With access to our towers limited at present, some ringers have turned to handbells. I was particularly impressed by Tom and Val Ridgman's ringing of Sixty on Thirds to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Not just because I always find ringing call changes on handbells even harder than ringing methods, but because Tom was ringing "4-in-hand", i.e. holding two bells in each hand. How does that work?

The thing is to arrange the clappers of the two bells so that they swing in different directions, so that each bell can be rung independently of the other. Here are two possibilities; in the first picture, the upper handbell's clapper swings left to right, while the lower handbell's clapper swings up and down, whereas in the second picture they are the other way around. Moving the hand up and down rings one bell, twisting the wrist side to side rings the other. Some people also loop the handles of the bells through each other, but I've got them next to each other.

I have filmed a couple of short videos to demonstrate. Firstly showing how to ring each bell separately and then together:

Then rounds on four bells:

And finally Plain Hunt Minimus:

For me, Plain Bob Minimus will take a bit more practice, but here is Simon Melen, ringing four-in-hand, showing how it should really be done. He is ringing Bristol Surprise Maximus! Simon and the band also rang a whole peal in the method, and has since rung a peal of Orion Surprise Maximus four-in-hand. Another notable performance was a whole peal of Plain Bob Minimus, rung by Frank King, which caused much debate in the Central Council.

I was also going to mention Alan Griffin, who appeared pictured on BellBoard in recent weeks, ringing not just 4-in-hand, but six bells, three in each hand. But unfortunately I can't find the record now. Presumably, the other bell in each hand swung in the third dimension.


In his recent fascinating webinar on ringing in Cambridge in the 18th century, Gareth Davies mentioned a peal rung on handbells in 1777 and speculated that it had been rung "lapped", as it had taken well over three hours to ring. Lapping is great fun and much easier than ringing in hand. Rather than ringing the same pair of bells throughout, each ringer is responsible for two places. The bells are passed between the ringers (so perhaps not a good technique when guarding against viral infections...). Although the name implies that the bells are placed in the ringers' laps, the technique is more often rung with the bells on a table.

At each stroke, the ringer picks up and rings the bells in front of them, then puts them down in the place they need to be for the next row. This method is sometimes known as "cross and stretch", as that's what most of the ringers do in Plain Hunt, alternately crossing their pair of bells over then passing them out to either side. Here is the grid for Little Bob Major:

Let's look at what the ringer of 3rds and 4ths place does:

She starts with bells 3 and 4, of course, ringing them in rounds, but you can see in the diagram that the first action is to cross the pair over. Picking them up and ringing them again gives the order 4, then 3. But the next move is to "stretch", passing both bells out to the next ringer; the 4 goes off towards the front and the 3 goes out towards the back. Instead the ringer gets bells 1 and 6.

She rings them, then crosses them over, but then only passes on the bell in the 3rds place, leaving the bell in 4ths place where it is. Subsequent rows entail cross, stretch, cross, cross and cross. The last three crosses are caused by the bells dodging. You never need to know which bells you have, as long as you now which way they have to move. Although it's a useful check that it should be the treble making 4ths at the half-lead each time.

Here's a clip of a band ringing St Clement's Major. If you watch the ringer on the left, who is ringing 1sts and 2nds place, you can see that there is a lot of dodging, then at the end of the lead, when a bell makes seconds, she doesn't bother putting the bells down on the table, as the bells will be in the same order at the next row.

And here is Plain Hunt on 15! They start and finish at reverse rounds. One advantage of ringing so many bells is that at least you get plenty of time to do the swapping before it's your turn to ring again.

And I must include the clip of the Lamerton handbell ringers ringing call changes, swapping the bells over physically as they go.


Finally, another method of ringing handbells is tapping, although it's not much done these days. This is done by one ringer, with the handbells suspended from a frame. Here are a couple of pictures from Ernest Morris's 'History and Art of Change Ringing'.

Peals have been rung in this way and Morris discusses the methods used by the ringers, including Elijah Roberts, John Seager and Arthur Morris. And mention must also be made of Harry Withers, who tapped out peals on his dulcimer. For more information, see also John Eisel's 'Giants of the Exercise II', available free from the Central Council website.


Finally, I have already given a plug for the excellent new book by Tina Stoecklin and Simon Gay. A couple of books are also available free to download from the Central Council website: The Beginner's Guide to Change Ringing on Handbells and Change Ringing on Handbells.