York – one year on

During the summer of 2017 we went through the process of applying and being interviewed to be part of the new bellringing team at York Minster. It was clear from that process that the Chapter expected the new band to include a large teaching component, and that definitely included teaching from scratch. It was also clear that if a qualification existed, they would prefer their teachers to have it.

Teaching ringing at York Minster is not a new idea. There was certainly teaching going on within the band when Alison joined as a teenager in the mid-eighties from one of the outlying York towers, at the point where she was learning Bob Doubles inside at a 10cwt 6. There were people at a similar age and a bit younger than Alison in the Minster’s band who were being taught by the Minster bellringers at a number of towers alongside the Minster that were part of that team’s remit at the time: initially at St Martin-le-Grand Coney St (a 10cwt 8 where Minster practices were held on alternate Tuesdays) and at St Michael’s Spurriergate (an 8cwt 6) following their restoration in around 1987. There was also a dumbbell in the ringing room at the Minster and there was a learner or two who learned from scratch on that.

We both made it clear in our applications that we would be prepared to teach ringing, including at the Minster, and work towards ART accreditation. We undertook Module 1 (bell handling) on 30 September 2017 and started teaching immediately. Two adults had signed up to learn from scratch and we set about this utilising Tuesday practices at the Minster, Thursday practices at St Wilfrid’s, and three Sunday service ringing slots with a tied bell practice fitted in between services. It was an ambitious and exhausting programme, but worth every minute to watch the progress, week on week, to meet our self-made target of both our learners ringing rounds unaided for Christmas morning service at the Minster (they had been ringing unassisted at St Wilfrid’s and at Minster practice for a little while before that). We were joined early in 2018 by a member of the Minster’s congregation who had learned as a teenager but given up prior to learning to hunt. In the last year all three have made good progress, have passed their LtR Level 2, and are working towards LtR Level 3 which we hope to complete by the end of 2018, with first quarters at around the anniversary of starting. In July we attended our Module 2 Day Course (Change Ringing), and not before time: our learners are champing at the bit and marching through some of the LtR Level 3 exercises at speed.

We also have a number of young people associated with the band: there are currently three junior members at the Minster, all of whom ring for Sunday service, and two have rung quarters at the Minster. We are also teaching three more children of other band members. This is slow progress at the Minster but enhanced by additional sessions at St Wilfrid’s. The future is looking bright.

We have just installed a Bagley simulator at St Wilfrid’s with the intention of running more tied-bell practices to give all the learners and improvers at both towers more rope time. This will help to relieve the pressure on the main Minster and St Wilfrid’s practices which are currently both very focussed at this level; as at all towers, a balance needs to be struck to keep the more experienced members interested. Managing St Wilfrid’s practice, which spans everything from backstrokes only to Spliced Royal via Bob Doubles, Yorkshire Major and Kent Royal, can be challenging, especially when introducing calling and conducting skills and gaining experience in different parts of the circle are added into the mix. There is no doubt that every touch has a learning outcome! Ringing at the Minster is still technically less adventurous, not least due to the size of the bells, but momentum is building and small forward steps are being taken.

Having taken the ART Modules, we have embraced the structured learning plan and have seen real progress in both the way people learn and the way we teach. It has also been very interesting to see how many of our existing ringers step up, or struggle, with some of the exercises we have introduced from Learning the Ropes, either through unfamiliarity or a need for better bell control. We have seen improvements in handling and striking from more than just our learners, and a group of ringers keen to improve these core skills has started to arrive early to help. Some have even asked to come early specifically for some handling coaching, even though they’ve been ringing for quite a long time.

Everyone here is gaining from the ART schemes and community. We are being helped by a number of experienced ART teachers and mentors across the country, and that gives us access to a wider support network than we could have imagined. We are also always very pleased to see visitors at both towers, so if you are in or close to York do come and see us. The Minster practises on Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm (please contact head@yorkminster.org) and St Wilfrid’s on Thursdays from 6.30 to 9pm (please contact rm@stwilfridsbellringers.org.uk).


Alison Edmonds and David Hull