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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Heritage Day!

Last Sunday my Grandpa, Dennis Brock was honoured to receive the Bishop of London's St. Mellitus Medal for his 95 years of service to St. Mary's Church, Sunbury. He also received a personal letter from the Bishop of London. Only 1 or 2 of these medals are given out every year so it is a very prestigious honour. Bell- Tower Captain, Dennis was christened, confirmed and married at the church and has been a bell-ringer there for 85 years! He's taught countless young and old ringers including me :) 

Image Credit: Dennis Scott

Here is Dennis in the middle with Fr. Andrew Downes (right) and visiting Archbishop Walter Makhulu (on the left) who presented the medal on 4th September 2016.

My Grandpa and my family had no idea he was to receive this award! He was so shocked!


Dennis was born on November 23rd 1918 and has lived in Sunbury all his life. He had always been an active member of St. Mary's church, first as a choir boy and then started ringing at the age of 12 in 1931. 
'I was sending a note up to the bell tower for Ernie Fisk's absence and the tower captain told me to sit and watch. When I went to leave he said 'Thursday at 7:30 you'll come for your bell ringing lessons'.'
And that was that! He is still walking up the 41 stone spiral steps to the bell tower every Sunday!  Before the war he used to cycle all round the UK, touring churches to ring the bells. You can find out more about his cycling days here.

He has rung the bells at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Westminster Abbey, London and Curfew Tower at Windsor Castle. He has rung on the heaviest ring of 8 bells in the UK at Sherborne Abbey in Dorset where the Tenor bell is 2337 kilos! The strangest place Dennis has rung is at Pershore Abbey in Gloucestershire where the bells are rung from a suspended cage at the top of the tower- apparently it moves (Ooooaaghh!). 

Today is Heritage Day!

A day of appreciation for England's wealth of history and diverse cultural assets. It's a day where historic buildings and the like let the public in and hold workshops, visits, tours etc in order to learn more about our past. Hopefully amongst other traditions it will raise awareness of the art of Campanology (that's bell-ringing). It is such a shame that from my generation and younger, Bell-ringing as a skill is unheard of. Bell ringing is sociable, build's strength, is a good brain workout and earns you useful pocket money! 

My mum was taught to ring when she was 10 and me and my sister were taught to ring when I was 12. We still ring now. Its like riding a bike, you never forget it! 

A Little History...

Until 1935 the bell-ringers at St. Mary's were only capable of rounds and call changes; the basics! however by 1935 there were enough skilled people to attempt more ambitious change ringing. It was also the Silver Jubilee year of King George V and Queen Mary. The bell-ringers decided to ring a full peal of 5040 changes (that's 3 hours on 8 bells of constant bell-ringing!). It was successful and today's Quarter Peal (1260 changes- 40 minutes of ringing) is to commemorate that Peal 80 years ago.
This video is a nice intro taken from here you can find out about the history and more! 

Full Credit

The Bell Rope: The fluffy, stripy bit is called the 'Sally'.

When you ring the bells there are 2 parts: Hand Stroke = when you catch and pull on the 'Sally' (see picture left)

and Back Stroke= when your hands go back to the tail end of the rope.

The animation to the right shows both strokes alongside the bells rotating positions. The bell is stopped from rotating all the way round by a piece of wood attached to the frame called a 'Stay'.

Bell-ringing is an art. A skill that takes time and practice in order to handle the rope properly and safely. You need to be able to listen to the steady rhythm of your bell against everyone elses. You need to watch the other ropes. Above all you need to CONCENTRATE.


At St. Mary's Sunbury, there are 8 bells: 'Treble' (lightest), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and Tenor (heaviest).

Rounds = the scale (in order) from high to low.

Call Changes= when someone tells you which bell to follow.
Say you were bell 3- a conductor will call out (or shout as its very loud) mid ringing eg: "3 to 4" this means you have to adjust your bell pull so that you pull down (on the hand stroke) just after the 4th bell. You will be 'following' the 4th Bell. Confused yet??

Change Ringing= You have to memorize the changes and work out which bell your following by listening to the pattern. *Mind boggle!*

Peal=  the extent of what you can ring on a given number of bells before you bring them Round again.

Below are the changes (the lines) bell-ringers memorize in order to ring a Peal. This is Bell-ringing 'sheet' music called 'Methods'. There are thousands of 'Methods' and there are new ones being devised all the time especially with the aid of Technology. A method must start and end with the scale or Round which is why on 8 bells it takes approx 5040 changes to do that!
The methods have funky names: 'Bob Doubles', 'Grandsire Triples', 'Plain Bob Major', 'Stedman Caters' (they sound like names of race horses!)  

Bristol Surprise Major (Photo Credit)

During WW2 when my grandpa was prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany in 1944 he was talking to a fellow prisoner about the church and bell-ringing and wrote out a bell-ringing 'Method' from memory on a piece of German toilet-paper 'It was like brown paper!'. He put the paper in his pocket, got ready for bed and when he arose the next morning at 6am the paper from his pocket had gone!

He was called into the German office at 11am where there were 2 detectives waiting for him
'What this?' they demanded 
-'Quatsch! (Bullshit!)...Don't tell us lies!'
> Its music! It's music for bells!, 
-'This is not finished!' they exclaimed.

Shortly after this confrontation Dresden was bombed and the matter was dropped. 
At that time German bells were only swing-chimed so they had assumed that this music my grandpa wrote out was secret code.
Dennis Brock

At the end of any ringing session for safety reasons the bells are let down. In order to ring them they are pulled up.

Let Down

Pulled Up and Ready to Ring

This is a video of Dennis Brock pulling up the 4th bell (my bell!) so that it is ready to ring.

Fun Fact:
There is a church bell in Dorset with the inscription 'The Glory of Dog'. Something went a little awry during the casting process!

Dennis (it feels weird to call him that) is the most inspirational person I know in my life and I'm so proud to be his grand-daughter!