RISC World

Ringing Bells on RISC OS

Kate Crennell


This article describes RISC OS programs for church bell ringing. There are multi-media presentations describing bell ringing for school children or the general public, as well as those for beginner ringers and those who have advanced to the more complicated methods of change ringing. Bells well rung well are a joy to listen to, but it takes some time for beginners to learn the art so they are usually only allowed short practice sessions on real bells in a tower, otherwise the neighbours start complaining. Using these computer programs you can learn the theory of bell ringing in your own home, then all you need is practice. All the programs can run on PCs which have the 'VirtualA5000' package loaded.

Introduction to bell ringing

Church bells have been rung in England for almost 1000 years to remind parishioners that it was time to get ready to come to the church service.

Originally churches had just one bell, probably rung by the priest who conducted the service. In time more bells were bought and rung. The ringers were paid for their efforts and so there were lots of people who wanted to become ringers. Most people were agricultural labourers and had few holidays so that a day spent ringing was like an extra day of holiday. Their masters were persuaded by the parish priest that it was their duty to release their workers to ring for special church services for funerals or weddings or State Occasions such as the death of a Monarch, a Coronation or a Jubilee.

Most ringers will also ring at midnight on 31 December, to 'Ring out the Old, Ring in the new', but this seems to be a relic of pagan times.

A hundred years ago many people were keen to learn to ring; often whole families would ring, even today there are villages where all the ringers belong to several generations of the same family. Traditionally people were taught to ring by the band of ringers in their church. It is much like riding a bicycle, it seems impossible at first but when you have mastered the knack it becomes easy and you remember how to do it even if you have not done it for years. When you have learned the technique it needs little effort because although bells are heavy, they swing round because of their weight and you only need a little effort to keep them swinging.

Following the industrial revolution many people moved to the towns and it became more difficult to recruit new ringers. Today it is even more difficult because there are plenty of other spare time activities such as watching TV, surfing the Internet or programming.

Anne Parmenter's '!Bells', an introduction to bells and bell ringing.

Anne Parmenter came up against this problem in her Wiltshire village around the time of the recent millennium celebrations so she wrote the application !Bells ('Bells and Bellringing'); this is a multi-media presentation with pictures and sound which tries to explain how and why bells are rung, who rings them and how they are made. This is an ideal program for schools or for having on display in 'Open Tower' days. It uses !TeView which is a freely distributable utility part of the 'TextEase' suite of RISCOS programs.

!Bells can be downloaded from our web site. It uses a utility part of Textease which can be downloaded from the Textease website. Look for the RISCOS update pages and download TeView (size 456K). !Bells and !TeView must be in the same directory.

Starting !Bells

Double click on the !Bells icon. This should show you an introductory window with two icons at the lower right corner, 'Finish' and 'Contents'. Clicking with the 'Select' mouse button over 'Contents' produces a whole screen window with 8 options each with a small bell beside them. The options are:

A How did bell ringing begin?
B How are bells made?
C Where do you find bells?
D How are bells hung?
E How are bells rung?
F When are bells rung?
G What is change ringing?
H Who rings bells?

On the right is the message 'Click on a bell to make your choice' at bottom left is a 'Back' icon and bottom right an 'Index'. All the windows have navigation buttons like this at the bottom of the screen. There is usually a picture illustrating the text; some topics such as 'When are bells rung' have several screens. You can look at the screens in whatever order you like, and return to this Contents window at any time from the other screens.

There are also 'Back' and 'next' icons to move through the story. These take you on to the next screen in the story, or back to the previous one in the order of the story. They do not work like the 'Back' button on a web browser which goes back to the last screen you looked at.

To stop the program quickly just click on the normal 'close' icon (X) at the top left of the screen. It will leave TeView on the icon bar which you can close in the usual way. Alternatively, return to the 'Contents' page and click 'Back' this takes you to the initial screen where you click on 'Finish'.

