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Ringing the Bells

The Bell Ringing Connection with Stoke Lacy.

About Stedman the man

Fabian Stedman was the second son of the Reverend

Francis Stedman, Rector of Yarkhill, the neighbouring

parish to Stoke Lacy. He was baptised at Yarkhill Church

on 7 December 1640. At the age of 15 he went to London

and was apprenticed to a master printer, Daniel Pakeman. 

While in London he became a  bellringer, and it is as a

ringer that he is remembered, later being dubbed ‘the father

of change ringing’. 

His elder brother Francis Stedman became Rector of Stoke Lacy in 1660. It is tempting to believe that Fabian also rang the bells in Stoke Lacy at some stage.

Stedman joined one of London’s early ringing societies, the Scholars of Cheapside, and was their treasurer in 1662.  In 1664 he was accepted as a member of the Society of College Youths, which survives today as one of two premier worldwide ringing societies, and the longest established.  In 1667 Stedman became the first steward of the College Youths’ and in 1682 he became Master.

In 1668 Stedman published Tintinnalogia, the first book on change ringing.  Prior to that ideas about the practice and development of ringing would only have been exchanged by word of mouth and hand written documents.  Tintinnalogia was a joint effort between Richard Duckworth who wrote much of the content and Stedman who compiled and completed it.  There was a second edition in 1671.  In 1677, Stedman wrote a second book, Campanalogia, which covered developments that had taken place during the intervening decade and also included compositions from centres of ringing outside London.  Other authors published more comprehensive books as ringing continued to develop in the 18th century, but Stedman led the way.

Little is known of Stedman’s later life.  He appears to have dropped out of ringing, and he changed jobs to became auditor to Customs and Excise for the Crown.  He died in 1713, in his early 70s. Church bells rang out across England and the world on Saturday 16 November 2013 to mark the 300th anniversary of his death. He wrote his will on 17 October and died a few weeks later (the exact date is unknown) and was buried on 16 November 1713 at the parish church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London.  The church has a bronze plaque in his memory, donated by the Ancient Society of College Youths in 1983. 

About change ringing

Change ringing is a unique form of performance art

that requires a special blend of physical and mental

skills.  It provides intellectual stimulation, modest

physical activity and social contact.  Change ringing

on tower bells developed in England around the end

of the sixteenth century, and spread from initial centres

like Cambridge, London and Norwich.  Worldwide there

now are over 40,000 active ringers and around 6,000

towers with bells hung for change ringing.  Many

are in England, but there are several hundred towers

with active bands of ringers across the rest of the

British Isles, the Commonwealth and the USA.

Bells hung for change ringing swing through 360

degrees when rung – mouth up to mouth up – and

they strike once on each swing.  Typical bells weigh

between ¼ and ¾ ton, but some are lighter and

many weigh well over a ton.  Each bell is controlled by

one person on the end of the bell rope some way

below the bells.  The special way that the bells are

hung means that only modest effort is needed to ring

them in accurately timed sequences.  In perfect

ringing each blow is accurate to a few hundredths of

a second.

The essence of change ringing is that the order in which the bells strike continually changes, with one or more pairs of adjacent bells in the sequence swapping places at each change.  Variations on this simple process enable the creation of enormous variety in performances.  For example, there are 5040 different orders in which 7 bells can be struck, and even more on higher numbers. 

In the late 17th century the key principles of change ringing were being developed, and ringers were making the transition from ‘plain changes’, where only one pair of bells swaps place at once, to what they called ‘cross peals’, where several pairs swap at the same time – the form of ringing that is normal today.

Change ringing is practiced on different numbers of bells from 4 to 16, with the most common being 6 and 8.  The ‘gold standard’ performance is a peal, in which over 5000 different sequences are rung without any repetition.  It takes  around 3 hours, and is rung with no ‘music’ or other aids – everything is worked out from memory.  Around 5000 peals are rung each year.  Quarter peals, which take 40-50 minutes, are more popular, with around 13,000 rung each year.

For Stedman’s tercentenary some special performances with 300 different sequences of Stedman (the method) have been composed, which take about 10 minutes to ring, and will be rung in many towers.  Some ringers will mark the event by ringing ‘back-dated Date Touches’ of 1713 different sequences of Stedman, which have also been specially composed.



The "plain course" of Grandsire Doubles; 30 changes. This can be extended to the full extent of unique changes on five bells (120) by "calls" from a conductor which change the bells further

About Stedman the method

The method ‘Stedman’ was one that he described in Campanalogia.  It is well loved by modern ringers, and can be rung on odd numbers of bells from five upwards.  By convention, odd-bell methods are usually rung on an even number of bells with the tenor bell (lowest note) striking last every time, which gives a distinct musical effect.  Stedman is a ‘principle’, where all the working bells follow a similar path through the sequences, unlike most methods where the treble (highest note) has a simpler repetitive path.  The structure of Stedman makes it amenable to compositions of enormous diversity and musical content.

About the ringing community

Bell ringers form a close-knit extended community that shares a common skill and heritage.  This is reflected in the universal welcome and opportunity to ring with them that ringers around the world offer to any visiting ringer.

Most ringers belong to the band at the tower(s) where they regularly ring for church services.  They also belong to the ringing society covering their area or country, each of which has from a few dozen to a couple of thousand members.  The societies are affiliated to the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, which represents ringers worldwide, and provides many services to the ringing community. 

Ringers commonly describe their community as ‘The Exercise’, a term coined in the 18th century when the young gentry took up ringing because of the physical effort required to perform with the bells installations of the day.  That is no longer true, apart from very heavy bells, thanks to engineering advances in modern bell installations.  The most strenuous physical exercise for most ringers is walking up the belfry stairs before they ring.  Ringing itself is all about skill, poise and finesse, not about brute force.

(Source: Central Council of Church Bell Ringers.)


The Bells of Stoke Lacy Church.

Bells: six; 3rd and 4th by the same founder and inscribed,

respectively, "Ave gracia plena Dominus tecum," and

"Eternis annis resonet campana Johannis," in Lombardic

capitals, late 14th or early 15th century; 5th, probably by

John Green II of Worcester, 1625; 6th, probably from the

Worcester foundry and inscribed "Virginis egregie vocor

campana Marie," in Lombardic capitals, early 15th-century.

Two treble bells were added in 1920 in honour of the fallen

from the village in the Great War. A white marble tablet and

alabaster surround with a laurel wreath carving at the

top is erected in the nave to commemorate the installation.

All the bells were reconditioned and rehung in 1978.

(Source: British History Online)

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