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150 years of peal ringing in Ilkley

A peal was rung on All Saints’ bells on 25th February 2023 to mark 150 years of peal ringing in Ilkley.  This was the culmination of almost a year’s work by the band.

A peal is a continuous piece of ringing lasting about 3 hours where each bell sounds over 5000 times.  They are sometimes rung to mark national, local and church occasions, as well as for the satisfaction of being able to ring well and to concentrate on something difficult for a significant period.

The original peal, the first at Ilkley, is described on a board in All Saints’ tower. It was rung on 7th December 1872 and reported in Church Bells (14th December 1872), conducted by Jasper W Snowdon. Snowdon, son of the Vicar of All Saints, subsequently became the first President of the Yorkshire Association of Change Ringers, produced numerous ringing books and articles, and is buried in All Saints’ churchyard and commemorated in a stained-glass window in the North Aisle of the Church.

The development of the band at Ilkley had been rapid over the previous year or so, and the 1872 peal was therefore quite an achievement, and one we felt worthy of commemoration.  It seemed appropriate to try to recreate the original peal.  This proved to be complex as we had both to research the old methods used (“methods” determine the order in which the bells sound) and make some technical adjustments to comply with modern requirements for ringing a peal. 

As the methods were unfamiliar, some practice sessions were arranged and we approached our first attempt at the peal (in December 2022) with confidence.  Sadly both confidence and peal expired in the first half hour: one of the methods “Violet” although apparently not difficult was sufficiently different in style to cause problems.  More homework out of the tower was clearly needed, and its application finally bore fruit on 25th February.  Of the 137 peals so far rung at Ilkley, this is the first on 6 bells (most are on all 8 bells) since the 1872 peal, and at 3 hours 4 minutes the time taken was very similar to the original despite the current ring being considerably heavier. Although, unlike the original, we did not time it to the nearest second.

This has been an interesting exercise, both in terms of the history and the ringing. The old methods were interesting to learn and different to ring. Although both the peal and the bells (augmented from 6 to 8 in 1873 and recast in 1939) were slightly different, we hope it is a reasonable replication of the original. A happy consequence of needing two attempts to ring the peal was that the February attempt coincided with the 90th birthday of one of our former ringers Barbara Payne, who rang at Ilkley from 1993 to 2020, so we were able to mark that occasion too!

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Photo: The Band, in ringing order, with the 1872 peal board.