History of Bell Ringing
Bells have been rung in celebration since they were invented thousands of years ago. Towards the end of the middle ages bells suspended in church towers would be chimed, calling people to worship, by pulling a rope attached to a lever fixed to the bell. This ringing was random in nature as little, if any, control could be exercised over the timing of the swinging bell. Later bells were mounted on a quadrant bringing an element of control but it wasn't until the 17th century that bells were mounted on a full wooden wheel with a Stay and Slider to enable full circle ringing under control with the bell able to come to rest in the upward position. Complex methods soon followed where the order that the bells would ring changed each time the rope was pulled. These methods, of which there are hundreds, with names such as Grandsire, Stedman and Reverse Canterbury, can be rung for just a few minutes or extended for several hours depending on the ambition of the band to complete one without stopping or mistake. Full circle bell ringing is essentially an English tradition and has established it's place in history through it's use not only for worship and service to the church but also for celebrations of local, national and international events. Bell ringing as a traditional skill, like any other, takes time to learn but once the ringer is competent they will be welcomed in any tower anywhere in the world to join a band of like minded people who enjoy the art. In some areas of the country bell ringing is flourishing with ringers of all ages taking part, however many rural areas are finding that recruitment of people into ringing, to perpetuate this traditional art, is challenging and therefore in danger of dying out. Bell ringing is fun; as well as service to the Church it's also a secular, leisure, activity with many groups and societies ringing bells for social reasons and for the mathematical challenge that bell towers with higher numbers of bells offer.
More information can be found here.
A very interesting lecture on bell ringing, history and mathematics can be found here.
Local HistoryThe Battle of Sedgemoor July 6th 1685 – the last battle to be fought on English soil. The ringing chamber is dedicated to the Duke of Monmouth, it was from the battlements of this tower that on the 5th July the Duke spied upon the assembled army of King James II under the command of the Earl of Feversham. His intention was to spring a surprise attack on the kings forces under the cover of darkness that night but during the march to the battlefield, when crossing a rhine, a pistol was accidentally discharged which alerted the kings army. The element of surprise was lost and the Duke's pitchfork rebel army suffered huge losses.
You can find out more at the Visitor Centre Westonzoyland.
The Churchwarden accounts show many entries for building work on the tower and spire since this time, and it is probable that the weight of the spire caused settlement in the tower, which then needed extra reinforcement. The two strong buttresses at the corners of the tower may have been added in 1383-5. On the east side there is an iron plate inscribed GB-HP-1694 which recalls some repairs. The spire has also been struck by lightning several times, and in 1814 the top 35 feet needed to be rebuilt following damage by lightning. This repair was carried out by a local builder Mr Thomas Hutchings who also built the Dome on the cornhill market house. In 1887 further buttresses were added to the tower and extensive repairs were carried out on the spire in 1994-5.
The ClockThere has been a clock at Saint Mary’s Church for hundreds of years. A document still survives from 1393 which stated that it was the duty for one of the chaplains to regulate the clock.
In the clock room on the North wall is an Ellacombe chime mechanism. This apparatus allowed mainly one person to chime the bells by pulling forward on ropes which were connected to a hammer on each bell, perhaps to musical notation, instead of ringing the bells full circle. This apparatus has been out of service for many years and because the augmented bells are now in a different location there are no plans to restore it to working orderMore information can be found here.