Cutaway church Bell

St Peter's Church, Willersey
St Nicholas' Church Saintbury
Bell Ringing

Cutaway Church Bell

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December 21st is St. Thomas's day, and it has long been a tradition in the North Cotswolds to mark this day with the ringing of church bells at 6 o'clock in the morning. This act was originally seen as a prompt to start preparing for Christmas, and also a signal that alms should be given to the poor. Here in Willersey we have been ringing for St. Thomas's day for longer than anyone can remember, and we hope that this year, as every year, you will enjoy sharing our celebration of this long-standing tradition in our village.

There is going to be a nationwide ringing of bells on Thursday 6th of June 2024 for peace.
Saintbury church will be rung at 3.00pm and St Peter's Willersey will ring at 6.30pm.
The 6th of June 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces mounted the largest amphibious invasion the world has ever witnessed. In 1944, Operation Overlord saw over 5,000 ships and landing craft set down more than 130,000 troops on five Normandy beaches in an action that would bring about the liberation of north-west Europe.

Bell Ringing at St Peter's Church, Willersey Village and also St Nicholas' Church in Saintbury.

St Peter's from the Churchyard

Our Parish Church is beautifully positioned at the end of Church Lane and is surrounded by a traditional churchyard.
There is a car park at the rear of St Peter's Church, with access from Church Street alongside the Church, opened in January 2018 with generous support from a local charity. It is for the use of those attending services or functions at the Church and will provide a much needed and long awaited facility. It will always be open for those visiting the Church for any reason, but not for overnight parking.

Willersey bells started ringing again properly once lockdown eased on 21st June 2021 (Government regulations permitting). You may hear a few of the bells being rung before this date, as the local ringing band starts to flex its ringing muscles in readiness for the big day. Some of the bells were rung on the morning of Sunday 6th June 2021. We looked forward to that moment when all 6 bells once again rung out over our village, after an absence of 15 months, in a glorious celebration (we hope) of a return to a better life for us all.

There was a Willersey band quarter peel rung 23rd December 2023, another one in the afternoon and an extended ring on Christmas Eve 2023 after the service. There will be another long ring on New Year's Day.

On New Year's Eve 2023 at 11:30pm we had a 45 minutes ring until the following morning to ring in the New Year 2024. About midnight this was accompanied by fireworks and barking dogs.

Church bells are the largest and loudest musical instruments in the world. Their sound can be heard miles away from their towers. Bells are rung to call people to Church, to celebrate happy occasions and commemorate important events. They are also rung simply for the enjoyment of hearing their sound. Most UK church towers have bells. A set of bells is called a ‘ring’ or a ‘peal’. Village churches may have a small ring of bells, comprising five or six bells. Larger churches and cathedrals usually have more bells in their ring. Worcester Cathedral as 16 bells. Rudhalls, the bell foundry supplied nearly 5000 bells to chuches in Gloucestershire and elsewhere in the UK. Three churches in Gloucestershire have peals of twelve bells, three have ten and over a hundred like Willersey have six.
The bells in any tower are deliberately not mounted with their bearings in the same direction to reduce any strain on the bell tower when they are being rung.

St Peter's has a famous peal of six bells which are rung regularly.

As well as being rung on Sunday service days, bell ringing practice is on Thursdays each week from 7:30 to 9:00pm. Bell ringing has been part of Willersey Village life for 300 years. As there is a midnight mass on Christmas Eve the bells are rung at about 11:00pm that day. The bells may also be rung from time to time by visiting bands of ringers who are most welcome, and also on special occasions. Three weddings were planned in April 2015 and we marked the 80th birthday of a longstanding ringer. We also took up the challenge of ringing a full peal which lasted for three hours on Saturday 23rd May 2015 beginning at midday. In Willersey, the regular sound of church bells continues to be a traditional feature of village life. Originally there were three large bells but in 1712 they were melted down by Abraham Rudhall and recast into the six beautiful bells we have today. An inscription on the tenor bell reads ‘ring for peace merily’ to celebrate the signing of the Peace of Utrecht.

