Bell ringing practice takes place on Wednesday evenings between 7:30pm and 9:00pm

November 2021 update

After all the summer excitement of a Gold Tower Award, The Westley Award and the Bishop’s visit, autumn bellringing has been pleasantly mellow.

Our practice night continues at St. James’ on Wednesday evenings from 7:30pm – 9:00pm. Some of us also attend practice night on Tuesdays at St. Mary’s, Witney and at St. Mary’s, North Leigh on Fridays. Indeed, there are any number of Towers which will give us a warm welcome if we just turn up, and it is a pleasure to be part of such a community. Come and have a go!

We have been most grateful for tuition and support from Andy Goldthorpe and Alison Merryweather-Clarke, Tower Captains at Witney and North Leigh respectively, as well as for extra monthly teaching from Hugh Deam with his Marston band of ringers on Saturday afternoons since September.

Martin Spurrier continues to tend the bells with the greatest care and dedication. Our practices and special event ringing all depend on checks and maintenance being regularly carried out and no amount of climbing in the belfry is too much to ask.

On 16th October, a Quarter Peal Attempt was successful. A QPA is 45 minutes of the continuous ringing of a method, and in this case the chosen method was ‘Grandsire Doubles’, rung on 6 of the 8 bells. The heavier six bells were chosen, both for the aesthetic quality of the sound and because the improved performance of the bells following Martin's refurbishment means that they handle much more easily than previously. The Quarter peal was in celebration of the 90th birthday of Phyllis Broome, a former South Leigh resident and author of the two publications, ‘South Leigh Remembered’. See here for a separate article about Phyllis's birthday celebration.

We are inspired to practise even more diligently by one or two residents, who have suggested that we might attempt to get a recording of our ringing broadcast on ‘Bells on Sunday’ on BBC Radio 4. While you can listen to the bells of Notre-Dame being rung here, small parish churches also feature. Something to aim at!

Evadne Vallance, November 2021

New Bishop blesses refurbished tower at South Leigh

It is not every day that a Bishop comes to St. James. In fact, the last time was to mark the centenary of the installation of the 1907 present ring of bells, so in 2007, fourteen years ago. It was therefore with excitement that we received the news that the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt. Revd. Gavin Collins, would be visiting on 25th July - St. James’ patron saint’s day, and so our bellringing services would be required.

This special event was well deserved. The year-long refurbishment of the ringing chamber and work in the belfry and clock tower, which had culminated in the tower receiving a gold award following a Tower Maintenance Inspection, was to be celebrated with a formal reopening and a rededication of the bells. We bellringers, very rusty after a year with no practice, swung into action, and with the support of fellow ringers from North Leigh, Eynsham, Witney and Kirtlington, we put on our very best show on all eight bells for the first time since before lockdown. Some sixty people were there to enjoy it before and after the service in the churchyard. Attendees were then invited to have a go at chiming a bell, while the Bishop himself chimed the early fourteenth century Sanctus bell.

Rt. Rev'd. Gavin Collins blesses the refurbished tower at St. James the Great, South Leigh
Rt. Rev'd. Gavin Collins blesses the refurbished tower at St. James the Great, South Leigh
Rt. Rev'd. Gavin Collins at St. James the Great, South Leigh
Rt. Rev'd. Gavin Collins rings the sanctus bell at St. James the Great, South Leigh

On the day, at a ringers’ lunch provided by Heather Horner in Anne Peake’s lovely garden, Martin Spurrier was presented with a gift of the book, Fifty English Steeples as a token of thanks for all his hard work as our Steeple Keeper. The story does not quite end there as, having nominated Martin for the Westley Award, a national award which aims to encourage involvement in bell maintenance and the sharing of knowledge, we were delighted to hear that he had received 'Highly Commended' from the panel of judges. A remarkable achievement given his relatively recent involvement in belfry matters.

Click on the image below to enlarge it - it may display better if viewed in a landscape position so, if you're reading this, turn your device 90º having done so.

