Hand-bell ringers are in tune ...

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OVER the Christmas period I was very kindly sent a new book titled, ‘Ringing for Gold’, which has the subtitle ‘Hand-Bell Ringing – The Living Tradition’.

Having been interested in brass bands for many years and written about their history I never realised, well, not until I had read this book written by Cleckheaton author Peter Fawcett that there is a link between hand-bell ringing and the world of brass bands.

I have known for many years there has been the Clifton Hand-bell Ringers and I have heard them on a number of occasions. Reading this book I was overwhelmed with the overall history of hand-bell ringing. In this area there was not only the Clifton ringers but there were two other groups in Brighouse and another in Lightcliffe.

Peter’s intention is to take the reader through the annals of hand-bell ringing and in the 343 pages he has certainly achieved that.

The book starts with the origins of hand-bell ringing which can be traced back to the 11th century. In fact bell-ringers can be seen on the Bayeux Tapestry.

With brass band contests being started at Belle Vue in Manchester in 1853, and proving to be very successful, attracting thousands of visitors. John Jennison the founder of Belle Vue announced that in September 1855 the first hand-bell ringing contest would be held. It was estimated that between 15,000 and 16,000 people attended the event at Belle Vue, which resulted in the decision being made that it would become an annual event.

The author takes the reader through the ups and downs of different hand-bell ringing groups. The rivalry was as intense as any major brass band competition or football cup final.

The book is packed with many photographs illustrating hand-bell ringing groups dating back into the 19th century. There are contest results, copies of programmes and of course the hand-bell ringing heroes. Those ringers who became household names just as the Mortimer family did in the brass band world.The book goes into detail about the decline in popularity and the hand-bell ringing groups that closed down. The national contest was the pinnacle for a hand-bell group to attain, but once the British Open Championship for hand-bell ringers was abolished at Belle Vue, and not long after the Yorkshire championships also came to an end. As Peter describes in his book, these two events brought to an end 67 glorious years.

By the 1930s hand-bell ringing was in steep decline a situation that had been hastened with the sudden death of one of its heroes Jimmy Ellis in 1929, who was interred in Lockwood Cemetery, Huddersfield.

Like many organisations after a decline there is often yet another revival, and in hand-bell ringing Peter points out that it started in 1967.

Whereas in the old days hand-bell ringing groups were possibly more parochial than the groups of today. It is thanks to the Hand-bell Ringers of Great Britain who have provided information and help for ringers and forming new hand-bell ringing groups.

With the overall standard being much higher than it was even in 1967, and as younger people want to become involved, they must be encouraged which will ensure the hand-bell ringing movement continues to thrive.

Peter points out that when he sat down to put, what is a wonderful book about the hand-bell ringing movement, he had three aims in mind. Firstly, to preserve the history of hand-bell ringing; secondly, to put it in its rightful place in music organisations in the world, to broaden its appeal from being the once parochial and perhaps inward looking institution and finally; the old ringers developed the tradition and passed it on to us and therefore it is up to every ringer to do the same. We are only caretakers of that tradition – the tradition does not belong to us.

Having been associated with brass bands for 50 years and having read about many of the same problems in that movement as hand-bell ringing has gone through, I would heartily agree with Peter’s conclusions.

‘Ringing for Gold’ is a hard-backed, 384-page book with 174 historic photographs and illustrations with a very attractive and illustrated outer cover, and is a book I am pleased to recommend.

It was published this summer at a price of £38 plus £4.90 postage (UK), but is currently on special offer at £30 plus UK Postage. The book is available from Peter at 01274-869564 or via his e-mail: peterfawcett@gmail.com