Sian Paterson is Wanstead’s newest bell-ringer, learning the ropes at Christ Church. Here, she recounts her lessons so far and encourages others to help keep this tradition alive
I’m Sian, I’m 23 years old and I’ve lived in Wanstead my whole life (minus three years at university). I sing in the Parish of Wanstead choir, worship at St Mary’s and am involved in wider parish activities. Most recently, I responded to a plea to join the bell-ringing team at Christ Church to help keep the tradition alive.
Having only ever rung the bell at St Mary’s by pulling on a small rope (which I now know is called chiming), the thought of ringing ‘proper’ church bells was quite exciting! I had no real idea what I was letting myself in for but I like to learn new skills, so I thought, ‘why not?’
John Eyre, chief bell-ringer, invited my dad and I to the bell tower one evening for our first lesson. If you live near the church, you’ll be pleased to know that before we were let loose on the bell, it was tied so it didn’t make any noise!
The first thing I noticed is that you can’t see the bells, and the only way you can control them is by pulling ropes that dangle from the ceiling. I was told by multiple bell-ringers that it’s like “learning to ride a bike”. This is true, if you ride a bike with your eyes shut, or in the dark – you have to internally visualise what is happening above your head and sense the weight and balance of the bell without looking up! I’m hoping, eventually, my muscle memory will kick in and I’ll be able to ring the bells even better than I’ve ever been able to ride a bike.
John explained the different parts of the bell mechanism using a miniature model in the chamber. The woolly bit of the rope is called ‘the sally’, and when you pull down on that, it’s called the hand stroke. The end of the rope is imaginatively called ‘the tail end’ and when you pull on that, it’s called the back stroke.
Our progress has been quite good: in the first lesson, we learnt only the back stroke. For the second lesson, we learnt the hand stroke and put the two together. You can probably tell from my face in the photo that it wasn’t that easy at first. But I think I am getting the hang of it. I can’t wait to ring a bell that’s not tied!
Watching the current bell-ringers practice is really amazing. They’re a very welcoming bunch and very good at what they do. The team are still looking for new volunteers, so if this is something you might enjoy, do get in touch. It would be great to see more volunteers helping to keep this tradition going for future generations.