It has been said that there are three typically British activities - Morris Dancing, Playing Cricket and Church Bell Ringing.

Listen to the sound of St Peter's Bells.

St Peter's bells were rung for the first time since the Coronavirus began on Sunday 12th July 2020.
Because of social distancing we could only
ring three bells. The hand bells were also rung to greet the congregation.

Two photographs of Willersey hand bell ringers taken outside Rose Cottage, Church Street. One is from 2021 and the other from 1900. There is a better sexual balance now!
One might say a happy looking bunch of campanologists, who probably weren't used to smiling in front of the camera. Today, as we still have a very active group of bell ringers in the village - Willersey Hand Bell and Tower Bell Ringers, we decided to retake the scene, outside the same cottage, and as close to the same positioning as the original. There is nothing nicer than listening to the tower bells peeling on Thursday evenings, special occasions and on Sunday mornings. It's part of what makes Willersey such a beautiful place to live. If you are interested in following or joining the group, they meet for practices on Thursday evenings 7.30-9pm at Willersey Church. The Bell Tower Captain is Robert Chadburn. Email: .

Willersey Handbell ringers 2021     Willersey Handbell ringers 1900

On Tuesday 19th July 2022 St Peter's six bells were rung from 7.30pm to 8.15pm by six of Willersey's local bell ringing band led by the tower captain Robert Chadburn. This continuous ring was one of two (The second one was on the 31st July 2022.) to mark and thank the Reverend Scott Watts for all that he and Ros have done for Willersey and the surrounding communities and to wish them well with the next chapter of their lives in Cambridge.

Willersey Bells Thanking Scott

Mediaeval bells still ring out over the Cotswolds and make a wonderful company for there are about 100. In several villages we come acroos the tombs of the Rudhalls who made Gloucester famous with their foundry and from the 17th to the 19th century supplied nearly 5000 bells still swinging in the belfries of the land. Three churches in Gloucestershire have rare peals at twelve bells, three have ten and over 100 have six.

Handbell ringing during the restrictions throughout the earlier months of the pandemic in 2020 enabled the Willersey Church bell ringers to meet outside and remain active. It was particularly interesting for some of us to meet up recently with Marie Dow and learn about the Buckle Street Handbell Ringers long history of ringing locally between 1982-2016. Marie now lives in the village, but along with her husband Robert was a key member of the Buckle Street Handbell Band performing widely during those years at local events, festivals and even in Long Lartin prison.

Tower Captain's Report about the year 2021 in May 2022.

The tower contains a peal of six bells (originally there were three). In 1712 the bells were melted down by the Gloucestershire firm of Abraham Rudhall, who recast them into a peal of six in time for them to be rung as an act of thanksgiving for the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. These bells are unique, being perfectly in tune having never been tuned by milling or ‘chipping’.

You may have seen in a recent edition of the Church and Village News that as part of a national campaign we are ‘recruiting’ for bell ringers now.
Why not come and try your hand or have another go at this taster session on
Bank Holiday Monday - 7th May 2018 between 2.00 & 3.00pm? You can also come to any of our practice sessions on Thursday evenings.
  • Bell ringing does not require huge strength - it's about controlling the bell with technique.
  • Being able to count is all the maths you need and you can become a ringer knowing nothing about music.
  • A few weeks tuition enables new ringers to join in with the band and become part of our village's 300 year old tradition.
November 2018 marked 100 years since the end of the First World War where 1400 bell ringers lost their lives. On Armistice Sunday bells across the country rang out to remember this special occasion, and new ringers were able to join in this memorable national event.

Willersey, which has six bells, has ten regular ringers to call upon to maintain this valued tradition; although interestingly only two who currently ring were Willersey ringers five years ago. Eight of the current band have all learnt their ringing in that time, helping to maintain ringing in our village. So continuing to grow our band of ringers is important, allowing us to bring something distinctive to the village, and all of us still have time for family commitments, holidays, other interests etc. Willersey bells can be heard clearly in nearby Broadway.