Index of terms

Bell ringing has its own jargon, to help you understand this !Bells has an 'index' page listing some of the words; when you click on a word you are taken to a screen where that word is explained. For example, the word 'stay' is not a command, but describes a piece of wood on which the bell can rest safely in the 'up' position. Bells are heavy, often very heavy, some weigh over a ton. If they swing down unexpectedly they can cause injuries. To avoid this the bells are left in the 'down' position when ringers are not in the tower. .

Where to get information about bell ringing and software.

There are several ways you can find out how to learn to ring bells. One traditional way is to find a church where bells are ringing and look in the porch or on the church notice board where you may find a poster telling you the ringing times, who the Tower Captain is, and on which night the ringers practice. It is best to contact the Tower Captain in advance to find out the times when beginners are welcome. Many towers will set aside the first half an hour of their practice evening to teach complete beginners and will ring more complicated methods afterwards. You will be welcome to watch the ringing, but you should be careful only to enter or leave the ringing chamber when ringing has stopped so that you do not accidentally get entangled in the moving ropes.

If you cannot find a notice in the church porch you can try asking one of the Church Wardens whose names are usually posted on the notice board.

Using the internet Ringers have created societies to help with social events or teaching beginners. These are usually formed from ringers in towers near to one another. Since ringing started for church services, these societies are often based on the Church Diocese for the area. All these Societies have joined together to form the 'Central Council of Church Bell Ringers' whose web site home page is at They have lists of their activities including their constituent Diocesan member societies known as 'Guilds', below them there are lists of branches which make up your local Guild. With any luck you will find a branch for your area listing local towers, their practice nights and contacts for further information.

The Guilds run training courses in their area and maintain lists of software of all kinds. You can find educational programs or CD-ROMs giving access to all the information about the bells with photos of the church towers. You can even buy jigsaws showing historical bell ringers in action.

Bells and Bell ringing links

Bell Founders, Hangers and Physics

Ringing Call Changes

The image above shows a bell being rung. When the beginner has learnt to handle the bell safely by themselves, the next step is to ring with other people. The bells are not usually all rung at the same time, that makes a jangling noise and creates a great strain on the structure of the tower. Instead bells are rung in a sequence from the smallest to the largest, from higher to lower notes. This is known as 'rounds' because the bell ropes are usually arranged in a circle so that each ringer can see when the others are pulling on their ropes, and can adjust the time when they ring their bell so that the notes made by the bells are struck evenly which is more pleasant for the neighbours.

'Rounds' gets boring after a while so the next thing a beginner learns is 'Call Changes'. One ringer calls out which bells are to change, and the ringers then change the order of their pulling on the ropes to sound the bells in the new order.


The application !CallChnge simulates this process, except that the user clicks with a mouse between bells instead of calling out which bells to change.

Click on the icon !CallChnge to load the icon on to the icon bar, click with 'menu' button to see the options Info, Help, or Quit. Help displays the !Help file with running instructions. A simple explanation of how bells are rung is stored in the Docs.Intro which also explains the usual sequence of words used by the person ringing the lightest bell, the treble, to call the ringers to order in the tower, 'Look To', when the ringers put their hands ready to start pulling,'Treble's Going', as the treble bell is pulled to the point where it is ready to fall off the balance and 'Treble's gone' as it starts to swing down.

Click the 'Select' mouse button to start the application. This makes a selection window where you can choose the parameters for this run, the number of bells, the key of the tenor, how loud you want the sound, the length of the open lead (the time after one round finishes before the next one begins) and how fast you want the bells to ring. You may want to click over the 'Try Tenor' icon to test the volume and pitch of the note.

You can run without sound if you just want to watch how the ropes move.

The pitch may vary slightly depending on the computer you are using, especially if you are using !CallChnge on a PC running 'Virtual A5000'.

This usually only bothers people who have perfect pitch. Instructions for varying the pitch are in the file Docs.Pitch within the application.

