The Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers will welcome around 200 counterparts from other dioceses for their annual conference over the Bank Holiday weekend. Over the weekend, they will travel to churches across south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to see and hear the bells.
They’ll be staying on the Southsea seafront, and will be given the chance to ring bells in churches as far afield as Netley, West Meon and Shanklin during their stay. They’ll join bellringing practices in Swamore, Alverstoke, East Meon and Hursley on the Friday night, and then on the Saturday, they can go on ringing tours that will take them across the whole of Portsmouth’s Anglican diocese.
On Sunday, they’ll be invited to join the local bellringers at Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral, from 9.30am, ahead of the main 10.30am service. They will also take part in a special Songs of Praise service in the cathedral from 4pm, as well as ringing the bells beforehand.
And their formal dinner on the Sunday evening will be followed by the business meeting of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers on the Monday.
Among those looking forward to the conference are young bellringers from St Mary’s Church, Brading. Lexi Skeldon, aged 19, lives opposite the church and asked if she could join in one day when she heard them practising. Now she is an integral part of the team at St Mary’s, and has rung bells across the Isle of Wight too.
But she’s not even the youngest ringer in her bell tower – 13-year-old Tristan Allen has been ringing since he was tiny. And the team at St Mary’s includes all ages up to 81-year-old June Mitchell.
They all squeeze up the wooden ladder outside St.Mary’s, and into the 13th century tower to practice every Thursday night, and return to ring before the main Sunday service.
“Me and my mates were hanging around when the bell-ringers were practising,” said Lexi. “I went in and asked if I could do it, and I became hooked. I had been christened here and we live opposite, but I hadn’t been to church here. We used to go to the Methodist Church.”
Tristan Allen was literally a baby in a car seat when he was taken into a tower by his parents and pulled his first bell-rope. Now he enjoys being part of the team at St Mary’s and elsewhere.
And Kieran Downer, now 22, also became involved because of his parents, Barry and Margaret, who are also part of the bell-ringing team at Brading. He started when he was about six.
“I originally learnt back in 1999, and I’ve rung at Whitwell, Shanklin, All Saints Ryde, Swanmore and on bells across the U.K. and Ireland. Some Sundays I go and ring in four different places in one day!” he said. “St Mary’s bell tower is good, as the bells aren’t too heavy and they are good to learn on. But I love learning new methods and new skills.”
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, said: “Bell ringing is a unique and wonderful tradition and skill. Those of us who practise or have practised the art know how quickly community forms among the team, as together we work on timing and stamina and the complexity of the sequences.
“And so for many of us who hear the sound of the church bells ringing out across our villages, towns and cities, the bells are a reassuring reminder of our cultural rootedness, and of the continuing place of the church in the community.”
For more information, please contact:
Neil Pugmire, communications adviser, Church of England Diocese of Portsmouth (023-9289 9673) – Mondays to Thursdays only
Viv Nobbs, Master of the Winchester and Portsmouth Guild of Church Bell Ringers (01983 530920 or 07594 609 366)