The Essex Association of Change Ringers   President: The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

Becoming a Bell Ringer

Does the peal of church bells give your heart a lift? You are not alone in feeling so. But did you know you can actually help make it all happen?

Imagine being at the centre of such wonderful sounds, right in the core of some of England’s most cherished buildings, wholeheartedly engaged in an exhilarating activity that’s a mix between making music and playing a team sport. It's not a coincidence that a group of bell ringers is known as a band or a team!

You can join in and play your part in preserving our country’s precious heritage.


Who can become a ringer?

The short answer to this is, practically anyone! As long as you are reasonably fit and enjoy a bit of a physical challenge — and quite a bit of a mental one — you can start at any age.

You might find yourself ringing with someone 15 years younger on your left and 20 years older on your right!

We teach learners from the age of around 9 years — just look at the Essex Young Ringers webpage here to see what the juniors get up to.

How do I get started?

As a prospective learner, junior or senior, you will have a taster session to see how you feel about ringing before embarking on a learner course.

If you decide to go ahead, there are a few stages in learning to ring, starting with the basic technique. It will take you about eight hours of practice to learn to control a tower bell and handle the rope on your own. This initial teaching takes place on a one-to-one basis at least once a week.

When you are able to control a bell, you will learn to ring ‘in time’ with other ringers — this takes most beginners around two months, after which you will be ready to join the local team.

Do I need any special skills?

You will need a sense of rhythm, decent coordination, and the ability to remember sequences.

While bell ringing isn’t ‘physical’ in the sense of needing lots of strength — it’s much more about technique — you do need a full range of movement in your arms and shoulders.

You also need to be able to get into ringing chambers, some of which are up ladders or in towers with spiral stairs, though there are rings on the ground floor of some churches too.

What about ringing with the local team?

Once you are able to accurately change the place of your bell within the set order, you are ready to become part of a band and ring for various events, according to your experience and abilities.

How quickly you develop the complex physical and mental skills of bell ringing depends on the time you can devote to it, but you can go at your own pace.

Mastering the art takes practice and dedication — as a band member, you will be expected to turn up regularly and punctually to practice sessions — but there is no better feeling than successfully completing a piece of well-struck ringing as part of your band.

How long does it take to learn to ring?

After learning to handle the rope and basic bell control, you can expect to be ringing unsupervised after about 6 months, then ringing in changes accurately within a year.

In another year you’ll be understanding method notation and able to ring basic methods, if your tower is ringing at this level. Then, the world is your oyster!

“I’ve been ringing for over fifty years, yet I still learn new methods and develop my ringing skills,” says our Education Officer.

Do I have to be a churchgoer?

Not necessarily, and you don’t even need to be particularly religious, though for many people ringing is an important aspect of their Christian witness.

You may find that the appeal for you lies in being part of the local community, and you may relish the idea of ringing for a wedding or a funeral or to celebrate local and national events.

Be prepared to ring for church services though, in recognition of the free use of their historic bells.

If you are interested in learning, the Essex Association will match you to an instructor in your area (this may or may not be at the tower where you plan to become a member).

All our instructors are experienced ringers, so you will be in very good hands. Most are also members (or working towards membership) of the Association of Ringing Teachers.

All instructors will be DBS checked. This is now a mandatory requirement for anyone who teaches bellringing. The Essex Association takes the safety of children and vulnerable adults seriously.

Once gained bell ringing is a skill you’ll never forget and can open up a lifetime of experiences and enjoyment.

Now for the history

Bell ringing is a rather English thing, invented more than 400 years ago. So learning to ring — and making that quintessentially English sound — is participating in an ancient craft.

There are roughly 7,000 towers in the world where bells swing full-circle and ‘methods’ (bell tunes) can be rung. Of these towers, most are in England; Wales has about 220, Ireland 39 and Scotland 23. Outside the British Isles, Australia has about 65 towers, the USA nearly 50, with the rest to be found in countries with present or past ties to England.

The number of towers is constantly changing — sadly, bells occasionally fall into disrepair though, happily, many redundant rings of bells are restored to full ringing potential too.

Where can I ring?

You might like to visit your local tower and meet the band. Click here to see a map of all churches with bells in Essex. If you click into the area you are interested in, you can find more information about towers nearby.

What next?

An email to the is your first step, she'll put you in touch with an instructor in your area. This may not be at your local church, but they will guide you through the first steps in ringing, and recommend a local tower where you can pursue your hobby.

Thanks to Louisa Hennessy, Mark Robbins, St Mary’s Shenfield and The Association of Ringing Teachers for images and video, and to Sue Joiner for editing.

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