Many people came along on a Bank Holiday Monday and met the ringers - Robert, Helen, Pete, Beccie, Chris, Anita, Mark, Margaret, Ken and Bob to see if it's something they'd like to do. Just ‘having a go’ at least means you join a select group of locals to have rung a Willersey bell. You can contact Bob on 01386 858635.

Muffles are leather pads fitted to a bell's clapper to reduce the volume. They attenuate the bell's strike note whilst retaining the hum. By only muffling the clapper on one side you get an echo effect as blows are alternately loud and soft. Bells fitted with muffles in this way are said to be half-muffled.

Bells are usually muffled on the backstroke as the handstroke gap emphasises the echo effect. Traditionally muffles have leather straps, and these must be buckled very tightly to avoid the very annoying sound if one slips round while ringing. For safety reasons, muffles should always be fitted and removed with the bells down. To muffle the backstroke, put the muffle on the side of the clapper that is furthest away from the pulley. To muffle the handstroke, put the muffle on the side of the clapper that is nearest to the pulley.

Bells are often rung half-muffled at funerals, in memorial of someone and on Remembrance Sunday as it gives a mournful effect, especially on heavy mellow bells. Bells are only rung fully-muffled (with the backstroke of the tenor left open) for the death of the Sovereign, the incumbent Vicar (Parish Priest), or the Bishop of the dioceses.

Willersey Bells clean     Willersey Bells strong fixing

Willersey Bells inscription example     Willersey Bells leather muffler on bell clapper

Willersey Bells rope details     Willersey Bells clapper as usual

On a recent Saturday afternoon, in a 12th century village church only as wide as a sitting room, I watched my godson and his brothers and their father take off their suit jackets and place them, folded, on the flagstone floor in the corner. Tucking their ties between the buttons on their dress shirts, they stood at the back, near the entrance, and pulled on hemp ropes to ring the church bells for their grandmother. We were celebrating her life as she'd lived it, together, in music.

Music historian Katherine Butler a campanologist writes that come the May 2023 Coronation, bellringers in the nation's 38,000 churches will stand in similar groupings. They will pull on similarly old ropes with tufted woollen sallies, colourfully striped on the diagonal, like boiled sweets. They will count out similar patterns, or methods, to herald the country's new king. Ringing the changes is a tradition so steadfast in these parts, Handel is credited with saying once, of Britain, that we are a “ringing isle”. You don't have to be ecclesiastically minded to join in.


Now let's be clear from the off that there is no compulsion to consume beer to be a bell ringer. Although a little modest refreshment for some of the ringers after a Thursday practice night is not uncommon.

However, now I have got your attention, you might be interested to know that in the early years of bell ringing it was something of a macho sport for young men who would imbibe quite heavily before ringing and then ‘topple’ into the church service. If you look carefully at lots of churches - including St Peter's -you can see where the entrance from the ringing chamber into the church has been bricked up to keep the rowdy ringers out of the service. Nowadays ringers are far more well behaved!

Before the turn of the 18th century St Peter's had only three bells, but in 1712 three more were added to give the six that we have today. The smallest bell weighs 4cwt, with the tenor being the largest bell at just over 11cwt - the approximate weight of an original mini.

But ringing does not require huge strength - it's about controlling the bell you are ringing with technique. Being able to count is all the maths needed and you can become a very good ringer knowing nothing about music. A few weeks of tuition enables new ringers to join in with the band on a Sunday morning and become part of a three hundred year old village tradition. Pete Kavanagh, Beccie Williams - our latest ringing recruit, or Bob Topp would be happy to chat further - with or without a beer.

