New Shoreham recruits learn traditional art of bell ringing ahead of Armistice day

Enthusiastic new recruits in Shoreham are learning the centuries-old tradition of bell ringing ahead of a nation-wide campaign which will mark 100 years since the Armistice.

The bell ringers at St Mary de Haura in Shoreham
The bell ringers at St Mary de Haura in Shoreham

The eight bells in the belfry at the grade I listed St Mary De Haura church are among thousands across the country set to ring out in unison on 11 November this year.

Church bells across the UK were restricted throughout the course of the First World War and only rang once Armistice was declared.

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On 11 November in Shoreham, the bells will ring out half muffled before 11am – a traditional sound showing mourning out of respect for the 1,400 bell ringers who lost their lives in the war – before ringing out freely after a service is held.

The bell ringers at St Mary de Haura in Shoreham

Hamish McKenzie, captain of the band at the Shoreham church, said: “The aim is to celebrate the armistice and the end of war.”

In preparation, he has been leading the training of recruits aged 11 to 87 at practice sessions every Tuesday at 7pm.

Hamish has been bell ringing for about 20 years and said: “I did it as a kid and I came back to it in my 40s or 50s.

“It’s a nice, community thing to do. It’s quite meditative when it goes well.

Hamish McKenzie, captain of the bell ringers

“It’s keeping English traditions alive.”

He said bell-ringers were ‘a friendly lot’.

“You can go virtually anywhere in the country and go ringing,” said Hamish, who has recently rung bells at churches in Bristol and Hungerford. “You will be welcomed with open arms.”

Mastering the strokes

Holly-Ann Schofield ringing the bells

In the ringing room, located up a narrow, steep spiral staircase at the church in Shoreham town centre, Hamish and other experienced ringers have been teaching newcomers the two key movements to control the bells – the handstroke and backstroke – and how to combine them.

Once the strokes have been mastered, they can join in the band – a team of people who ring together.

The bells can be rung in rounds – played in order down the scale – or in changes – where the bells are rung in sequences.

“It’s not something you pick up in a day, it takes quite a lot of effort,” Hamish said.

Amanda Rubython ringing the bells at the church

An important occasion

Holly-Ann Schofield is one of eight residents who responded to the call for bell ringers ahead of Armistice day.

“My birthday is 11/11 so I felt duty bound, I thought – I have to go,” she said.

“I was very much inspired by the armistice call.

“It’s such an important year – not just for armistice day, but for the 100 years of the suffragette movement too.”

Holly-Ann has been to about eight sessions so far and said: “I love it.

Jim Lilley ringing

“It’s a technique, you have to feel it. There’s no rushing it, people learn at different paces.

“You’ve got to feel the balance of the bells.”

After several sessions, resident Amanda Rubython has picked up the basic strokes and is now getting used to ringing with the band.

She said she had been interested in learning for about three years.

“I live down the road and I could hear the practice on a Tuesday, I thought it was beautiful and really wanted to do it,” she said.

She said learning to control the bells had been hard, but said: “It’s been really good. It’s totally not what I expected.

“It’s really sociable, really friendly, all sorts of different people do it.”

Another bell-ringer, who is also called Holly, who rang bells as a teenager and started up again in Shoreham back in January, brings her sons, aged 11 and 13, along to learn the skill.

She said: “I wanted to do something together as a family. I did it with my dad when I was a kid.

“It’s quite a nice skill, with all the different methods.”

Teaching the next generation

One of the veteran bell-ringers who has been passing on his knowledge of the tradition is Jim Lilley, who has been bell ringing since 1944 and was captain at Shoreham for 40 years from 1969 to 2009.

The 87-year-old has rung bells in almost every cathedral in England, Scotland and Wales, visiting a total of 3,369 towers – of which he said his favourite was York Minster.

He said: “I enjoy meeting people and going to different towers, at every church and town you always see something different.”

Jim was part of a band that rang the bells in Crawley for a mammoth five hours and 45 minutes on Boxing Day in 1994.

He said of the Armistice Day event: “It’s nice to ring the bells after 100 years. Hopefully most towers in the country will be ringing that day.”

He added that he was pleased the campaign to get new ringers involved had been so successful.

“Half the band are in their 70s and 80s, so it’s nice to have a new team.

"They are the next generation,” he said. “They are doing very well, they are so keen.”

Anyone interested in learning to ring bells should email [email protected] or call 01273 440 202

Eight bells in the belfry at St Mary de Haura