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English Church Bells

Fulham St John's Church Warning…. this is a slight educational blog, not an adventure: For the last 3 years, I have been wondering why the church bells in Fulham and Putney (maybe all of England, I’m not sure) ring so often. And it isn’t so much that they ring, they really just drone on with the same note over and over again, sometimes for 15 minutes at a time. Sometimes this is on the hour and they eventually change the pace (can it be called a tempo when it is only one note?) and gong x number of times depending on the hour.

Since I am working from home today due to the tube strike, I finally decided to investigate it because there seems to be no reasoning as to why I hear this bell go on and on.

I learned that bell-ringing is quite the tradition in England and is even referred to as “the most English of sounds”. But this is more in reference to a tune played on these huge church bells. Playing a tune with these bells is referred to a peal or change-ringing, which started in England in the 1600s. There is even a weekly journal for church bell ringers. Yes, weekly! If you want to visit any of the churches that play interesting tunes with their bells, you can refer to the Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers, set the locations of some churches in your TomTom, and make a road trip out of it. I even learned that us non-bell ringers refer to bell ringing as camponology, which got it’s name from Campania, which is a region around Naples in Southern Italy noted for bell making.

As exciting as all this is, I still haven’t figured out why the bells in the churches I walk past only drone on with a single bell with a constant tempo. My only theory is that the churches that I hear only have one bell and the bell ringer just isn’t that creative of a musician. Or perhaps they are trying to drive everyone around them crazy. In truth, it probably has to do with some old English tradition that I haven’t figured out yet.

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