The Charmborough Ring — Appeal for Help
Having been used successfully to promote ringing and recruit new ringers for the last eight years or so, the Charmborough Ring is facing an uncertain future. The Charmborough Bell Trust is now looking for help to secure its future.
Ringers are usually hidden away out of public view, so mini rings and “mobile belfries” are a good way of interacting with members of the public. Mini rings have bells about the size of a handbell. Bells in mobile belfries are much larger, typically up to ¾ cwt and produce a sound much more like their church and Cathedral counterparts.
The bells in a mobile belfry are easy to handle, and there are no stays to break. People from about the age of 9 upwards can learn to ring both strokes together in around 15 minutes. Therefore mobile belfries can be used to help overcome one of the barriers which hinder people taking up ringing.
In 1989 the Central Council invited proposals for projects to celebrate the Council’s centenary in 1991. Phil Gay suggested a mobile exhibition centre containing a light ring of bells. The Council decided not to proceed with the idea, but a group from each of the ringing societies in the Lichfield Diocese developed the Lichfield Diocesan Mobile Belfry containing six bells with a tenor of 76½ lbs.
The design of ringing fittings for bells of this size is critical for ease of handling. Matthew Higby has spent many years experimenting with different wheel sizes, hanging radii and other factors. He has built over 70 rings to date and has also developed his own casting patterns for small harmonically tuned bells and “small peals” up to a 2 cwt tenor.
Matthew built the Charmborough Ring as a portable demonstration ring, which made its debut at the Ringing Roadshow in September 2005. With a tenor of 94 lbs, the Charmborough Ring is the heaviest portable ring currently in existence. It is transported on a trailer and is designed to be erected or dismantled by a minimum of four people in under two hours.
At a meeting of various ringing societies held in Westminster City Hall in January 2007, Tim Joiner, then Lord Mayor of Westminster, drew attention to current trends affecting ringing and the opportunities that the events in 2012 presented for raising the profile of ringing. One suggestion, mooted in the subsequent discussion, was to acquire the Charmborough Ring, then available for sale, and to use it in public places to help improve public awareness of ringing. There was only one way to find out if this would work; the Ring was bought privately by two individuals and a separate charity, The Charmborough Bell Trust, was then set up to operate the Ring, dealing with matters such as bookings, storage, maintenance and insurance.
During 2008 the Ring was used on 13 occasions, starting with the Lord Mayor of Westminster’s New Year’s Day parade. Other bookings included the East London Festival, the London Open Rehearsal weekend, the London Marathon, the Paralympic torch handover, and local festivals at Southwark Park, Dartford, Egham, and Canary Wharf. There was local press and TV coverage on at least five occasions. In September 2010 the ring was erected on a boat and used for the Thames Festival, with two quarter peals being scored.
Whilst the Charmborough Ring has been used for many recruitment events and can generate a lot of interest, any attempt to recruit ringers needs careful planning and follow up. People will quickly lose interest if the necessary components are not in place afterwards.
Perhaps the most successful use of the Ring was the 2012 ‘Big Ring Pull’ organised by the North Bucks Branch of the ODG in Milton Keynes. Following a day spent by the Charmborough Ring in the local shopping centre, almost 90 people left their contact details and 38 enrolled on an intensive two week programme of handling lessons. Around 35 were still ringing two years later.
The Charmborough Ring in Schools project masterminded by Jason Hughes provided an activity day themed to give 96 Year 8 (12/13 year old) pupils a taste of bell ringing, including an explanation of the mathematics of bell ringing, some lapping on handbells, and an introductory session on the Charmborough Ring erected in the school hall. Trustees of the Charmborough Ring, officers and members of the Surrey Association, students from the University of London and three ringers from the school community itself formed a team of 15 volunteers to provide a positive experience to all the participants. Jason’s intention was to follow this up with opportunities for the pupils to visit local towers and learn to ring on larger bells. He was also interested in attempting to tie lessons on bell ringing to the national curriculum.
There is a lot of scope to deliver similar projects in other schools and develop this work.
Whilst the Ring has been used quite extensively since 2007, it still remains in storage for around 350 days a year. The original expectation was also to use the Ring predominantly in London and the South East, but it has been increasingly used further afield including Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. With this pattern of use, London is not the ideal location to base the Ring. Also, we understand it is unlikely that we can continue to use the current storage facilities in east London indefinitely and there is a more immediate problem about towing. To date two people have had vehicles to share the towing, but that has now reduced to one.
The Charmborough Bell Trust therefore needs to plan a sustainable future for the Ring. If we are not able to find alternative storage facilities and people willing to undertake towing in the next six to twelve months, we may need to consider other possibilities, including ceasing to operate the Ring.
The Trustees are therefore seeking to find one or more individuals or groups of ringers who would be able to provide a new base (more than one, if there is sufficient interest) for the Charmborough Ring. They would need to have access to a reasonably secure storage facility, e.g. a farmer’s barn, and a person with a suitable tow vehicle and willing to take the Ring to events and supervise erection. The trailer has a laden weight of 2,100 Kg, which is more than a normal saloon car can tow; it needs a larger SUV or 4x4 type vehicle. The Trust will reimburse expenses at an agreed rate. Those taking on the custody of the Ring would also be asked to nominate Trustees, to provide for local oversight of storage arrangements and operation of the Ring. New Trustees would also provide for succession for the current Trustees.
The Trustees would therefore welcome expressions of interest from individuals and Societies who might wish to become involved. Initial expressions of interest should be forwarded as soon as possible. We are also happy to discuss ideas with people before they express interest. If so please us or contact Roger Booth on 07411 181583.
This article first appeared in The Ringing World Number 5470 (February 26, 2016).
HTML version by Peter Blight