Ringing Bells for Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days, the UK’s largest festival of heritage, kicks off today.  Over the next 4 days you can enjoy free access to hundreds of events and venues around the country celebrating all that heritage has to offer.  This year we’ve teamed up with the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers to bring to life the 400-year old tradition of English-style bell ringing.  Listen out for bells near you between 6-7pm tonight!  Find out more in this blog by Kate Flavell.


The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers is thrilled to be working with Heritage Open Days to open up so many of our towers and belfries so that people can see places that are often hidden from public view and learn more of the mysteries of bell ringing.  In some places it is even going to be possible to have a go at ringing a bell – the loudest musical instrument there is!

The bells at All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames. ©Kate Flavell

The bells at All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames ©Kate Flavell

There are bells hung for full-circle change ringing in over 5000 churches in England, most rung regularly by dedicated and experienced bands of ringers.  What is full-circle ringing?  It’s when the bell is rung by pulling on a rope that goes around a wheel to make the bell turn from the ‘mouth up’ position right round until it is ‘mouth up’ again, making one sound, or ‘dong’, as it turns.  It then turns back right round again, carefully controlled by the ringer so that it sounds at exactly the right moment, to fit in with the other bells being rung at the same time.  This enables teams of ringers to ring patterns of changes that they learn by heart, rather like learning the movements of a dance.

Sometimes you can see the ringers as they stand to ring at the back of the church, or on a gallery visible from the church, or very occasionally right in the centre of the church, but most often they are hidden away up a secret spiral staircase that is not usually open to the public.  But over this weekend you will be able to go up that spiral staircase and see what happens at the top, talk to the people who ring the bells and learn more of the 400-year heritage of ringing.

Bell ropes at All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames ©Kate Flavell

Bell ropes at All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames ©Kate Flavell

It has been hard work to get so many towers open, including my own tower, but it is so exciting that so many will be open together and that so many of us will be sharing the opening of the Heritage Open Days weekend by ringing our bells between 6 and 7 pm on Thursday September 8.

At my tower we will be ringing what is called a quarter peal, where we ring non-stop for nearly an hour.  We have to be sure that there won’t be any mechanical failure, such as a rope breaking, and we have to concentrate really hard while we are ringing to remember the pattern and not make any mistakes or our quarter peal attempt will fail.  We lock ourselves away to do this as we don’t want any interruptions to distract us, and in fact our church is closed at this time, so you can’t watch, but you can hear the loud noise we are making outside to tell our town that Heritage Open Days are here!

Then we are doing tours the next day to take people up to see where we ring, to see the records on the walls of ringers, from the 18th Century to modern times, who rang for hours non-stop (ringing a full peal for three hours or more), to see a demonstration of how the bells are rung and to have a go at making them sound.  Then there is an optional addition – to climb further up a ladder to see our huge bells.

Find out what is going on near you – there is something similarly exciting and different!

Blog by Kate Flavell, Heritage Open Days Organiser, Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.

Heritage Open Days Central Council of Bell Ringers Logo

Heritage Open Days logo




Heritage Open Days runs from 8-11 September 2016.  You can find out more about events happening near you on the website: https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/

You can find out more about bell ringing events here: https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/news-desk/news/ring-out-the-bells

Share your cultural treasure by posting a picture or video on social media using the hashtags #TreasureYourTreasures and #HODs


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