St Peter's Nave

Ringing Remembers Recruitment

Stairs into bell loft

Armistice Day this in November 2018 helped commemorate the 100 years since the end of the First World war in 1918, and church bells rang out in unison across the land on Sunday 11th November. 1400 bell ringers lost their lives during the conflict and it is intended that the same number will be recruited nationally in 2018 under the heading of Ringing Remembers.
Willersey, which has six bells, has nine regular ringers to call upon to maintain this tradition; although interestingly only two of these who currently ring were Willersey ringers five years ago. Seven of the current band have all learnt their ringing in that time, helping to maintain ringing in our village. So continuing to grow our band of ringers is important.
Willersey ringers contributed to this campaign and will be offering opportunities for those who might be interested in learning a new skill and taking part in this year's special Armistice Day ringing.
Bell ringing does not require huge strength - it's about controlling the bell with technique. Being able to count is all the maths you need and you can become a ringer knowing nothing about music. A few weeks tuition enables new ringers to join in with the band and become part of our village's 300 year old tradition.
Pete Kavanagh, Ken Spensley, Beccie Williams - our most recent new ringer - or Bob Topp would be happy to chat further. Look out for further news of planned taster sessions. Email:

Drawing of a Bell
An Invitation from the Bell Ringers

Last year 2019, over thirty locals came to our first ‘Open Tower’ event, to see what the ringing chamber looks like and what happens when the bells are rung for a wedding or on a Sunday. Many who came have lived in Willersey for many years and not had an opportunity to see the bells for themselves, and lots who visited tried their hand at ringing too. So, if you're new to the village, missed out last year or fancy another go we invite you to join us on Saturday July 22nd between 5.00-7.00 pm.

This is not a recruitment drive, although we are always keen to welcome new ringers, but more of an opportunity to demystify what bell ringing is and how it's been done in Willersey for over 300 hundred years.
The circular staircase to the ringing chamber is a little steep, so you might need to be steady on your ‘pins’, but you can be sure of a warm welcome and a chance to ‘have a go’ if the fancy takes you.
Please talk to Bob Topp, Chris Gooding or Pete Kavanagh for more information. We look forward to welcoming you.

There are over 5,000 bell towers for change ringing in England, with less than 300 in the rest of the world.
Despite coming in many shapes, sizes and materials, most bell towers have a familiar layout. At the top are the bells, spreading the sound out to the community, below which is usually a clock room. The bell ringers usually stand on the ground floor, or first floor if there is a lobby below. At the top of the tower, the bells are hung in a wooden or metal frame with each bell fixed to the axle of a large wooden wheel that pivots in ball bearings on the frame. A rope is tied to the wheel spokes, runs partly round the rim and falls through holes and pulleys to the ringing chamber below. When not ringing, the bell is parked with its mouth upwards. Pulling the rope attached to the wheel rotates the bell firstly in one direction and then in the other.

Church Bell Parts

The main parts of the mechanism of a bell hung for change ringing are:-

  • FRAME This may be made of wood or iron in substantial proportions to support the weight of the bells. Each of the spaces where the bells hang is called a pit.
  • HEADSTOCK attaches the bell to the wheel and is pivoted on two gudgeon pins into the bearings.
  • WHEEL has a deep channel for the rope around its circumference. The size of the wheel is adjusted so that different bells of different weights all have the same feel on the ropes.
  • GARTER HOLE A hole in the wheel that allows the rope to pass through. The rope is then tied around the wheel spokes.
  • CLAPPER is mounted on a bearing just below the crown of the bell. It swings from side to side as the bell rotates and strikes on the sound bow. Often wrongly called a Bell Clanger, Bell Donger, Bell Tinckler (in ornamental bells)
  • SOUND BOW is the name given to the thick metal area on the mouth of the bell.
  • GUDGEON is a strong pin fixed to the headstock and carries the weight of the bell into the bearing.
  • BEARING The two bearings allow the bell to rotate easily. Nowadays roller bearings are fitted, however in the past, other designs were used that required regular greasing to work efficiently.
  • STAY is the device that keeps the bell in an upright position between ringing, when the bell is stood. It needs to be sturdy enough to support the bell. If the bell is mishandled and it violently comes to rest the stay is designed to break and protect the bell, which could otherwise crack across its crown. One end of the stay bolts into the headstock and the other engages with the slider as the bell approach the balance point.
  • SLIDER does as its name suggests and slides across a track between two end stops on the lower part of the frame. In conjunction with the stay or bar, it allows the bell to be parked with its mouth upward just slightly past the point of balance no matter which direction the bell swung before it was parked.

