The bells of Westminster Abbey are among the most famous in the world, ringing out for state occasions broadcast on television and radio. They are one of the very few rings of bells to be rung by a paid team of ringers – the Westminster Abbey Company. Every New Year’s Day, the Abbey ringers invite a band from elsewhere in the UK to ring their bells, and it was the great privilege of the St Wilfrid’s ringers to be invited on 1st January 2015.
We took the opportunity to have a few days in the capital, including many unforgettable experiences ringing, socialising and toasting the New Year’s fireworks from a vantage point high in Parliament Square. Our first ringing was on the 30th December when we joined the London members of the Ancient Society of College Youths for their weekly practice which took place at St Sepulchre without Newgate, Holborn Viaduct.
On New Year’s Eve, we began the day ringing ten bells at St Dunstan’s in the West, Fleet Street. We were confident in our repertoire here because this is the same number of bells we ring at St Wilfrid’s. Following a tasty pub lunch, we visited St James, Garlickhythe and enjoyed ringing the eight Royal Jubilee Bells. It is extraordinary to remember that the same bells were rung from a boat during the Diamond Jubilee Thames river pageant in 2012.
Our next tower was St Michael, Cornhill (12 bells) where we worked up an appetite for our evening meal at Pizza Express. Our final tower of the day was St Margaret-of-Antioch, Parliament Square, Westminster. Following some special ringing here, we greeted the turn of the New Year standing on the roof of the tower listening to the chimes of Big Ben and appreciating the magnificent fireworks.
On New Year’s day, we began with the twelve bells at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. The energy from parade crowds added to our gathering excitement on the walk to our next tower, Westminster Abbey. After climbing the tower steps, I enjoyed reading the commemorative boards of ringing for Royal occasions and it was easy to feel the weight of history here. We are proud to have scored a quarter peal at the Abbey (1,282 changes of Cambridge Surprise Royal in 52 minutes) and this achievement has been added to the online national ringing record. The quarter peal was conducted by our youngest member, 12-year-old Ewan Hull.
Following a well earned lunch, we concluded our tour at Imperial College in South Kensington. The 87m tall, freestanding “Queen’s Tower” houses ten bells, each named for Queen Victoria, her children and grandchildren. The unusual, exaggerated sway of the tower during ringing offered exciting technical challenges alongside uninterrupted views of the London skyline.
It was a special privilege to be able to ring at so many London towers and thanks are due to our St Wilfrid’s ringing master, David Hull, for organising an excellent bellringing tour.