PUBLISHED: 16:45 27 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:45 27 April 2015
Bells will sound out across the country on May 2 to celebrate a feat which put Norwich at the heart of bell-ringing history, explains Rowan Mantell.
Exactly 300 years ago the bells of St Peter Mancroft rang out across the city for more than three hours. It was a day which would go down in the history of campanology.
The bell-ringers at the city centre church had completed the first ever full peal – with the bells rung in every possible order, without repeating a single sequence. It was a remarkable achievement, involving intense concentration and stamina from the ringers, and significant mathematical skill from the composer, to ensure no repetition.
Now St Peter Mancroft church in Norwich is the focus of a series of celebrations to mark the 300th anniversary of that first full peal. On Saturday, May 2, ringers are staging a reconstruction of the peal. There will also be a chance for people to try bell ringing on a mini bell tower at The Forum nearby, an exhibition in the church and a celebration service and concert.
“Change ringing is what makes our church bells such a quintessential sound,” says Simon Rudd, master of St Peter Mancroft Guild of Ringers. “The bells ring in an ever-changing sequence of permutations.” Complex rules govern how the changes are produced, with a full peal including at least 5,000 different changes.
The May 2 celebrations will not be limited to Norwich, or even Norfolk. “We are encouraging as many ringers as possible to mark this important anniversary and make a donation to our project,” says Simon. And with Norwich at the heart of the history of bell ringing, today’s St Peter Mancroft Guild of Ringers wants to leave a legacy for future generations. It is raising money for a ringing, teaching and heritage centre, inside the church tower, to help preserve and develop the art of change ringing, and bring Norwich’s rich ringing tradition to a wider audience.
The £380,000 centre will involve raising the floor of the ringing chamber to its 18th century height, creating space beneath for high-tech teaching facilities for new recruits.
Novice ringers will be able to use silent bells and computer simulations before graduating to the actual bells and a specialised sound control system will allow the bells to ring out across the city on important occasions, but reduce noise on practice nights. It will be the only such teaching facility in the East of England and include space for information about St Peter Mancroft’s bell ringing history – to be open to visitors whenever possible.
Support the appeal at www.mancroftappeal300.co.uk
The celebration weekend includes the anniversary peal on the Saturday plus stalls and exhibitions and the chance to try belling ringing on a mini tower at the Forum. A special Sunday morning service will be followed by a particularly difficult peal, performed by six of Britain’s best handbell ringers. The anniversary weekend will finish with a handbell concert by the Bell-Folk of Honingham on Monday evening.
Norwich will also be the venue for Britain’s biggest annual ringing event next month. On Saturday, June 27, the finals of the National Twelve Bell Striking Contest will be held at St Peter Mancroft. The 10 best teams in Britain will compete, and the event is expected to bring hundreds of visitors to the city.