Saintbury Church is visible from St Peter's Churchyard.

Saintbury Church has a peal of eight bells which are occasionally rung.

On a lovely afternoon on Sunday 10th July 1983 with a light breeze to counter the hot sun, there were about 120 people in the congregation for the rededication of St Nicholas' bells by the Arch-deacon of Cheltenham, the Venerable Reic Evans. The bells were then offically rung after a gap of forty years to have them refurbished. We could also hear them while having tea in the garden of “The Old Orchard”.

Willersey, St Peter, 6 bells, Tenor 12 cwt, Grid Ref:SP107397
These weights below are in imperial measures - hundredweight (cwt), quarter(qr) and pound (lb). (14lb to one stone, 8 stones to a hundredweight) These are the only complete maiden (untuned) ring by Abraham Rudhall in the country. The metal frame and the modern style fittings are by Mears & Stainbank of London, and date from 1936. The bells were not tuned or weighed at this time. They go well and sound nice. The metal for the bells came from three larger bells already in the Church. The ringing chamber entrance is outside in the south east corner of the tower up some (slippy) outside narrow steps.

Bell details
Maker Date Weight
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 4.75 cwt
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 5.25 cwt
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 5.75 cwt
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 6.75 cwt
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 8.25 cwt
Abraham Rudhall I, Gloucester 1712 12 cwt in G

Saintbury, St Nicholas, 8 bells, Tenor 11-0-24, Grid Ref:SP117394
These bells were unringable for many years, and were rehung in 1983 by the Whitechapel Foundry. They are now a very nice ring, and are pleasant to listen to. There is no parking near the church, but it is possible to leave cars in the lane, and walk up the path towards the church by the side of the private drive. The ground floor ringing chamber is reached through the church. The third bell bears a Latin inscription, which is rare for a Rudhall bell. The ring was augmented in 1999 to 8 bells, and dedicated on 31st October 1999.

Maker Date Weight
Whitechapel 1999 3 cwt 2 quarters 5 lbs
Whitechapel 1999 3 cwt 3 quarters 27 lbs
John Rudhall, Gloucester 1835 4 cwt 1 quarters 16 lbs
Henry Bagley I, Chacombe 1678 4 cwt 3 quarters 14 lbs
Henry Bagley I, Chacombe 1678 5 cwt 2 quarters 4 lbs
John Taylor, Loughborough 1902 7 cwt 1 quarters 6 lbs
Henry Bagley I, Chacombe 1678 8 cwt 2 quarters 16 lbs
Henry Bagley I, Chacombe 1678 11 cwt 0 quarters 24 lbs in G

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a controlled manner to produce variations in their striking sequences. This may be by method ringing in which the ringers commit to memory the rules for generating each change, or by call changes, where the ringers are instructed how to generate each new change by calls from a conductor. This creates a form of bell music which is continually changing, but which cannot be discerned as a conventional melody.

Change ringing originated following the invention of English full-circle tower bell ringing in the early 17th century, when bell ringers found that swinging a bell through a much larger arc than that required for swing-chiming gave control over the time between successive strikes of the clapper. This culminated in the technique of ringing bells through a full circle, which enabled ringers to accurately ring continually changing mathematical permutations, known as “changes”.

Speed control of a tower bell is exerted by the ringer only when each bell is mouth upwards and moving slowly near the balance point. Each bell has its own ringer. The considerable weights of full-circle tower bells also means they cannot be easily stopped or started, and the change of speed between successive strikes is limited. This in turn places basic limitations on the rules for generating easily-rung changes; each bell must strike once in each sequence, but its order of striking in successive changes can only change by one place.

Change ringing is practised worldwide, but it is by far most common on church bells in English churches, where it first developed.

During the Second World War all church bells were silenced so they could be used to warn of a Nazi invasion. The restriction was not eased until Victory in Europe Day on 8th May 1945.

Our bell ringers have had their own newsletter in the past.

St Peter's Ringers Magazine

For further copies look here .

Tower Grabbers are ringers who like to visit as many towers as possible.

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