The Bell Ringers of Westminster Abbey

Aimee came to visit me and, so, I did what I do when people come to visit… I made plans.

Came across a listing in Time Out London magazine (the website is useful, but nothing beats the actual publication… it is original, poignant and catches the exact tone of London’s edge. Not just a calendar.)

Back to the story… Caught my eye that the Westminster Abbey Bellringers were offering “An Evening with…” sort of thing… Wasn’t sure what it would be but I am always game for anything “behind the scenes.”Turns out it was the some of the best spent money I have doled out in London. The event was not only intimate and informative (only 30 or so people attended) but they served wine and hors d’oeurves after. Here’s some tidbits we learned: (See video here… )

1. Change ringing as such is different that the bell rungs at standard campus-type campaniles, which is actually an instrument; If you are interested don’t ask me to explain it… click here and read this.

2. A “peal” is over 5000 “changes” long and takes about 3 and half hours to do… The Abbey ringers (who are volunteers) only do them for special events like the Queen’s Jubilee, Prince William/Harry’s birth; Royal weddings, etc.

3. The bells in Westminster Abbey are hung upside down and rotate once, all the way down then up again, on one “change”… Each ringer is only ringing one bell… the guy on the box is ringing the “tenor” bell, which is the largest bell (and the heaviest).

4. Most of the bells at the Abbey have been recast recently, but one of them hundreds of years old and dates back to Elizabeth I.

Oh, and it wasn’t too loud in there… there is a chamber between the room we are in and the bell chamber, built to reduce the sound considerably. We did get to go up into the bell chamber for part of the talk and they did ring one bell for us while we were up there. It was VERY loud, so loud it was better with our fingers in our ears.

And yes, they did serve drinks and food after. It was all very civilised!

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Elizabeth Howard

Elizabeth writes literary non-fiction, haiku, cultural rants, and Demand Poetry in order to forward the cause of beautiful writing. She teaches and speaks about the rhetorical impact of beautiful writing. A recent transplant to Connecticut, she calls London, Kansas City, and Iowa home.