The Chester Cathedral Guild of Change Ringers is comprised of experienced bell ringers from all around Cheshire who come to ring the Cathedral bells. However, we always need people to ring them. If you are interested in joining us read on:
First of all you need to be aware of what is not required:
There are very few people who cannot learn to ring. It genuinely is an inclusive activity. Clearly while we are doing, in our particular way, what the Cathedral in general is doing, and taking God’s message to all with ears to hear, we are available to those of all faiths, and none.
When do we ring?
Practice: Monday evening 7.30pm – 9pm, Thursday evening 6.15pm – 9.45pm (arrangement only)
Service Ringing: Sunday morning 10am – 10.25am, afternoon 1pm – 2.55pm
Interested in joining? If you’re interested in joining the band, please contact our Tower Captain, by email here.
Learning to ring a bell is like learning to ring any instrument, but even if you need to be prepared to take some time to learn, it will not be a long drawn out experience. We are continuing a centuries-old tradition and bell ringing is very much part of our heritage, but there is nothing stuffily old-fashioned about bell ringers. Ringing can be a great physical work-out, but also a mental one. It is highly satisfactory producing a very special sound in the company of others; and this can work at all levels of ability. Above all it is an eminently social activity. Chester bell ringers are fun to be with, and you would find you’re accepted as a ringer wherever you go.
Why we ring?
The Cathedral Choir and organist produce beautiful music, and uplifting sermons are delivered inside, but they are not heard outside the Cathedral. The bells are definitely heard, and those listening can be considerably moved by what they hear. Bells can be rung in times of joy as well as to mark sad occasions. They cannot be easily ignored. We might not be able to claim everybody who hears bells rung is a supporter; but we surely have more friends than enemies. Bells rung by rope and wheel, and our tradition of change ringing, are very special to this country, and it would be a much poorer one without the sound coming out of those mouths of bronze in our towers and steeples.
History of the Bells
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Benedictine Abbey had six bells; and on the formation of the new Cathedral, they passed into the hands of the Dean and Chapter. These bells were not rung in the same way as those now housed in the Addleshaw Tower: they were merely swung by means of levers and half-wheels; nor were they all in the central tower, but in two separate towers. The ringers had little control of the bells and what emitted from the Cathedral when they rang was nothing more than an unpleasant jangle.
By the start of the next century, it was decided to have bells which were musically related to each other and Henry Oldfield, bell-founder of Nottingham, cast a peal of five bells. Another, cast by William Clibury of Wellington, was added in 1626. There were various recasting’s throughout the following years, and we know from the Treasurer’s Accounts that they were rung regularly. Yet they remained a heavy and cumbersome five; hardly pleasant to ring. As the eighteenth century progressed there were other rings of bells in Chester churches available, notably at St John’s, St Peter’s and Holy Trinity. The bells of the first two are still there but are simply chimed. During the eighteenth century change-ringing became much more popular. This is the style of ringing – when, essentially, each time the bells are rung together they are rung in a different sequence – known today by thousands of bell ringers. The Gentlemen Scholars of St John had a period when their name was known way beyond their native city, and they rang at a high level of ability. The heavy five at the Cathedral had no attraction for them whatsoever.
Ringing the bells continued sporadically until the seventh decade of the nineteenth century, but by then both bells and belfry were in a very sorry state. All five bells were sounded as best as could possibly be managed for the new mayor and the birthday of the Prince of Wales in 1866, but when a big piece of metal was broken off the tenor bell there were only two options left: abandon ringing at Chester Cathedral or undertake a complete restoration. Fortunately, the latter option was taken and by the following year the Cathedral had a ‘proper’ ring of eight bells, two of which were the original Oldfield bells. The rest were cast by Warner of London, including the tenor of 29 cwt. Finally, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Chester Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, two trebles were added in 1937 – cast by the London Whitechapel foundry – and the Mother Church of the Diocese now had what J W Clarke, author of Cheshire Bells, called an ‘interesting ring of ten bells’.
Initially the bells of the Cathedral were rung by its own company but early in the last century the Cathedral ringers and those of St Mary’s, Handbridge combined forces. This arrangement continued until ringing ceased in the central tower in 1969. Whilst there are no ringers with us who remember the original eight bells there are some still around who rang on the ten, including a very active member of our current band of ringers.
Ringing on the ten bells continued until long after the war, but by the 1960s considerable problems had arisen. The bells needed recasting and the state of the bell frame was so bad that it threatened to cause serious damage to the structure of the tower. The bells had been raised high in the tower in 1867 and ringing them caused alarming stresses not only to the tower but the whole building. Structurally the tower was weak and not adequate for the ringing of ten large bells. Moreover, it had also been proposed that any recasting would be in the shape of twelve bells with an additional flat six (to provide a light ring of eight).
Lowering the bells in the tower was considered but it soon became clear that a better option would be to build a completely separate tower. The decision to build such a tower, designed by George Pace, was announced in 1968. Planning permission was granted in 1971 and the work of constructing the tower began in 1973. This was finished in 1974, but by then John Taylor and Co., bell –founders of Loughborough, had cast the thirteen new bells, which were first rung in October 1974. The tower was officially opened in June 1975 by HRH Duke of Gloucester, the first detached bell-tower built for an English cathedral sine the fifteenth century. In the latter part of 2021 a fourteenth bell was cast for the tower, also by Taylor’s, to give us a light ten.
Most of the ten bells went to Taylor’s to help pay for the cost of casting and installing the new bells. Romantics can believe, if they wish, that the same metal was used to cast the new ones. Still remaining in the central tower are the Oldfield bell of 1606 (number eight in the ring of ten) and the 1626 Clibury bell.
The building of a tower completely different from anything else nearby did not bring universal satisfaction; but bell ringers also had reasons to be dissatisfied. The principal one was the internal acoustics. While it was clear that Taylor’s had provided us with a fine ring of twelve they were not easy to hear by those ringing them. This condition remained until comparatively recently but now things have improved considerably, to such an extent that the people who run the National Twelve-bell Striking Competition finally deemed the Addleshaw Tower a suitable venue for an eliminator contest. Only this year such a competition was held in Chester and Chester ringers were able to compete against some of the very best ringers in the country at that level; and they acquitted themselves extremely well.
There are a small number of people who officially belong to the Cathedral band of ringers and who are members of the Chester Guild, but there are plenty of others who practise here regularly and also ring on special occasions. There is of course ringing for services on Sundays; and Monday is Practice Night. In addition longer lengths of ringing take place on several occasions throughout the year, often on Thursday evenings.