Ringing Basics

Here we’ll try and give you a basic understanding of what happens when you ring a bell.

Below is a diagram of a bell in the “down” position (i.e. the mouth of the bell is pointing downwards).


  1. Bell
  2. Headstock – the ‘axle’ which the bell hangs from
  3. Stay – wooden post attached to the headstock that stops the bell turning right over once it is in the ‘up’ position
  4. Wheel
  5. Clapper
  6. Slider – wooden bar attached to the frame which the stay rests against when the bell is in the ‘up’ position
  7. Rope
  8. Bearing – the ‘pivot point’
  9. Frame – supports the bell mechanism

The bell is rung from below using the rope, which is attached to the wheel. For “full circle” ringing (which is what we do) the bell must be raised so that the it is in the “up” position. This requires it being swung back and forth until it has reached the position shown below.


The above diagram shows the two possible “set” positions, where the bell could be left once it has been rung up. The two positions of the bell are known as “Handstroke” and “Backstroke”. When the bell is set at handstoke, the rope goes under the bottom of the wheel before descending in to the ringing room.

When the bell is set at backstroke the rope goes around the top of the wheel before descending in to the ringing room. This means there is less rope in the ringing room, as the distance it is going round the wheel is longer. When you first have a go at ringing, you will start with the backstroke on its own, then the handstroke on its own, and eventually put the two together to ring a bell completely.

The bell will normally be set at handstroke, or in the down position when you arrive at the tower. It isn’t possible to tell the two apart from the rope position, so most towers will have a notice displayed when the bells are up.

To ring the bell (once it is up) the “sally” (this is the name for the woolen bit of the rope) is pulled first. As the bell rotates, the point at which the rope is attached to the wheel moves closer to the pulley, and then begins to move away from it again. This means that the sally will move downwards (when you pull it) and will then move upwards until the bell is at backstroke. The backstroke is then pulled and the sally is caught once it is rising having passed its lowest point. The bell is now back at the point we started from. This is known as “full circle” ringing, as the bell travels in a full circle each time the rope is pulled.

This is just a taster to give you a basic knowledge of what will happen when you come along for your first go. Now that you know the theory, come along and have a go at the practical!