The Post

One item that can be found at the church in Walsgrave, and that may possibly be unique, is a ringing post. This is an aid to ringing changes used well before the invention of methods and blue lines and other similar systems of organising bell changes. Most likely it was used as an aide-memoire for learners, although I can’t imagine ringing from it being particularly easy.

The post was placed in the centre of the ring of ropes, and has four sides as at the time there were four bells. These bells were hung anti-clockwise and the numbering of the sides of the post match this arrangement. Here is a diagram showing the inscriptions on each side of the post:

If it was really made in 1778 as the inscription implies, that would make it 239 years old at time of writing. It also means it predates the emergence of blue lines and methods as the principle mechanism for changes to be understood.

So, how does it work? Well, upon starting to decode it I noticed immediately two things. Firstly, the left column is simply counting up to 12 twice, so most likely that is used for keeping your place as you ring; this also implies that all 24 changes on 4 are described. Clearly it is the information in the right column that is of more interest. Secondly I noticed that some of the right hand column numbers are preceded by an ‘L’. It stands to reason that means “lead”, and it also seems like a good guess that the numbers are the bell that you are to follow that row. By that logic you can immediately see that the treble passes the 2 and hunts up the other bells, whilst the 2 leads three times.

Given all of this, it seemed very likely that the post was describing a set of changes originally called “Plain Changes”, which today we call Double Canterbury. Plain Changes was described in a work on the ringing of changes called Tintinnalogia in 1671 thus:

On four Bells, there are Twenty four several Changes, in Ringing of which, there is one Bell called the Hunt, and the other three are Extream Bells; the Hunt moves, and hunts up and down continually, and lies but once in one place, except only when it comes before or behind the Bells, at which time it lies there twice together; it has the same course here, as in the six Changes before set down; two of the Extream Bells makes a Change every time the Hunt comes before or behind them.

Which is to say, the hunt bell, which is usually the treble, is switched with its neighbouring bell until it is leading or lying, at which point the two bells on the opposite side are swapped. In modern blue-line notation it looks like this:

One can go through the numbers on the post and verify that they are indeed the bells which each bell needs to follow in order to ring these changes. It also shows why the treble leads in pairs but the other bells are seen to lead in sets of three.

Back when the post was used, this would not have been called a method, but simply “Changes” or a set of changes, or a “Peal” — quite different from the precise way the word is used now. Changes were not rung by strict adherence to a method line with calls (that is, bobs and singles). Rather a set of changes was simply written out, and it might change its mechanism at any point. The ringers simply learnt these changes. The method we now know as Grandsire was also originally described in Tintinnalogia, and it didn’t include instructions for calls. Rather the Peal was written out long hand (without lines tracking individual bells) with each part where an Extream Change occurred underlined. An Extream Change in this case would correspond to what we now think of as a call.

It is because ropesight is a skill that emerges quite naturally from doing enough ringing, even if it wasn’t as refined and understood as it is now, that I believe the post would have been used as an aid to learners to start ringing Plain Changes. The construction of such an object would not have been a quick affair, and it would have been impractical to make one for every Peal that was pricked. Furthermore no others seem to have survived to join us in the 21st Century. All that having been said, it is possible that Plain Changes is all that they rang.

It is a beautiful object, and a fascinating insight into ringing history.