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Decisions, decisions, ... 6 – Quarter peals

Decisions (by Yvonne Hall)The Central Council is criticised for focusing all its attention on peals and ignoring quarter peals. That is only partly true, since much of the Council’s work benefits ringing in general, including quarter peal ringing. But it is certainly true of the Council’s Decisions, which have a section on peals but nothing about quarter peals. Does that matter? Should the Council do more for quarter peal ringers compared to what it does for peal ringers?

How we got here

The modern concept of a peal emerged around 300 years ago. Before that ringers called any performance a peal. The concept of truth (not repeating rows) was established much earlier, and ringers sought to ring what they called ‘complete true peals’, which we now call extents, on four, five and six. The move to ringing the extent on seven was a huge step in terms of endurance and concentration (3 hours v 25 minutes) and it was obvious that the next logical step could not realistically be ringing the extent of Major, which Tintinnalogia had declared to be ‘altogether impossible’. So on higher numbers ringers shifted their goal from ringing extents to ringing a standard length, and they based this length on the extent of Triples.

The fact that we have such comprehensive records of peals rung over the centuries since the modern concept of a peal emerged reflects the high regard that successive generations of ringers have had for these special performances and for those who ring them. It is also a tribute to the diligence of record keepers and historical researchers, no doubt motivated by the same high regard for peals.

When the Council was formed in the late 1800s, the peal had been established as the gold standard ringing performance for nearly two centuries. People reported a few quarter peals and 720s of minor, but nothing like on the same scale as peals. Quarter peals became popular much more recently. Something like three times as many peals as quarter peals were published around the time that the Council originally formulated the Decisions but that has now reversed with nearer to three times as many quarters published as peals.

Quarters are not just more numerous now, far more ringers take part in them as well – something like one in three of all ringers compared with one in ten for peals. In that sense quarters are more closely linked to everyday ringing. But the peal is still the gold standard, and even though many ringers don’t aspire to ringing one, most recognise the achievement of those who do. So the difference between now and a hundred years ago is that as well as the gold standard we also have a highly respected silver standard in the form of the quarter peal.

The Decisions only refer to peals but in practice most ringers apply them informally to quarter peals (dividing by 4 where appropriate). So do the Decisions need to mention quarter peals explicitly?

Method naming

There is one important respect where the Decisions do marginalise quarter peals – method naming. I discussed method naming in an earlier article, and noted that the Decisions specify two alternative requirements for the privilege of naming a method: either ring it in a peal or ring an extent of it. The second criterion applies to Doubles/Minor, and allows a method to be named in a quarter providing it includes a whole 120/720 of the method. But for anything above Minor it has to be a peal. Even ringing a Triples or Major method for a whole quarter peal doesn’t currently entitle the band to name it, whereas ringing just one lead of it in a peal of spliced would. Is this fair?

This anomaly could be removed by changing the requirement (for Triples and above) from ringing the method in a peal to ringing it in a quarter peal. That would still require a longer performance than an extent of Minor or Doubles but the whole performance would not need to be in just the one method.

Compliance again

There’s a bit more to it though – the current Decisions not only require a peal length to be rung to name a method, the peal must also comply with all the additional constraints, as I discussed in an earlier article.

The last time someone suggested to the Council that method naming should be allowed in quarter peals two objections were raised – from opposite perspectives:

The second point was perhaps more telling. Did it mean that quarter peal ringing is some sort of wild-west outlaw activity, best left unregulated? Or was it merely an indication that there is something wrong with the over restrictive regulation of peals? As noted above, the vast majority of quarter peal ringers apply the basic criteria for peals to quarters anyway, so if the issues that I discussed in the article about peals can be resolved, would quarter peal ringers be happy to be included?


Another way the Council could engage with quarter peal ringers would be to provide formal analysis and records of quarters, as it already does for peals. Currently the only public analysis of quarter peals is produced by Alan Buswell. Should the Council be relying on a private individual to fill a gap in the service that ringers could reasonably expect it to provide?

The much greater workload involved in analysing quarter peals has in the past been cited as a reason for only analysing peals, but the advent of BellBoard makes analysis and reporting of all ringing performances much easier than it was in the paper era.

Of course analysis relies on reporting. Ringers rightly expect the Council to produce accurate records and analysis, but that in turn depends on the accuracy and completeness of the performance reports published by the bands who ring them. Currently quarter peal reporting is less rigorous than peal reporting, possibly because of the lower status accorded to quarter peals. For example, while peal reports almost always use standardised ‘peal names’ (eg Frederick J Smith) there is much less consistency of names used in quarter peal reports (eg Fred Smith, Freddie Smith, F J Smith as well as Frederick J Smith). That makes it harder for an analysis to determine, for example, how many people ring quarter peals or the turnover of quarter peal ringers from year to year. If the Council took more interest in quarter peal ringing then it could maybe encourage ringers to be more consistent in their reporting, knowing that it would lead to better information about the state of ringing.

 John Harrison 2016 (Cartoon by Yvonne Hall)

See the current Decisions . Article first published in The Ringing World  in 2016  


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