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Campanology is the ancient art of church bell ringing and is usually just referred to as "change ringing" or "bell ringing". It originated in England and is mainly practiced in the United Kingdom. There are several important distinctions between campanology and other forms of church bell ringing:

1) The bells are rung rather chimed. Ringing a bell involves rotating the whole bell by 360 degrees. This gives a much louder sound than a chimed bell, in which the bell is swung just enough to strike the clapper. 2) The bells are rung in turn (peal) so that no two strike at once. 3) The order in which the bells are struck can be changed by ringing a "method". These methods have names like "Grandsire doubles". This is what gives rise to the name of 'change ringing' (i.e. ringing the changes).

History of change ringing

For centuries, bells have hung for chiming in churches with ropes and levers attached to the headstock from which the bell is hung; pulling on the rope makes the bell swing so that the clapper strikes the side, thus producing a note. However, in England in the 16th century these levers began to be replaced by wheels, which allow the bell to swing almost full circle. This gave the ringer much more control over when the bell strikes, and led to the development of change ringing, whereby bells are rung in systematically changing patterns.

Mechanics of change ringing

Within a church tower, the bells are hung in a bell chamber, which has louvred windows (i.e. slatted) that allow the sound to escape. The bells are held in a bell frame, generally made of steel, wood or cast iron, and each individual bell is hung from a headstock. The headstock is then attached to a wheel, which in turn has a rope attached to it; this rope is wrapped and unwrapped around the wheel as the bell is rung, and is the means by which the bell is controlled. Below the ringing chamber there are usually one or more sound chambers (empty rooms which amplify the sound). The rope that is attached to the bell passes through these and into the ringing chamber through a small hole in the ceiling. It is from the ringing chamber that the bells are rung. Each rope in the ringing chamber is hung so that the end hangs just above the floor, and has a 'sally' attached approximately 4 feet from the floor. This is a woollen grip around the rope which is about 3 feet long; its purpose is both to make the rope easier to hold and to make it easier for the ringer to see where to catch it. The end of the rope is doubled over, and referred to as the 'tail-end'.

In order to ring the bell, the ringer holds the tail end in one hand, with the end tucked into the palm. They then grasp the sally with both hands and pull down firmly, thus pulling the bell 'over the balance' so that it starts to swing. When the bell reaches the bottom of the revolution, and starts to swing back up the other side, the ringer lets go of the sally and holds onto the tail-end with both hands. When the bell has swung almost 360 degrees, it will once again reach a 'balancing point', at which point the ringer pulls down firmly on the tail-end, causing the bell to swing back round the other way again. As the bell rises up towards it's original starting point, the ringer will catch the sally in both hands once again in order to control it.


For a given number of bells a full peal consists of every possible permutation of the bells being rung once and once only. Thus for the unlikely small number of three bells, a possible peal might be.


Note also that any one can only move a maximum of one place on each round. Thus a change from 123 to 231 would be illegal as 1 has move two places. This is fundamentally a practical constraint as it is difficult to adjust the period of a swinging bell by more than a small amount. However, it is also a constraint which adds interesting complexity to the rules of what changes are allowed.

A peal for a particular number of bells has a specific name:

3 - Singles
4 - Minimus
5 - Doubles
6 - Minor
7 - Triples
8 - Major
9 - Caters
10 - Royal
11 - Cinques
12 - Maximus

As will be readly observed, the total number of changes in a full peal is the factorial of the number of bells. Thus for Major, the figure is 40,320. At a rate of one change ever three seconds this would take 34 hours, and would usually be done in shifts, with ringers taking over from one another without stopping the peal. A full peal of Maximus would take around 45 years, and has never been attempted.

For this reason subsets of the total number of changes on a set of bells of often rung, such as a quarter peal of half peal.

For a given number of bells there a various ways in which the permutations can be worked through, for example, with three bells we began


with bell 1 (known as the Treble) saying still (lying) to begin with. However we could equally have begun


We could still have covered all permutations, but in a different order. Each of these ways of ordering the permutations is known as a method and has a name, such as Plain Bob, or Grandsire. This is combined with the term for the number to give Plain Bob Minor or Grandsire Triples.

In most towers the complement (or ring) of bells is an even number. Very often if a method for an odd number of bells is being rung then the remaining bell (the deepest in pitch, known as the Tenor) will always be rung at the end of every round, without moving position. In this role it is known as a Tailor.