Church Bellringers

Wouldn’t it be sad if you never heard the Combe church bells ringing again?

They announce church services, celebrate weddings, ring out the old year and ring in the new, and mark various local and national events. But apart from the clock which strikes two of the bells mechanically, the bells are rung by a team of ringers. And we need more!

We have six bells in Combe (see History of Combe St Nicholas Bells for more about the bells themselves) and we need enough ringers to be able to find six people for every occasion. Unfortunately, we don’t always have enough to allow for absences, so sometimes we can only ring some of the bells on Sunday, or even none.

So why not come and learn? Not only will you will be providing a service to the community, but you will also have a lot of fun. Bell ringing is a fantastic (and inexpensive) hobby. No special qualifications are required – anyone from the age of  11 can learn. See Frequently Asked Questions below for more about learning to ring.

  • Tower Captain: Lynne Smith: phone: 01460 65162.
  • Vice Captain: Paul Simmons
  • Treasurer and Minutes Secretary: Sue Pargeter
  • Keyholder and Steeplekeeper: Ian Jones

To find out more, visit us at our practice at the church on a Thursday evening from 7.30, or get in touch with our Tower Captain Lynne.

History of our bells

The bells are hung in a cast iron and oak frame about two thirds of the way up the tower, which sways slightly when they are being rung (if you want to see this, try watching the weathervane!). They all swing in an East-West direction.Ropes don’t last as long as bells, and we last had to replace ours in 2000. Unfortunately, the first set of ropes supplied were stretchy – imagine trying to control something weighing half a ton or more with a piece of elastic, and you’ll understand why visiting ringers suddenly started giving us a wide berth! Eventually it was discovered that not only had the rope stretching machine used in manufacture gone wrong, but so too had the gadget that checks the machine is working properly and our new ropes were replaced, to sighs of relief all round!

There were only 5 bells until 1906, when Thomas Doble of Taunton was contracted to rehang them and to add a sixth. The new bell was added at the top of the musical scale, so is the lightest one, which is always known as the Treble. Its note is D, it weighs 5½ cwt and is 29½ inches in diameter (bells don’t do metric!) and the bellfounder was Taylor’s of Loughborough. The inscription reads “TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE GIFT OF JAMES COATE”, though in fact James Coate’s donation of £6 was only the most generous of some 180 or so contributions from 3 old pence upwards. The ringers gave £1 between them.

The second and fourth bells were both founded by Thomas Bailey of Bridgwater in 1760. They weigh 6¼cwt and 7¼ respectively and measure 32½ and 35½ inches across, the note of the second being C and the fourth A. Bayley sings his own praises on the inscription of the second: “My sound is good, my shape is neat. ‘Twas Bayley made me so compleat”. The fourth reads: “Health and delight good ringing yields. Cast by Thos Bailey Bridgwater 1760. J. Smithering ham C Warden”.

The third weighs 6¾ cwt and is 33½ inches across, in the key of Bb. Recast in 1876 or 1878 by Warner of London, it was formerly inscribed: “God save the church 1724. Mr Joel Smith, Mr John Trott Churchwardens. Tho Wroth fecit.”.

The fifth is our oldest bell, weighing 9½ cwt and measuring 38½ inches across, in the key of G. Still a lovely bell to ring, it was cast in about 1550 by Roger Semson of Ash Priors and is inscribed: “Ave Maria Gracia Plena. R.S.”.

The sixth, which is of course the heaviest bell (always known as the Tenor), weighs 13¾ cwt and is 43 inches across, in the key of F. It was cast by George Purdue of Taunton and the inscription reads: “Draw neare to God 1613, G.P.”.

In 1993, the tenor and the fifth bells were found to have cracks in their crowns, so they were removed and sent to Soundweld near Cambridge for welding, returning in spring 1994.

                                                The photo shows one of the bells being lowered from the tower.

Bell Ringing Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be strong or have any special skills?

No. Although the bells are heavy, it’s a bit like a swing – you get them going gradually, and once they’re upright, children can (and do!) ring them. It’s helpful to have a sense of rhythm, but that’s all.

Is it dangerous?

Bells can be dangerous. So can cars and bicycles. Like most things in life, it’s safe if you learn to do it properly and follow a few simple rules.

Do I need to be religious or go to church?

No. Some of our ringers attend church services but others don’t.

What about an age limit?

You can start learning at any age from 11 upwards.

How much time does it take?

Some ringers just come to practice nights (1½ hours from 7.30 on Thursday evenings) and ring for church services (½ hour on Sunday mornings). Others get addicted and end up spending nearly all their spare time ringing! But for most of us, it’s somewhere in between.

What does it cost?

Virtually nothing! Once you reach a reasonable standard, you will be invited to join the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers, whose subscription is currently only £10 a year. And if you ring for weddings, you’ll even get paid!

What might I get out of it?
A lifelong and absorbing hobby, which can be enjoyed at any level, and which gives you a passport to a group of friends anywhere where they ring bells in the English fashion, not only in England, but from Sydney to Washington and also in Italy, where they do something similar. Bellringers are sociable creatures, who frequently drop in on one another’s practices and Sunday ringing, as well as organising ringing outings to visit other towers. District meetings are held to discuss ringing locally, but the official bit rarely lasts long as we’d rather be ringing the bells and eating the excellent tea which is usually laid on!