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Recording performances retrospectively

The last few decades have seen the emergence of several on-line performance databases: Pealbase, peals.co.uk, Felstead, Campanophile and BellBoard. Of the two remaining, BellBoard is more open and has the most comprehensive coverage of performances since its inception. Many people have already taken the opportunity to extend its coverage earlier by submitting older performances, typically those at a particular tower or for a particular society, those in which an individual rang or those that were special for some other reason. As more people do this, BellBoard will become an increasingly useful historical resource as well as a contemporary record.

Retrospective submission raises some questions. When entering public information one should obviously try to be as accurate as possible, and I know that the managers of BellBoard share this concern. But ‘accuracy’ is not always simple when using different sources of information, as I discovered when I entered all the historic peals rung at Wokingham All Saints.

I had two primary sources, the tower peal book and the DVDs of Bell News and The Ringing World. The peal book was easiest to use – all I had to do was turn the page and copy the content into BellBoard. I might have used just that, but for no peals did it record the societies to which they were accredited. I knew a few because I rang in them, and I could guess many of the others, but I didn’t want to record guesses.

That was my motivation for going beyond the peal book and checking what was published in Bell News or The Ringing World, which is when I realised that different accounts of the same event were not necessarily the same. Where one or other account had something missing, it was easy to merge the two to create a more complete record. but it wasn’t all that simple.

I’ve mentioned that the peal book had no society attributions whereas the published reports did. That should have been easy to add, except that ten of the peals were published with compound attribution giving both the branch and guild. In the interest of accuracy I felt this should be retained but I couldn’t enter it by choosing from the menu that BellBoard provides so I typed it in the ‘other association’ box, for example ‘Oxford Diocesan Guild (Sonning Deanery Branch)’. That displays correctly in the performance report but a menu search for ODG only finds the 72 peals that were entered normally, not the 10 with compound attribution. However, a search for ‘Oxford diocesan’ in the ‘other association’ field does find all 82 peals rung for ODG.

The peal book generally used Christian names whereas the published reports tended to use initials, so I merged them and used full names where possible (or if I knew the full name from another source).

Footnotes often differed. The peal book was more likely to include locally relevant information whereas the published reports were more likely to include ringer related information (like first in method), so again I merged the two.

Composers were often referred to by surname only. If one source gave a first name or initial then I used it, but if neither did, or if one didn’t mention the composer, then I left it as surname only, even if I though that might be ambiguous.

One problem was the Tenor weight. The peal book never gave it, and all published reports wrongly gave it as either 19cwt or 19½cwt. Whether it ever weighed that much is questionable, and after the canons were removed in 1903 (shortly before the first peal) it certainly didn’t, despite being listed as such in Dove. When it was weighed in 2004 it was 16-0-10. I judged that both the real weight, and what was believed at the time, should be recorded so I listed them both, ie as: either ‘19 [16-0-10]’ or ‘19½ [16-0-10]’. I also corrected a couple of pre 2004 peals that someone else had entered using 15-2-11 (the weight after tuning in 2004).

It would be interesting to hear the experience or views of others who have made retrospective entries on BellBoard

  John Harrison

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