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Celebrating 300 years of bell ringing - 3rd May 2015

The bells at Derby Cathedral will be ringing out on Sunday 3rd May to celebrate an important anniversary. Three hundred years ago, in May 1715, ‘eight gentlemen, good and true’ met at the church of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich and rang the bells continuously for more than three hours to achieve the first ever ‘peal’ on church bells. A peal consists of more than 5000 different combinations or ‘changes’ that have to be rung in a precise order, such that each change sounds slightly different from every other one. The peal has since become the standard performance piece for bell ringers and thousands of different peals have been rung since that ground-breaking achievement in East Anglia.

Here at the cathedral the bells are famous for being the oldest ring of ten bells in the world, so it’s particularly appropriate that we should be marking this anniversary. Back in the eighteenth century there were very few ringers in the land capable of such an extraordinary feat of mental and physical concentration so it was not until 1763 that the first full peal was rung in Derby. These days the challenge presented by ringing church bells non-stop for three hours has hardly diminished, but we are fortunate in having a band of ringers with sufficient experience to attempt the challenge. Listen out for the bells on Sunday afternoon for we are continuing the tradition of one of England’s oldest performance arts. 

Martin Whiteley
Ringing Master