2016 saw an exciting development in the bell ringing at South Leigh tower. A year ago, St. James’ bells lay silent on Sunday mornings. Members of the band had moved away and the remaining two ringers, David and Anne, were waiting for reinforcements from new recruits before service ringing could resume. In the meantime, Anne rang the beautiful if lonely Sanctus bell to call worshippers to church. However, behind the scenes, a lot of hard work was going into ensuring the continuity of bell ringing at South Leigh, and the result is that our community may now hear the bells ring out again on the second and fourth Sundays of the month for the 9.30am service.
This splendid change has been brought about by the dedication of Alison and David who, following Anne’s initial recruitment drive for the new band, have worked tirelessly teaching their new recruits: Ian Thompson, Heather Horner and myself. Ian also took on the role of Steeple Keeper and now, due to work and family commitments, concentrates on that. Heather and I have been fortunate indeed to benefit from Alison’s excellent one-to-one teaching and from David’s more than 50 years’ experience and insight. During the year we progressed to ringing in a band, so that we now have practices at South Leigh on two Wednesdays in the month, generously supported at these and on Sunday mornings by experienced bell ringers who join us from neighbouring towers. We also take part in some of their practice nights, particularly at North Leigh, Stonesfield and Eynsham, and have contributed to Sunday morning ringing at North Leigh.
It has been a revelation to discover that bell ringing is not only about ringing rounds for Sunday services and weddings, but that there is a hidden world of bell ringing activities and challenges which take place every day, of which the average person may be unaware. So, while as recent recruits, we are currently working on Call Changes as an introduction to change ringing, in time we might aspire to please patient, long-term South Leigh listeners with some of the many complex patterns such as Bob Doubles and Grandsire. As we improve our proficiency, we also hope to be able to ring for every Sunday morning service and are actively looking for more ringers from our own community to join us so that South Leigh tower may be self-sufficient in this respect when necessary.
We are grateful to Nick, Howard and Karen for their support and encouragement throughout the year, during which three quarter peals (~45 minutes of change ringing) have been rung at South Leigh. Two of these were by visiting bell ringers from outside guilds, while one before the Advent Carol Service was rung by members of the Witney and Woodstock branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild: Alison, Anthony, Neil, Mike, Rob and Julie. A peal (~180 minutes of change ringing) was also rung here by the Guild of Devonshire ringers. It will be a while before quarter peals can be accomplished by the new South Leigh ringers, but David’s words often sound in my ears. ‘When it all comes together,’ he told us, ‘it’s the most wonderful feeling, like dancing with a very good partner'. While the new recruits are still trying to avoid stepping on each other’s toes, we are inspired by this vision of harmony, just around the corner.
Until 23rd April, there is an exhibition at the Weston Library in Broad Street, Oxford which has various items of South Leigh history on show. Among them is a set of brass rubbings of the inscriptions on the 17th and 18th century church bells from St. James’, before they were recast in 1907.
Evadne Adrian-Vallance, March 2017