Allendale Bell Tower

Shirley Brown writes in with a lovely and fulsome description of the bell ringers at St. Cuthbert’s:

“An article in the Hexham Courant in September 2019 was headed ‘Tower of Friendship and Team Spirit’.  I think this sums up nicely the camaraderie that exists in St Cuthbert’s Bell Tower in Allendale. 

We have 12 people in the ‘band’ and meet to practice on a Wednesday evening from 7.30 until 9pm, then we the retire to the Kings Head for much needed liquid refreshment! Our members vary in age from 14 to almost 80 years and in experience from 2 years to 60 + years. We are a friendly group and always welcome visitors (whether or not they are bell ringers) and we’re always on the lookout for new learners.

On a Sunday we aim to start ringing around 10.15am. We ring until just before 11am to signify that the Sunday service is about to start. 

We also ring for other special occasions like weddings and funerals (if we are asked to) and occasionally we ring to commemorate a special anniversary, such as the centenary commemoration of two bell ringers who were lost in World War 1. On New Year’s Eve we always try to ‘ring in the New Year’ although we’re not sure how many people actually hear us above the excitement of the Tar Bar’l Ceremony  in the village! On 8th May  2020  we plan to join in the ringing for the VE Day 75th anniversary when bells will be rung throughout the country at 7pm in the evening.

Sometimes you will hear the bells ringing for longer periods of up to 3 hours. This is usually when visiting ringers come and ring a full peal [that is, a set of rings involving each bell in the tower for 5000 changes, or sequences] Our bells are known as ‘delightful bells to ring’ and are popular with visitors who often comment how nice they are.

There are eight bells in the tower at St Cuthbert’s; the first six were installed in 1906 and in 1934 a further two were added. For those with a musical ear they are cast in the key of G. The lightest (called the treble) weighs 3cwt and the heaviest (called the tenor) weighs 10cwt.  Details of the other bells can be found on our blog: Allendale Bells.

Learning to handle a bell properly, safely and independently is the first stage for a learner and this can take anything from a few days to a few weeks.  Once this milestone has been achieved then the learner must learn to ring in time with the other ringers, before eventually moving on to ringing call changes and methods.  Interestingly, learning to ring a bell is not something that you can practice on your own; you always need someone else there, for safety reasons and also to ring along with. The practice of bellringing requires absolute teamwork. 

Research by The Churches Conservation Trust and YMCA-Fit found that bell ringing had a range of benefits, from improved agility and reaction time to muscle endurance and cardiovascular fitness.

Climbing a steep belfry staircase can be a workout in itself, while pulling on the bell rope can strengthen biceps, quads and calves. So, if you fancy keeping your body and mind fit do come along and join us: new learners are always welcome. Just get in touch with shirley@mitchmay.co.uk

Or why not pop in and see us one Wednesday evening or indeed on New Year’s Eve!”

Shirley invited me to pop in quietly later this morning so that I could take a photograph of the bells up in the belfry for the diary. It wasn’t possible, for safety reasons, to catch the bells themselves in action (not only is the space confined up there, but the tower sways and the bells at close range are quite deafening!). But the images, due to be incorporated into the online page later this afternoon, should offer a slightly different perspective to the one we’re all used to, as we gaze up at the tall tower.

The big bells are arranged in groups, so that four bells are swinging in one axis, and the other four are swinging along the other axis. The big wheels attached to the bell are what the rope actually pulls. I arrived at the stairs to the bell tower just as the changes (eg 6 to 4; 5 to 3; 2 to 7) were being called. The final peal seemed to run right down the 8 note scale, lovely! On the secondary platform above the bellringers’ heads, the workings of the tower clock are mounted, and it’s from here too that the baffles can be pulled down to brighten the sound emanating from the tower. But Milton Armstrong and I had to climb another set of ladders from there to swing ourselves up into the top belfry where we could gaze in some awe at the bells themselves.

Before we leave this piece, I have to mention that today is also Stir-Up Sunday, traditionally the last Sunday before Advent, and the day on which people have enjoyed putting the Christmas pudding together. Carrie says she’s not making a pudding this year, because after the general feasting that’s gone on before, nobody eats it! Even though the blue-blazing pudding drenched in brandy is a show-stopper in a darkened room, we still all hold our bellies in despair.

1 Comment

  1. Great article, very good to see the bells still ringing in Allendale, I rang there for about 18 years before moving to Oz, , called in last Xmas, what a happy enthusiastic band , hope the bells continue to ring for many years to come. Keep building those biceps , keeping the bingo wings at bay 🐔

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