Ringing rounds on 8 bells

Click over the 'LookTo' icon to see the main ringing window which has just a 'Close' icon. This window cannot be moved in the usual way because !CallChnge has taken all of the 'Wimp' time for itself so that the bells ring evenly. The bell 'places' are the numbers at the top, above each bell, with it's ringer below. Below them is a 'command line' with bell numbers separated by * and the word 'Stand' at the right hand end. The mouse arrow is constrained to move only within this line. Instructions are given in white text on the black background area below. After a short time the ringers start ringing rounds, they do this for two rounds to simulate the way ringers in a tower start ringing and then adjust the time and force of their pull to ring evenly. In the tower the 'caller' has to warn the ringers they are to change the order on the next time they pull. The change does not happen at once because the ringers have to know how to vary the pull depending on which way in the sequence they have to move. So after you click on the * between the numbers nothing happens until the ringers are starting their next sequence.

Some sequences sound more musical than others and have been given names. For example try to move 6 bells into the sequence 1 3 5 2 4 6. This is called 'Queens' because it is said that Queen Elizabeth I heard it on one of her royal tours around England and said how much she liked it.

To stop the ringing click over the word 'Stand'. When this is called in the tower the ringers carefully pull their bells in such a way that they are balanced resting gently against the 'stay' ready to be pulled off to ring again.

Then you find that the mouse pointer moves to the 'close' icon so that you can close the window after you have inspected the ringers if you want to.

Notice that the 'parameters' window no longer has 'greyed out' icons 'Replay' and 'Save Changes'. Click on 'Replay' then on 'LookTo' and the sequence of changes you made last is replayed for you. Clicking on 'Save Changes' brings up a 'Save Window' containing a the filename 'Change' where you can save your sequence to replay later. Dragging such a saved sequence file to the application will prepare it to ring it again.

The file 'Docs.Trythese' has instructions and suggestions for other changes to try.

The directory 'Examples' has some 'saved' files already set up for you to try. Notice that all of these take you to the named 'tune' and then take the bells back into ringing rounds. This is a convention adopted in most towers.

Michael Williams maintains a web site (see the section of Bell ringing links) where you can find lots more suggested sequences such as 'Pop goes the weasel' or the sequence being played on Bow Bells which Dick Whittington heard which made him return to London to make his fortune.

What else can you use !CallChnge for?

1. Your local tower may have only 6 bells, but with !CallChange you can try as many as 12 or 16 and hear bells rung as if you were in a cathedral.

2. You can invent your own sequence of changes, save it to a file, print it and take it with you to 'call' in the tower.

3.You can use the program to decide in which order the bells ring by watching the sallies (the thicker fluffy sections on the rope) and trying to decide the sequence without looking at the command line. This is important in a tower because you need to watch the person ringing in front of you and pull your bell at the correct time after theirs.

Change Ringing Methods

Ringers start by ringing in rounds, the sequence from highest to the lowest note, usually written out as line of numbers for example: 1 2 3 4 5 6.

About 400 years ago the idea of changing the order of the bells was suggested. Bells are heavy, often very heavy, and a ringer can only make a small alteration to the swing of a bell when it is in motion. However, late in the 16th century, developments in bell hanging made it possible for two bells to change places. The one earlier in the order holds their bell up a little to allow the following bell to ring before it. The one later in the order catches the rope earlier, so that the bell swings down sooner.

There are two ways of pulling the rope, as shown in the picture above, these are called a 'handstroke', when the ringer has both hands pulling on the sally (the fluffy part woven into the rope to make it easier to grasp), and the other is the 'backstroke' when both hands are at the 'tail end'. In both cases the bell sounds when the ringers hands are level with their faces.

At first a conductor called the 'changes' to tell the ringers which pair of bells were to swap. 'Call Changes' are still rung in most church towers from time to time and are often the first thing a beginner learns after 'rounds'.

However, early in the 17th century 'methods' began to be developed where the order of the bells was changed according to a pattern memorised by the ringers. Popular patterns are given names and are called 'methods'.

