Market Lavington Museum

Lavington Bells

We will conclude our series of blog posts about the bells at St Mary’s Church in Market Lavington with a poem of rhyming couplets from 2007. The content describes the bell ringers at that time, their bell ringing practices and the terminology of ringing.

It was written in celebration of the bells of St Mary’s Church, Market Lavington and their ringers past and present.

In Lavington’s church, hidden high out of sight,

Six bells wait silent, in the tower’s louvred light.

Not chimers or jinglers or Flemish carillon,

These bells to the English tradition belong.

Although, by the foundry, made big and brassy,

They’re no brazen hussies, but solid and classy.

Now on Wednesday evenings, just before eight,

A motley band of ringers reach the church gate.

The walkers, the bikers and some in their car

Walk along Church Street or come from afar.

They enter the church from their various lives,

Teachers, projectionists, builders and wives.

And then starts the gossip, the news and the greeting,

The dialect of Wiltshire with Irish lilt meeting.

As the practice is planned, the tower will be filled

With the technical terms of the bellringers’ guild.

Stedman, Bob minor, call changes and rounds,

Grandsire, plain hunting and other bell sounds.

Now, ring up the bell that’s left down for the vicar

And light the power-cut candle’s safety flicker.

So what’s the appeal of learning to ring?

Were they taught by their fathers to make the bells sing?

Or was it religion, musicians’ tradition

Or a nerdism born of mathematical precision?

Whatever their reasons, they’re part of a team,

Whose quest for perfection is part of their dream.

So the band sally forth, make a ring in the tower.

They all know the ropes, which they’ll pull for an hour.

“Treble’s away! She’s gone.” Where did she go?

After her sibling bells, all in a row.

And the hundredweights swinging high in the tower

Obey, then defy, gravity’s power.

The ringers below poise bells close to the stay

‘Til each is rung round the opposite way.

Six bell tones surge round in repetitive waves,

Out through the churchyard and over the graves.

The tower captain calls the word of command

And the rhythmical regiment comes to a stand.

As next she begins to call out the changes,

Medleys of melodies rise to the ranges.

Like geese in flight, the bells share the lead,

As the skein of notes drifts out over the mead.

Well, five share the lead, but not number six,

For the anchoring tenor resists such new tricks.

But wait – the next stage of novice initiation

Is to tackle plain hunting. What consternation!

Oh the merry muddle, clang, clamour and clash,

The crazy cacophony of a sequence hash.

Surely the bells are not warning the village

With portents of invasion, plunder and pillage.

No, the captain will call her crew back in line

To recuperate with rounds, reassuringly in time.

The next set is fixed for experienced ringers,

Octogenarians and lifelong bell swingers.

The mellifluous tones that the bells now release

Are of competent ringers’ consummate ease.

So let the complex dance pattern of changes begin.

You pass your partner going out and pass her coming in.

The sequence of notes is switching and changing,

Twisting and snaking, weaving and ranging.

Though they make no plaited braids up in the sky,

For, like bubbles from a blow pipe, they’re formed and then die.

Less tangible still than the elusive rainbow,

This tone trail is sounded, rounded, let go.

Beneath it, six ringers stand firm on the floor,

Serious, sonorous, solid and sure.

They will ring for occasions of sorrow and pleasure,

Mark the passage of time along life’s measure.

On Sundays, bells summon the faithful to pray

And they yearly pronounce that it’s Christmas Day.

And the bells of St. Mary’s rang when you married

Or, half-muffled, mourned when the coffin was carried.

The Lavington ringers are of a long line,

Who served the village through four centuries of time.

So open your windows and let the sounds enter

Of the treble, bells two, three, four, five and the tenor.

And here’s to our bells, well founded in history,

To the Lavington ringers and the bellringing mystery.