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Up in the bell tower with Halesowen's famous bell ringers
There have been bell ringers at St John the Baptist Church in Halesowen since 1707 but this Summer will go down as one of the best ever.
The bell ringers marked the Queen's Jubilee, are preparing for a signal the start of Olympics and were even filmed for BBC 2’s current series The Great British Story - A People’s History.
High above the town in Halesowen Parish Church’s bell tower the ringers meet every Tuesday for practice and then on Sundays to ring before services.
And in a bid to attract new members the group is holding an open day in July so local people can see how the magic is made in the bell tower and have a go themselves.
Captain Michael Brown, who has rung for 25 years, said: “Bell ringing is one of the few remaining English folk arts and we are keen to keep the tradition going here in Halesowen.
“We have a thriving bell ringing band but we are always keen for new people to join our group so are holding a open evening for interested people to come and see what we are all about.”
He added: “There are so many wonderful things about being a bell ringer from being part of our great history to meeting a new group of friends of all ages.”
Jokes fly back and forth between the bell ropes and though the ringers take their job seriously there is no lack of laughter in the bell tower.
Phrases like “six up in peal” and “eight up in peal” are shouted across the room as the ringers move in sequence immediately understanding each instruction.
When the bells get going the tower rocks side to side but the ringers take no notice as this is nothing new for them.
The walls of the ringing room are festooned with awards, shields and rolls of honours for previous members who rang during historic landmarks including jubilees, the millennium and various local anniversaries.
Many of the current crop of ringers are descended from bell ringers, Mike Lashford’s uncle Harry Lea rang for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897.
Mike, who has rung bells in Halesowen for 55 years, said: "My great great great uncle Harry Lea was one of the bell ringers on the day of Victoria’s Jubilee.
“I am very happy to keep the tradition going as it is great exercise and keeps the mind sharp as well.”
There are thousands of permutations that eight bells can ring and each ringer has to ensure they ring in the precise order to ensure the peal sounds perfect.
Ringing a bell is not just a matter of yanking the rope and hoping for the best, I gave it a try and seemed to fail miserably, however, with a little bit of practice to understand the momentum of the bell I’m sure I would have got the hang of it, so to speak.
However, I am not sure I would want the responsibility of ringing that most haunting of sounds - the funeral toll - anytime yet.
The Halesowen bell ringers are renowned across the world after winning countless awards over the years and are the reigning Worcester and District champions.
Historian Michael Wood spent a day with the ringers for his series Great British Story - A People’s History (Friday, June 29, BBC2) and the obligatory few pints afterwards in the Waggon and Horses.
They are often asked to ring at churches across the country and these day trips help cement the commeraderie in the band.
The majority of the bells were made in 1707 in Edgbaston by Joseph Smith and then in 1753 another two were added after a fundraising drive by local poet William Shenstone.
The band, which are experts in English Change Ringing, are very proud that the church has not missed marking one national event since 1776 which have included coronations, jubilees and most poignantly the end of war.
Michael said: “We see it as an honour to ring these bells but the fact that we have so much fun doing it helps as well.”
The bell ringing open evening is being held at Halesowen Parish Church, on Thursday, July 5 at 7.45pm and for more information ring Michael Brown on 0121 602 4173.