The awards thumbnail - click to enlarge

Click the image above to enlarge it.

In other news, our two new recruits, Rita Sawrey-Woodwards and Melody England, are having individual tuition with Alison Merryweather-Clarke on Wednesday evenings, while three or four of us practise on Tuesdays evenings, sometimes kindly supported by Andy Goldthorpe, the Tower Captain at St. Mary’s, Witney. We hope that Rita and Melody will join us at the main practice in the near future. Our practice night will change from September, details to follow via the village email and Facebook groups. We have also received a generous offer of extra teaching from a Marston band of ringers, who will be with us on the occasional Saturday afternoon.

We are always delighted to welcome visiting bands of ringers, and no sooner was this possible after restrictions were lifted than we received our first request from a band on tour, two of whom were ringers from Birmingham Cathedral. We hope you have enjoyed hearing the bells ring out again across the village this summer.

Evadne Vallance, August 2021 (All photos and video © Martin Spurrier)

Bellringers on the occasion of Rt. Rev'd. Gavin Collins blessing the refurbished tower at St. James the Great, South Leigh

June 2021 update

With bell ringing having largely been at a halt, this year has afforded different opportunities in the tower. Steeple Keeper, Martin Spurrier, seized the moment to embark on a year-long, much-needed refurbishment of the ringing chamber, restarting of maintenance and improvement of safety measures in the bell tower, and work in the clock chamber and on the clock.

This entailed significant highs and lows (no bell ringing pun intended). For example, what initially appeared to be the dreaded Deathwatch Beetle was later identified by expert conservationists as Victorian sawdust and harmless hibernating attic flies; an alarming quote for £20,000 to overhaul the non-working, mid-18th century turret clock was binned when an ingenious solution was found at a cost of only £210; the re-discovery of the original Record Book and Bishop's dedication, dating from 1907 when the present ring of bells was installed, was another exciting development.

The number and detail of tasks undertaken are too many to describe here, but suffice it to say that countless hours of work went into the transformation accomplished.

Tower refurb Gold Award
On 14th June, Martin's effort got its just reward when, following an inspection for a Tower Maintenance Award, the Tower achieved the highest standard of Gold. Our gratitude goes to Martin, and also to Chris Moxon, our Ringing Master until October, who generously funded most of the refurbishment.

Churchyard working party Meanwhile, Heather Horner, Tower Captain, turned her attention to the churchyard, in places very overgrown. In December and again in March, Heather led a working party of parishioners to clear large areas of rough growth, scatter wildflower seeds and plant new hedging in gaps. This was part of an ongoing community project to improve biodiversity.

The working party in March coincided with an invitation from Marie Curie Foundation to toll a church bell at 12:01 in remembrance of a year of Covid. On a sunny day, the west doors of the refurbished ringing chamber were opened for all to admire its transformation.

A single bell was also tolled 99 times on the death of HRH Duke of Edinburgh and again for his funeral.

Since April 12th, the relaxation of Covid restrictions has allowed some Sunday service ringing to resume for up to four ringers at a time, in keeping with the distancing regulations.

Welcome and thanks
We are delighted to have recently welcomed two more ringers to join our band: Rita Sawrey-Woodwards and Melody England, both of whom are 'false beginners', with a little previous ringing experience. This will expand our present numbers from five to seven. If there are any others in the village who are interested, now would be a good time to start. Discussions are ongoing with one or more ringing instructors who will carry us all forward, and evening practices will resume as soon as this is in place.

Thanks also to Harry Martin, joining us as Martin's temporary assistant. Harry, aged 14, is working towards his Duke of Edinburgh's Award and under Martin's instruction, has already been negotiating the belfry and cleaning and oiling the bells.

David Smith, ex-Tower Captain at St. James', has decided to step down as Tower Correspondent. We would like to express our great gratitude for his dedicated service in both roles over many years, and for his continuing interest in all tower matters. Evadne Vallance takes over as Tower Correspondent and hopes to welcome visiting ringers from other Towers and Branches when restrictions allow.