Some methods have a 'covering' bell, this means that the tenor (the deepest bell) rings last at the end of each row; these are usually those rung on odd numbers of changing bells. Methods rung on an even numbers of bells are usually rung without a covering bell. Towers with more bells can ring more complicated methods.

There are some basic rules for constructing methods:

  • No bell may move more than one place at a time in the order
  • No bell may stay in the same place for more than two changes
  • no change may be repeated.

Method names have two parts, the first describes the method (e.g. 'Plain Bob') and the second describes the number of bells:

  • 3 Singles
  • 4 Minimus
  • 5 Doubles
  • 6 Minor
  • 7 Triples
  • 8 Major
  • 9 Caters
  • 10 Royal
  • 11 Cinques
  • 12 Maximus

    So 'Plain Bob Major' means the Plain Bob method rung on 8 bells.


    The instructions for a method can be written out in lines giving the order of the bells to ring this time. This starts with rounds and returns to rounds and is called a 'Diagram' as in the one above which shows 'Plain Hunt Doubles', in which the bells start from 'rounds' and return to 'rounds' after 10 rows of 'changes'. The line drawn under the last line but one shows you when the treble has returned to 'leading', that is, reached the position on the row when they ring first.

    The column on the left B or H tells you whether you ring Back or Hand Stroke. The column on the right is always 6 because this is a 'Cover tenor' which rings in the same place every time and makes it easier for ringers to know where they are.

    The path of the 1st bell (treble) is drawn in red to show the way that bell moves. The 'blue line' is the path of some other bell, in this case chosen to be the third one. In the plain hunt method all the bells follow the same path but start at different places on it.

    !Methods is a RISC OS program with over 150 methods stored in a simple text file which you can edit to add more methods. The 'Demo' version on this RISC World CD can only ring two methods, Grandsire Doubles and Bob Minor.

    Click on !Methods to load the 'ringer and rope' icon on to the icon bar.

    Clicking MENU shows you the usual, Info, Help and Quit options. The Help option shows you the running instructions, which are similar to those of !CallChnge, in that you have a 'Parameter window' to set up the number of bells etc to use this run; when you click on the 'LookTo' icon you see the main 'Ringing Window'. .

    For detailed running instructions read the !Help file in the application.

    An icon in the 'Ringing methods' window allows you to 'Save Diagram'; the icon is greyed out until you have chosen a method. After clicking on 'Save Diagram' you get another 'SaveAs:' window with options to control the items you want printed in the 'Diagram' for this method. (see the section on 'Diagrams' above for details). There is the usual savebox 'draw' icon and the name of the file to store it in. You do not have to store it you can just drop in on to !Draw and print it from there.

    Click on the 'Look To' icon to start the animation. This takes place in a special ringing window which cannot be moved; it takes all the Wimp time so that the ringing speed is not affected by other Wimp activities which might be taking place. The mouse movement is confined to the part of the window in which you can click.

    Instructions telling you how to start and stop the method are at the bottom of the green ringing window. There are two lines of 'Calls' you can make by clicking on the black words, greyed out ones are either not used in this method, or should not be called at this time.

    Ringing Bob Doubles

    At the top of the window you see your ringers ready to start ringing rounds; this animation is closer to the view a ringer has in the tower, the bell ropes just vanish through a hole in the ceiling, their bell is not visible.

    The ringing starts a second after this ringing window is set up. They ring one round (two strokes) before you can start the method. This simulates the time needed in a tower for the ringers to correct their striking. The ringing order is shown in the small scrolling window at bottom right; the number appears as the bell sounds.

    Click over the "Go xxx" (where xxx is the method) to start the animation of your selected method. You can pause the ringing at any time by pressing the 'P' key; to continue ringing press the 'C'. This is very useful for students who initially find it almost impossible to tell the sequence in which the bells ring, and hence which one they should follow next. They can try ringing the bells more slowly but even so it is much easier to see the order if you temporarily pause the program.

