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Parish of Great Missenden with Ballinger and Little Hampden

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About Bellringing

The mental and physical challenges of ringing provide a stimulating hobby with opportunities to ring throughout the UK and worldwide. Although there is a common perception that because the bells are heavy, ours range from 320 to 1224 kg (about the same as a modest car), they are actually quite easy to ring requiring skill rather than brute strength. Like many old traditional activities we are always looking to pass these skills on to new generations and welcome expressions of interest and offer trial lessons and experiences. (Contact via Parish Office).

Bells have been around for 1000’s of years but are generally hung with their mouths facing downwards and are then struck by either an external hammer or swung such that an internal clapper hits them. English ringing varies significantly from this and involves swinging the bell through a full circle such that the clapper hits the bell when its mouth is facing upwards. This places much greater loads on the bell tower but has two significant advantages: the sound is projected outwards and the exact strike time can be controlled. This allows multiple bells to sound their notes in different sequences as the order of the bells change (change ringing). This innovation developed from the 15th century and provides a huge variety of possible sequences, 720 for 6 bells, 5040 for 7 bells and over 40,320 for the 8 bells within the tower. Whilst many ringers never aspire to ring every possible sequence many do and the term peal is applied to ringing all 5040 changes which on our bells takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes. The complexities of achieving each possible sequence without repeating one previously rung has led to the development of many different methods (patterns) which the ringers memorise.

At Great Missenden the bells are rung from the ground floor so the congregation and visitors can see the ringers in action. The ringer controls the bell with a rope, the tail end of which is held at all times. The fluffy bit (called the 'sally') is grasped and pulled. The bell is lifted off its rest position, close to the point of balance(mouth pointing directly upwards balanced above its pivots) and rotates through 360 degrees. As it does so the rope drops a little and then is drawn up round the wheel to which it is attached. The bell rings when it is close to the top of its revolution. The ringer controls its return from this balance point with the tail end of the rope. When pulled again the bell is sent on the return cycle with the ringer catching the sally at the right moment and controlling the bell again as it reaches the balance point.

There are no records of when bells were first placed in the tower but our oldest was cast in 1603. The tower itself was first built in medieval times and assumed its present unusual rectangular shape in the 18th Century when the previous square tower was extended to the south and upwards using much recycled building material which may have come from the Abbey, including part of a large 13th Century window on the West side. Bells were added over the years (details of the bells) and a restoration in the early 20th century featured a new timber frame but retained the old beams which supported it from the walls. It was the deterioration of these timber foundation beams which led to the 1990 major restoration including a new steel frame and the addition of two new bells.