Ringing World Vol 35, Iss 1526, p289-91,

21st June 1940


 Last week we warned our readers that important official action in connection with the ringing of church bells was under consideration by the Army authorities and the Ministry of Home Security. On the day that this intimation appeared, an Order in Council was made prohibiting entirely the ringing of church bells, except by the military or police, as a notification of the landing of enemy troops by air. The Order has been made and, until the ban is lifted, it has got to be observed, but it will have incalculable effects upon the Exercise and upon the art. For the first time for more than a thousand years no church bell will sound on Sundays in all the land.
  That in itself is a thing to distress the soul of all who think upon it; who remember all that the church bells have meant to the people of this country through so many centuries. In town and in village the bells have been from time immemorial accepted as part of the life of the people, marking their joys and their sorrows, collectively and individually, but, more than all, in their appeal on Sundays, an invitation and a reminder.

  War calls for the sacrifice of much that we cherish, and now the ringing of the church bells on Sunday has to go with the rest. The action that has been taken cannot be questioned; the object of it has been stated by the Ministry of Home Security. There are, however, one or two things about the decision which might well be further explained. For instance, what is the public to do when a bell is rung to notify the landing of enemy troops? We have not yet been told. Is everybody to stays indoors, as when an air-raid warning is sounded ?
  Whatever its purpose, can such a warning be given in time to be of use, and is a church bell, heard, especially when chimed, only within a limited radius, an effective means of sounding the alarm? The ringing of a bell is a job which requires experience, and unless some proper arrangements are in operation everywhere, there are likely to be accidents, broken clock hammers and cracked bells. It is easy to say ‘ring the hells when raiders land,’ but the carrying out of the order is not so simple as it sounds. To make the best of this means of public warning it would seem desirable that in connection with every tower ringers should be incorporated as members of the Civil Defence Corps and used for the purpose of sounding the alarm. Present members of the corps, unless they are ringers,  cannot be taught because there is now no opportunity of doing so — the ban on the sounding of bells prevents it. These and other points naturally occur to those who understand the technicalities of bell ringing, but we are sure there are thousands among (Continued on page 290.)

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the ringers of England who are ready to be helpful if  the authorities will enlist that help.

  But the ban on bells is a stunning blow to ringing,  from which, even when the war is over, it will take a  long time to recover unless the ringers themselves, here and now, resolve on maintaining their organisations, both local and territorial. The danger is that ringers, always, in the mass, inclined to be apathetic, will just let their interest fade out, without any attempt to meet the  trouble by utilising such opportunities as already exist or, can be improvised. Because the church bells cannot be rung, it does not mean that the art must die in every tower. The chief source of interest and attraction may be silenced, but there remain other things that may be done. Many new hands will be required when the bells once more are permitted to ring out; they can still be trained in the way to handle a rope and ring by practice with fixed clappers. It isn’t much fun, perhaps, to the experienced ringer to pull the ropes and get no sound from the bells above; but it can be a help to the beginner to master ropesight, which is the foundation of change ringing. And then there are the handbells, far too much neglected both in the teaching of beginners and certainly by ringers generally who, if they only realised it, would find handbell ringing a most fascinating hobby. The experienced ringer on tower bells will discover, if he has not already done so, that change ringing on handbells opens up an entirely new field of interest and activity, and an evening’s practice will provide not only a pleasant recreation but a refreshing antidote to the cares of the day. There is no time for thinking of things gloomy or otherwise when trying to pilot a pair of bells in any method, and we do urge ringers, now that church bells are under a ban, to direct their energies to change ringing on handbells in order both to retain their interest in the art and to preserve it for happier times.

  This risk of loss of individual interest in ringing is also a serious threat to the various associations and guilds throughout the country, and immediate effort should be made to find schemes that will help to maintain the life of these organisations. If committees and officials merely sit: down, fold their hands and resign themselves to the virtual extinction of their societies, they will be doing the greatest disservice to the art and the Exercise. They should make plans to give their towers all possible support in maintaining the life of the local bands, and even meetings on a small scale need not be entirely abandoned, if the associations will encourage the teaching of handbell ringing and endeavour to keep alive the social contacts which is one of the chief aims of district meetings. During  past months the Ancient Society of College Youths have set an example in this matter. When ringing was not possible in their customary towers, they continued to hold their periodical meetings at headquarters, and while, naturally, they did not attract such large gatherings as when there were church bells to be rung, they found quite a reasonable amount of support. Other associations could do likewise, especially, if the arrangements were planned for smaller groups of towers than the average association district. Combined practices on handbells and social intercourse would do a great deal to keep alive the spirit and objects of the associations. (Continued on next page.)