    The method repeats until you click on "That's All" to return to rounds or "Stand" to stop the ringing. When all the graphics and sound have stopped you can click on the 'Close' icon in this ringing window.

    Press <Escape> in an emergency and the ringing window will immediately disappear.

    !Methods will just ring the 'Plain' method if left to itself but this can be extended to a 'Touch', for those methods where it is possible, by clicking on the words 'Bob' or 'Single' when they turn black. Details of what this means can be found in any book on change ringing such as 'Change Ringing.

    The Art and Science of Change Ringing on Church and Hand Bells' by Wilfred G.Wilson 1st published in 1965 by Faber and Faber.

    Many more ringing books can be found in the bibliography on the Website of the Central Council of Church Bell ringers (see section on useful web links).

    Computer simulators used with real bells.

    There is little user interaction in the programs described so far. Computer simulators allow the user to choose 'their' bell, and then they ring the method automatically on all except the users bell. In a tower, the bell's clapper can be tied so that it makes no sound when pulled by a ringer.

    This allows the learner to feel how and when to pull the bell without annoying the neighbours. A detector can be fitted to the bell wheel to detect its position which is transmitted electronically to the simulator program which makes the sound. In this way the learner has a set of perfect companions (simulated by the computer) to ring the method and it is much easier to hear when you are not ringing at the right time. However, it does require a skilled person trusted by the Tower Captain to 'tie' the bell safely. Usually this will be the Tower Captain who may be too busy to do this whenever you feel like practising. We know of no programs for RISCOS which have the associated electronics to be used with a real bell. There were several written for the BBC-B which are still in active use today some twenty years later.

    Details of these can be found by contacting:.

    Alan Griffin, Rosebank, Bloxham, Banbury, Oxon.

    Other RISCOS programs.

    !Strike has been designed to help develop ringing listening skills by deciding which of the bells is not being rung evenly in time with the others. Some people find it hard to decide which bell in the ring is not being rung at the right time just by listening. You might find a set of ringers who were able to ring badly to order, unlike our tower, a set of beginners, who rarely ring evenly. It is easier to use a program like !Strike which has a set of parameters which can be changed to set up particular errors in the ringing sequence, which is called 'bad striking'. Good striking is when the bells are all rung evenly after one another. !Strike is a desktop program which can be used by a teacher who turns off the display showing what error is being demonstrated this time and expects the student to decide where the error is just by listening. Alternatively, a student can leave the display on and learn to listen to what the error sounds like.

    !Stringing is a program which can give you practice in 'ringing your bell' in the correct sequence by pressing the space bar on the keyboard at the correct time. It can play over 100 of the more common methods. !Stringing is not a Desktop program, but it does show you the 'diagram' while it is ringing. You can also 'splice' different methods together to test which ones you may want to ring in a peal. You can enter a new method from the keyboard using the 'Place Notation'. This is a set of stored commands, much like a computer program, which defines how the bells are to ring in a more compact way than using a diagram. Details of how to get a copy of !Stringing are given at the end of this article.

    Where to get the programs.

    !Bells and the !Methods demo are both in the software directory on this issue of RISC World.

    Later versions can be downloaded from the Internet at.

    The full !Methods costs 10 from:

    'Fortran Friends', P.O.Box 64, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 0TH details email: or a S.A.E. to the postal address.

    Both !Strike and !Stringing are supplied on a single floppy disc with a paper manual. Details are available by email or by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the authors by post. Both authors donate the profits from sales to local funds for bell restoration.

    !Strike costs 15 from:

    John Harrison, 2 Murdoch Road, Wokingham, Berks, RG40 2DA details email: or a S.A.E. to the postal address.

    !Stringing costs 10 from:

    John Norris, The Birches, off Wickham Hill, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, BN6 9NP (send an S.A.E. to the postal address). 'Fortran Friends' are collecting news of RISCOS bell ringing programs on their web page.

    Kate Crennell