In this item for Wilbrahams Covid-19 Paul Lambton gives us an insight into bell ringing and coronavirus. For previous posts in this series search on Wilbrahams Covid-19.
How has bell ringing been impacted? Significantly, as churches have been following the Government’s lockdown rules and bell towers have in the main remained silent. Personally this has meant the two nights a week I rang stopped in March; Wednesday nights I would travel to Stretham which is the regional training centre (I’m still very much a novice) and Thursday nights in Great Wilbraham.
In most church towers it’s not possible to maintain a 2 metre distance between ringers, particularly in towers with 10 or 12 bells where in the ringing room it could get quite crowded. In our tower we have 6 bells and a good open platform but when all bells are rung together maintaining the safe distance would be quite difficult.
Ringing of the church bells is governed by various national bodies and the local Rector. So, when the Government introduced the social distancing rules we had to stop Thursday night practices in the church. Thursday nights have now turned into an electronic practice where we connect with other ringers in the band via Zoom. A new computer programme has been developed called “The Ringing Room” which I operate on my desktop PC, so I’m there with Zoom on a tablet device and the ringing room on my desktop PC. Trying to keep the right timing and your electronic bell in the right sequence of bells, all via the computer, with the vagaries of six different broadband speeds and finger reaction timings to deal with is mind bending at times. I’m just glad that village residents don’t hear the sounds we end up making in these electronic practices – ear defenders would definitely be required. Often at the end of these sessions I have finger ache (not a serious condition I know) and my head can be in a spin – I sometimes need liquid refreshment afterwards!
Several weeks ago Nick Toovey obtained permission to toll the tenor (6th bell) and Nick and I have been tolling for a few weeks now each Sunday at 6PM tolling 100 times (when we can count correctly) in support of those working tirelessly on the nation’s behalf and also those who have lost friends and family members to this terrible virus. It is our version of a Thursday 8PM clap. We also tolled for VE Day on the 8th May.
My other duty is that I act as steeple keeper for the church tower; this means looking after the bells and associated mechanisms. I also help Chris Hanson look after the church clock, which I am pleased to say has recently been keeping quite good time.
One advantage of not ringing over recent months is that the bells do not need as much maintenance and stay breaks have been none existent. I do though go up into the tower just to check everything is OK. I will need to do this quite soon as I have seen two places in the tower where bees have been entering and hopefully I’m not going to find a colony has made its home inside the tower. Chris Hanson recently mentioned that bees have been a problem before and the last time they were quite aggressive and he was stung several times so hopefully the present bees are friendlier.
On a more personal note I am thankful that it appears our village has not, to my knowledge, had many cases of Covid 19. We also have a village shop where you can obtain most of the basic household items, a community support system which was set up in response to Covid 19, neighbours who keep an eye out for each other and open spaces to walk and exercise. Winston our dog is getting much fitter with so much walking and he is an inch shorter than at the beginning of the outbreak.
Hopefully we can return to ringing sometime soon and the sounds coming out of the tower on a Thursday nights don’t sound too out of tune.