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Another question which probably a good many of our readers will ask is, ‘ What of  “The Ringing World” ? ’ This curtailment of ringing must of necessity have a serious effect upon the paper, and much depends upon developments in the near future. We feel that now, more than ever, the Exercise needs a journal to enable ringers everywhere to keep in touch, and to knit it together when the time comes for a restoration of church bell ringing. This, however, can only be done with the utmost support which all our readers can give us and the contributions of those who are able to supply matter for our columns, the contents of which will almost certainly have to be remodelled. If our friends will help us in this direction, each feeling that on him depends the future issues of this journal, no effort on our part will be spared to continue a work which we consider to be more essential now than ever. May we ask our readers in this connection to adapt the slogan given in another connection, ‘ It all depends on me,’ realising that we shall need their support to maintain our circulation and their contributions to maintain the interest in our columns.


 21 June 1940

The complete ban which was placed last Thursday on the ringing of church bells came as an unexpected blow to ringers. Some inkling of what might happen was gained by ‘The Ringing World’ earlier in the week, and the paragraph of warning of things to come was inserted just before going to Press.

  Notification had earlier been received in this office that at various places in the Aldershot Command notification had been given that bells were only to be used for signifying the landing of enemy troops by parachute or aeroplane and, as a result, the Editor got into communication with the hon. secretary of the Central Council (Mr. G. W. Fletcher), who visited the Ministry of Home Security on Tuesday.

  Consideration of the plan for using church bells as a warning was actually taking place, and the hon. secretary endeavoured to persuade the authorities to adopt a more modified scheme than a complete ban. Unfortunately, the lines suggested by Mr. Fletcher were not followed, and the new Order was issued two days later.

  Ringers, disappointed though they are, accept the decision of the Ministry as one of the minor sacrifices that have to be made in the national interests, although the efficacy of what is proposed is still conjectural, for reasons that ringers will know well.

  There is, however, one important point that in the interests of the public should be made plain. What is the object of the warning which the bells are to sound? Is it to call certain services to help in rounding up the invaders; is it to tell the people to keep indoors? The public ought to be informed, otherwise they may go rushing out and impede military or other defensive action, to say nothing of the risks they may themselves run.

  The Archbishop of Canterbury was the first to give any public intimation of what was to be expected when, addressing the Church Assembly at the new Church House, Westminster, he said that the silencing of church bells at an early date was possible. He warned the clergy that he had been advised by Sir John Anderson, the Home Secretary, that some restriction on the ringing and chiming of bells was to be expected.

 The ban has not only put an end to all Sunday service ringing, but it will also, of course, seriously affect meetings of associations, although there is already proof that a meeting can be successful even without ringing. Last Saturday, the Western Division of the Yorkshire Association met at Ilkley, and forty ringers were present.

  This is an example which other associations may bear m mind when tempted to adopt a defeatist attitude and imagine that it is of no use to hold meetings if the church bells cannot be rung.


  It is only natural that ringers should feel disappointed at the newly issued Order, which forbids the use of church bells except as a warning, after the efforts to maintain their use for their chief purpose, that of ringing for service.

  This is not the time to express that disappointment or to offer criticism of the Order. Military needs come first and it is the duty of ringers to help the authorities in every possible way to carry out the Order. It may be, however, that a more effective warning may be discovered later.

  It is not yet clear how the bells are to be rung as a warning, or who is to give the instructions that they are to be sounded. To make the warning more effective, bells that can be rung should be rung and not chimed, so that the sound may carry as far as possible. It might be well, therefore, to consider some of the difficulties in the case of bells hung for ringing. If the warning is to be sounded quickly, it will be necessary to have always at hand, day and night, at least one person who can ring a bell.

 In this connection it may be well if the clergy were warned of the danger of allowing any unauthorised person into the tower. Unfortunately, quite a number of the clergy and most of the local military authorities do not realise the risks to limb or to church property.

  There is considerable risk of damage to the bell and the person attempting to ring it if he has no knowledge of ringing, and to ensure that someone is available day and night will require a good deal of local organisation.
If under the Order a number of bells are to be rung where they are available, the difficulty of getting ringers together would be insuperable in most cases.

  There is a special risk of damage in towers where bells are hung for ringing and there are no organised ringers, as is unfortunately the case in a number of village churches. This fact suggests a useful outlet for the energies of the various associations who cannot carry on with their normal routine. They can help towers which are not in union who have few or no ringers, instructing, if necessary, some of the Local Defence Volunteers to ring a bell at least frame high without danger to themselves or the bells. If this were undertaken, it might be a useful introduction to such towers and benefit the Exercise in the happier times which we ultimately look for.

