The Tower Handbook

5.3 Go of the bells

a: If a bell 'goes badly' what is happening?

There are two causes of badly going bells: friction and movement. When a bell is rung full circle, it goes from up to down to up again every stroke, and all the energy used to get it up in the first place is converted into movement (kinetic energy) and back again into height (potential energy) every time it swings. If any of this energy is lost during the swing, the bell cannot rise to the same height on the next swing and we feel it dropping.

A normal bell loses a little energy due to friction and rope drag, but you need very little effort to make up for this. If it loses a lot of energy the bell 'drops' and needs a lot of effort to keep it up. The bell can lose energy to abnormal friction in the bearings, in rope guides or from sticking pulleys. If the bell has worn bearings or is loose on its headstock it moves about as it swings. This too loses energy.

To ring a bell like this, you have to work harder than normal to keep the bell up. What is more off putting, the bell will periodically 'catch you out' by not rising as much as you expected. If you let that stroke 'float' (a natural reaction with a normal bell when you are a little early), it will drop even worse because you have not pulled it.

If the frame moves [31], or the tower sways, the energy lost by one bell can be transferred to another. Since losing energy causes a bell to drop, gaining energy will cause it to rise. Which bells gain and which lose energy depends on the relative timing of their swings. When ringing methods, this relationship changes, so the behaviour of the bells becomes unpredictable. Mostly they will drop, and you will need to over pull in compensation. But occasionally, the bell will suddenly rise and catch you out, making it very difficult to control since you are already over pulling it.

b: What makes heavy bells harder to ring?

A heavier bell needs more force to achieve the same change in its swing compared to a smaller one, but strength is not the only factor, and in most cases it is not the most important. No ringer is strong enough to force a heavy bell to make sudden changes. You can only achieve a limited speed change in one swing of the bell, so you must think ahead and prepare the bell for what you want it to do next. This means at each stroke, you must be placing this blow and preparing for the next one. For example, on the over-blow of a dodge, you would not pull, since that would raise the bell and make it difficult to check for the under-blow on the next stroke.

This causes major difficulties if you are not experienced in ringing heavy bells. You need to use more of your strength anyway because the bell is heavy, so you have less in reserve to correct for any mis-judgements. But heavy bells can be very rewarding to ring, since the bell rhythm will do a lot of the work for you if you let it.

c: What makes light bells harder to ring?

Light bells are easily disturbed from their intended path. This means you need to be much more precise with your handling, since the slightest carelessness can have a big effect on your striking.

A light bell swings faster than heavier ones, so to slow it down and ring in time with the others you have to hold it on or near the balance for longer. This also requires precision since what you do when it is near the balance has a bigger effect on the timing than what you do while it is swinging.

d: Can I tell which bell is which without ringing them?

If you go to a strange tower with no one to tell you which is the treble or tenor you must find out for yourself. If one bell has a large permanent box, or a longer and thicker rope, it is probably the tenor, but in most towers there are no visible clues. First test whether the bells are down. See section 3.1e. If they are, pull adjacent pairs of ropes to swing the bells gently together. You should be able to move them at the same speed, unless they are the treble and tenor. The tenor will move more slowly than the treble. You may also feel its greater weight, but that is less reliable with a light ring of bells.

If the bells are up you cannot do very much without ringing them. Even lifting them each off the stay to feel their weight is unreliable, since a light bell that is deep set may feel like a heavy bell that is light set. So you will have to strike them individually or pull off in what you hope is rounds and prepare to be embarrassed if you guessed wrongly.

Of course, if the local ringers had thoughtfully put numbers on the wall behind each bell it would solve the problem.


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