possible about bell-ringing. Lucky me got a picture-puzzle of Evesham bell-ringers and a calendar from Robert. Thank you again!

But time was running out. At the end of February I was supposed to be heading off to London, where I was going to do another internship at a shoemaker for a month.

My last Sunday in the Cotswolds Chris and all the others let me ring rounds in Evesham and on the last session in Offenham I managed for the first time to stand the bell. That was a great experience and I still think gratefully back to these moments and to all my lovely teachers and patient bell-ringers who I met.

Chris had a special surprise for me. He arranged a meeting with the bell-ringers of the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London! Even they were open to me joining the bell-ringing session on a Sunday. They were showing me the bells in action and let me record it.

Ringing at St Paul's Cathedral

Since they knew about my few bell-ringing skills, they let me have a go at St Michael's Church, Cornhill, in the City of London. I failed to stand the bell, but it was a special moment anyway.

On Easter Sunday I went a second time to the St Paul's Cathedral. Since it was Easter Sunday they were ringing a quarter peal, which was almost meditational for me.

The Tuesday afterwards I went back to Hamburg.

Thinking back to all the people I met through bell-ringing, I can’t believe how good your culture is. I am impressed how open and kind everybody was. Keep your culture up, which doesn't care about class society, money, age differences, levels — it's a social and challenging thing, which is good for those who like to be in a community.

Thank you and best wishes,

Julia Heyns

Very special thanks to: Tom, Chris, Claire, Martin, Robert, Hilary, Tim, Alan, Robert — and everybody else I met who wasn't mentioned.