Bell ringing may not be an obvious choice of hobby, but there is more to it than you may think.
Richard Stevenson, 73, is the ringing master at St Mary’s Church, on Ilkeston Market Place. He took up the hobby 60 years ago when he was aged just 13.
“Lots of people were in the choir,” he said. “We were at school and had to do homework every day, but if you were in the choir your dad would let you off doing homework to go to practice. The choir master was also the ringing master. You got paid ten shillings to ring the bells which was a lot of money, so I learned to ring and have kept going ever since.”
Richard, who hopes to teach the art to his youngest grandchildren, rings the bells at St Mary’s one Sunday in two.
He explained how he has rung a lot of what is termed in the bell-ringing world as peals, or change ringing. This can involve 5,000 changes in three hours, each one must not be repeated.
Richard certainly knows his stuff when it comes to bell ringing and he is the main man behind the fund-raising drive for the restoration of the bells at St Mary’s.
The bells were recast and installed 105 years ago meaning the frame was rusty and the bearings were wearing out. They were ultimately becoming hard to ring.
In 2010 fundraising began for extensive repairs, maintenance and re-hanging the bells at a cost of £42,000.
Richard, a former Rolls Royce worker, said: “We started fundraising and I did an appeal at the church with one of the friends I ring with.
“It was decided we would raise the money to get rollerball bearings , not plain bearings as everything was wearing out.
“We were very lucky to get help from lads who were on community service. They helped us get the heavy stuff back up the tower. In order to keep the cost down Taylor’s Bell, who were repainting the frame and re hanging the bells on ball bearings, said if we provided assistance to help with the re-paint and got the bells down the tower we would get a £10,000 reduction.”
The total cost of the work is around £42,000 and they have raised most of the cash. Now they just need £6,000 to pay off a loan.
Richard said there are quite a few young people still taking up bell ringing as a hobby.
He said: “You don’t need strength, it’s the knack of doing it. It’s a great hobby because once you’ve learned the art it doesn’t matter where you go because most towns always have bells. Wherever you go you are always made to feel welcome. I have rung them all over the place. My wife doesn’t think it’s a good idea because I hear bells and say ‘I won’t be long’. There is always someone to go to the pub with. I have made lots of friends and it’s a lovely hobby, in my opinion. People who are in their 80s still do it and it keeps them fit.
“If I went to another town and said ‘I’m going to ring Grandsire Triples’ they would know what to do.
“There’s more to it than meets the ear. I’m lucky because I’m pretty fit and I still learn new methods.
“The only thing that stops people learning is physical size. You have to be a minimum of 4ft 6ins because you need to be able to catch the fluffy end of the rope when it comes down.”
The last bit of work will see the bell ringing rooms decorated with new carpets, blinds and a lick of paint. John Newton , one of the ringers, got local firms to do the work free of charge.
Richard added: “Now the bells are in good condition, you pull them down and they go for 30 swings. It all looks a lot better. It was very dusty and dismal before.”
Bell ringers are currently needed at St Mary’s.
A rededication ceremony will be held at the church on the evening of Sunday December 20, at 6pm.