I’ve been captain since March last year. I decide what the band is going to ring and I organise the ringing according to the abilities of those present. Generally we rotate the captaincy; I have had two other three-year periods as the captain.
I learned to ring at Ripe when I was 11, so that's 44 years I've been ringing. Bell ringing is very safe. It isn’t true that ringers commonly get lifted off the ground by the bell rope. In all my time I've only ever seen one person go airborne.
We've got roughly 25 ringers at the moment, which probably means we are one of the three strongest towers in Sussex for membership. Our oldest ringers are in their eighties and our youngest ringer is about 11.
Monday night is the learners’ practice when we use our simulator: it lets you practise the technique but the sound is generated by a computer inside the belfry. Tuesday night is a more advanced practice on the 'open' bells.
We ring from 9.30 until 10 on a Sunday morning and from 6 until 6.30 in the evening. Sometimes we do longer pieces called ‘quarter peals’ on a Sunday evening. These take about 45 minutes. We send details of these performances to a magazine called 'The Ringing World', where they are published for other ringers to see and admire.
The art of bell ringing is to try and get a rhythmical, evenly-spaced sound from the bells. This is complicated to achieve because each bell is a different size, so it swings at a different rate… and a number of bells have something called 'odd struckness', which means the clapper doesn't swing evenly. A ringer will constantly attempt to compensate for these variables.
Here, we've got ten bells. The largest – our tenor bell – weighs over 17 hundredweight [885kg]. The normal number of bells is either six or eight, so we're lucky to have ten.
In the late 1500s and the early 1600s, a lot of church bells in England were fitted with a complete wheel on the bell. The bell rope wraps around that wheel, which enables you to turn the bell through 360 degrees and to control the speed of the bell. With a lot of practice, the band can learn to ring mathematical patterns that change the order of the bells. This technique is known as ‘change ringing’: each sequence by all the bells in the pattern is a single ‘change’. It's a very English art.
A ‘peal’ consists of at least 5,000 unique changes and takes about three hours to ring. Peals aren't always successful: if a ringer makes a mistake in the pattern and you don't achieve unique changes, you have to stop.
Bell ringing exercises the brain and the body together. You ring as a team and everyone is equal in that team, men and women, young and old. You never stop learning.
As told to Mark Bridge
TRINITY church, Southover High Street, Lewes
A version of this article was first published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 127 April 2017.