Elizabeth College is an independent boys school for ages 11 – 18 in Guernsey, Channel Islands.The College’s first ringing group started in the 70s under Ken Fletcher and was affectionately referred to as Ken’s Clangers. Ken was not a ringer but played the chiming apparatus at the Town Church in St Peter Port and likewise ‘played’ the handbell ringers by pointing at them as they stood around in a half circle.This tune playing band became highly proficient and were included in concert programs as well as going out at Christmas to play for retirement homes and only came to an end when Ken retired in the early 90s.Tune ringing on the handbells continued for many more years at the junior school but came to an end in the early naughties and the handbells returned to the Town Church.
All fell silent (in terms of bells) until 2012 when Duncan Loweth was appointed to the Maths Department and started to train the students at the Town Church after school on a Tuesday.The Town Church is a short walk from the school and is where the school holds it services (Foundress day and Carol Service) and some choral concerts.Although the membership is principally from Elizabeth College we welcome students from all the schools on the island and at one point had students attending from 6 of the island’s schools.As with other activities some students stay for a year and others are still going from the beginning.
Each year 4-8 boys spend a week ringing during Investigation and Discovery week which, as well as being a good recruiting ground, has helped to dispel misconceptions about ringing and normalise it as just another activity offered by the school’s extracurricular program.In the early years a couple of local ringers helped teaching handling but are no longer available at the time we practice and once the boys were learning called changes have had to learn together, with at least 3 of them in the band at once.The band now has 10 students with abilities ranging from called changes to reverse Canterbury doubles.Some of the students call the changes or touches of methods and most have rung quarters with a couple having rung peals.
Our focus at the start of the year was striking.One of the band could ring Plain Bob Doubles and another could badly plain hunt on 5 and the rest were ringing called changes or working on their basic handling.In September of last year we had entered our district 6 bell as a scratch team but afterwards the members voted to allow Elizabeth College to enter as a legitimate team in future years.As an extra challenge we were teaming up with the Isle of White Youth ringers to enter a joint team in the South East Youth Striking competition and we had to turn our 6 bell rhythm into 8 bell rhythm.It was clear as we approached the competition that we were the least experienced and some of the youngest entering and our prospects were not great.Likewise when we entered 2016’s Channel Island district 6 bell we knew the rest of the bands entering were adult teams with decades of experience.Both times the boys knew that they were almost certainly going to come last but they didn’t give up, they pushed themselves (and their teachers pushed them) to raise their game against their own previous achievements.This was particularly seen as we put on extra practices throughout the summer holiday which the boys diligently attended as the district 6 bell was only 2 weeks into the new term!From June (the South East competition) to September it would have been easy to have focused on getting their called changes neater but if all they did was work on striking they would never ring methods and so the call change band were tasked with learning plain hunt on 5 and those who couldn’t ring rounds would enter ringing called changes (including one boy who was recruited by the music teacher a week before the summer holiday having never touched a rope before!!).
As the summer weeks progressed it was looking unlikely for both bands to achieve their ambitious targets but as the competition drew close you could see their resolve hardening and the concentration sharpening.Our progress was hampered by the lack of local experienced ringers at practice but we arranged one-on-one lessons at school on the College’s Saxilby simulator and Abel sim which is housed in the new Music block.The boys had twenty minute lessons during break lunch and even came out of other lessons (like they do for violin or piano lessons); the school acknowledging the effort the boys were putting in by giving them the same support other musicians and sporting groups receive.
It is not easy for the boys to enter competitions as they needed to travel to a neighbouring islands, stay overnight (as the travel links are too poor to permit a decent amount of time for a day trip) as well as food, insurance and other expenses.Thankfully parents were able to meet the costs and we took two bands (most church bands only had enough ringers for 1 band and some churches not represented at all) and we managed to ring the plain hunt and the called changes to a good standard with one of the boys in each band conducting.
Once again they came last, and second last, but all of the local ringers commented on the vast improvement they had shown as well as their mature attitude towards the competition as well as generally throughout the day.
I’m very proud of the boys as they focus on their own progress and their own targets and are not afraid to stand up to ring despite knowing they will come last compared to the other bands.
After the September competition I was keen to move them on as we had had 9 months of focus on striking competitions! I set them the challenge of ringing a Quarter Peal of bob doubles with myself and 5 boys for the foundress service in a month’s time.This needed the plain hunters to learn the method, and the call change ringers to learn to tenor behind and possibly plain hunt on the treble with only 3 practices to go.Needless to say we did not manage it!But, in those short weeks three of the boys learnt to ring a plain course of bob doubles with the few helpers filling in inside ropes and other boys taking treble and tenor behind.A huge achievement and a testament to setting targets high!
We resolved to try for the QP for the Christmas carol service which gave us another 6 weeks.The dedication shown was phenomenal.The simulator at College was put to good use, practicing trebling to touches of Grandsire and St Simon’s to improve rope sight (they work out and memorise the coursing order too easily!).Each ringer was capable when the carol service arrived but we hadn’t had time (due to illness and absence of some ringers) to practice all together in one band.We managed to survive two rather terrible extents but the band was not steady enough for each boy to stay on their line.Thankfully the last week of term is not too important academically and they came out of lessons to have another go with a band of grown-ups and rang exceedingly well.We are planning to score the QPs for the other boys in January.
As well as our main foci throughout the year the College boys have supported the Town Church band when they have been short of ringers for Service ringing and for quarter peals.They have supported the college choir by service ringing those Sundays when the choir has lead the service.Two of the band have rung peals during the year and they have run the ringing stall at Open Day and other school events teaching younger boys and parents to ring on the Saxilby Simulator.
What shines out from the Elizabeth College ringers is their thirst to improve their own ringing as well as a great humility when looking out to the wider ringing community.They have shown consideration and responsibility as they have stepped up when needed.2017 looks exciting as we prepare for our annual training trip to Alderney where we will be solidifying plain bob and possibly looking at reverse Canterbury and grandsire doubles.Hopefully by September we will not only be ringing a method at the District 6-bell but maybe just be able to climb higher than last place.