“Parent helpers wanted for Bellringing” read the email. Rarely have I hit reply so swiftly. “Me, pick me!” One of the great joys of having children is being asked to help out. This time it was Explorers. Bellringing, proper pulling on a rope Church bellringing has been on my to do list forever but a distinct lack of rhythm has always kept me away. We climbed the narrow spiral steps to emerge into a room with eight dangling ropes and walls festooned with ornately painted boards such as first peal that rung in the tower and this one for the Armistice Day Bell Peal. 1400 bell ringers are wanted to take part in a centenary peal across the UK in 2018 to mark the end of the First World War. Why 1400? That is the number of bell ringers killed in the First World War.
Christ Church Epsom was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield and built in 1876 but it was not until 1890 that bells came to the church tower. They rang out every Sunday for a hundred years including for the wedding of George Frederic and Mary Watts. Twentieth century technology showed that they were too big for the tower and in danger of causing the whole tower to fall. It turned out that Holy Trinity in Hawley, Hampshire had the same problem and by good luck the bells at Christ Church were exactly the right size. So the Epsom bells made the journey to Hampshire and the Hampshire bells went to Whitechapel Bell Foundry where they were melted down and new smaller bells cast for Epsom. All of the new bells have dedications cast into them.
Getting the bells out in 1991 was complicated by the way down was obscured by a clock installed one hundred years earlier. Trapdoors had to be cut into the floors to allow the bells down. What I was unprepared for was just how big a church clock mechanism would be.
This Sunday we will be at the Remembrance Day Service with the Explorers remembering those who fell. No Armistice Day Bell Peal this year but my mind will dwell on my grandfather who survived four years in the trenches in France during the First World War and his younger brother Alec who died, aged 18, seven months before the war ended flying with the Royal Flying Corp.