  A word of warning might be given about instruction, if false raid warnings are not to be sounded. A tied clapper should not be used, because there is always the danger of the rope chafing through and allowing the clapper to sound. For instruction, therefore, in handling a bell, the clapper should be taken out. If the organisation of the warning is properly carried out, there will be quite a lot for local bands and for associations to do.

  I hope the Central Council will be able to help in clarifying the position and sending out useful suggestions, preferably in co-operation with the authorities, with whom the hon. secretary has been in contact since September 3rd.

 In these days ringers have not much time to spare, but even in war time some relaxation is necessary, and I suggest that handbell ringing is a very suitable antidote (Continued on next page.)

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to worry. I picture a ringer-parashot, waiting in the tower for orders to sound the tocsin, being joined by two of his fellow-ringers and whiling away the time with some double-handed Minor.

   If, as a warning, a number of the bells are to be rung, should they not in accordance with tradition be rung backwards?
‘ The bells are rung backwards, the drums they are beat.’
Or is this practice merely a Scottish one?

  The one thing that is quite clear is that every member of the Exercise should, instead of ringing to drive away evil spirits, do his utmost to defeat the evil spirits, so that he can once again ring the bells without let or hindrance.


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To the Editor.

Dear Sir,

  All ringers and thousands of the public will very much deplore the action of the Home Office in ordering our church Bells to be silent, thus depriving the Church of their rightful and Christian uses.

 With the system of sirens already in use for air raid purposes, one would have thought it possible to have used them as a warning for paratroops by using a distinctive note to that used for air raids.

  It is of little avail to use one end of the church in which to ask God’s blessing and deliverance from so ruthless an enemy when the authorities do not hesitate to desecrate church property at the other end by using the bells for war purposes, bringing every church possessing  a bell under the heading of a military Objective.

  War or no war, let us keep the church and church property sacred.

Maghull, near Liverpool,


The following two letters appeared in ‘ The Times ’ on Monday last:

  For some months now the regular ringing of curfew at 8 p.m. in this parish has been altered to the ringing of the same bell at ‘black-out’ time. It has proved a most useful function for a custom which had lost all meaning. Under the new regulation this will have to stop. It seems a pity that such use should not be allowed to continue

  It is to be hoped that those who are now alone allowed to ring the bells will get some instruction from skilled ringers. It is painfully easy for the uninitiated to pull a bell rope with all the vigour imaginable and yet fail to produce any sound at all. Here it had been arranged for the old fire-call to be used, i.e., the clashing together of the smallest bell with the tenor.

Yours truly,
The Vicarage, Deddington, Oxford.


  The use of church bells as an indication of the approach of invaders may be invaluable. Two points, however, need to be raised.

  Only the military or Local Defence Volunteers are to use the bells. Do they know how to? The novice will pull the rope (so easy!). No sound will be heard. He will pull more fiercely. Again no sound. He will pull it frantically, angrily. If lucky, he may produce one very half-hearted boom. One has to learn how to make a church bell speak effectively. If a bell is left ‘set,’ even the novice will then be able to make the bell speak on pulling its rope, but in doing so he runs the grave risk of wringing his own neck. An uncontrolled bell rope can become a very dangerous thing.

  The second point is, why should church bells be used for this new purpose only? By all means let the tolling of a single bell be the official warning, but who would want or expect a peal of five or eight bells to herald the approach of the enemy? For the sake of our spirits, let the peal of church bells still call us to worship. The solemn tolling of one bell can be an ominous warning about parachutists.

Yours faithfully,
Benenden Vicarage, Kent.
  Commenting on the Order, 'The Daily Telegraph’ said: 'Home security officials state that it is not intended that an elaborate peal should be rung. All that is needed is the ringing of a small bell which would not demand expert knowledge or practice.'
  'Points which would seem to arise are whether the churches are to be kept open day and night, and, if so, who is to be responsible for the protection of the building? I f churches are locked up at night, are the military or A.R.P. authorities to have the keys or are vergers to be summoned in an emergency?’


  The first case since the Home Office Order silencing church bells was heard at Bradford on Saturday.
William Metcalfe, eighteen-year-old baker’s labourer, was arrested under the Defence Regulations for ringing the bells of St. Peter’s, Laisterdyke.

  He was charged with ‘doing an act communicating, or likely to communicate, to the public information falsely purporting to be duly given for purposes connected with the defence of the realm.'
Mr. J. Staples, prosecuting, asked for Metcalfe to be remanded for medical observation. He had no connection with the church.

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