Evadne Vallance, June 2021

Harry Martin
Harry Martin (14) working in the tower as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Working party
Konstantin Lazarov and rotovator
David Smith & Martin Spurrier
David Smith (left) with Martin Spurrier (right), in the refurbished ringing chamber


Ringing the changes

The role of Tower Captain is quite a job! It involves the overall responsibility to the Church Warden, Vicar and the Diocese for the bell ringing on Sundays and on other special and State occasions.

Heather is responsible for the recruitment of bell ringers, and for accessing training for them and for the Steeple Keepers. She also liaises with the Guild of Church Bell Ringers to ensure that the Health & Safety issues in the tower are adhered to. Mostly, though, she is responsible for ensuring that the bells ring for us all to enjoy.

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Bell mechanism

Chaps in the Belfry
Accompanying the bats, meanwhile, Ian Thompson (rear) with Michael Collett (front) has handed over to Martin Spurrier (right) and Michael as Joint Steeple Keepers. Thank you, Ian, for five years of keeping our bells oiled and ringing. Steeple Keepers are responsible for the maintenance and good order of the bells and their ancillary equipment, the turret clock and the Ringing Chamber. The clock, built circa 1750, was last restored by the people of South Leigh for the Millennium but had become unreliable and so is currently being surveyed. We hope that we can have it back in action soon after some professional TLC.

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In the last few weeks, much work has been done in the Tower. We have adjusted the ‘Ringing Circle’ and have moved some of the rope guides in order to make ringing better for the bell ringers and to reduce the wear on the bell ropes. And soon, a new Maintenance Plan and Work Schedule will include sprucing up the Ringing Chamber at the West end of the nave, at ground level.

Left: Looking down from the Clock Chamber to the Ringing Chamber. The ropes are gathered in the centre in a rope warmer. This protects them from the damp and keeps them dry and supple.

More on bells: Our current eight bells (top, right) were installed in 1907 and our ‘Sanctus Bell’ was cast in 1399! Bells are cast in bronze and our largest is over 10 cwt. That’s about half the weight of a small car. The sound of bells is glorious and evocative, but ringing and maintaining them needs knowledge and training. In due course, we hope to talk about the ancient skill of bell ringing and its history.

Find out more about bell ringing, contact Heather Horner:    01993 357389

Martin Spurrier, March 2020

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Become a Bell Ringer - join a tradition dating back 400 years

What's Bell Ringing all about?
Bell ringing is a team activity that stimulates the brain and helps to keep it fit. It also makes a glorious sound! Many consider ringing to be their contribution to church life, others do it for the pure pleasure it brings. Ringers come from all walks of life and range in age usually from ten to those in their eighties.

Why learn to ring?
A global group of friends
Lifelong learning experience
Maintain a traditional skill
A service to the church and community
Team activity
A great mental workout
Opportunity to visit amazing places

Come and see
Listen for the bells at a church near you, or
visit this website to find a tower in your area, then go along to see what bell ringing is all about.

Change Ringing
The origins of change ringing lie in the sixteenth century when church bells began to be hung with a full wheel. This gave ringers control of their bell, which allowed sets of bells (rings) to be rung in a continuously changing pattern.

Music is created by moving bells up and down the ringing order to a defined sequence of changes known as a method. Learning a few simple methods allows ringers to join in with other bands in towers around the world.

Could I become a ringer?
Ringing is a well within the capabilities of most people. The initial teaching takes several weeks, after which a learner can begin to ring with the rest of the band. Most ringers practice once or twice a week and ring before or after church on Sunday.

How to find out more...
For ringing at St. James the Great, South Leigh, practice night is on Thursday evenings from 7.30pm to 9.00pm and ringing for the Sunday Service 9.00am to 9.30am.

For more details, please contact:-
Tower Captain: Heather Horner
01993 357389
Local correspondent: Evadne Vallance


Visit a tower near you when you hear the church bells. Look for posters in church porches listing ringing activities


The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers
The Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers
The Witney & Woodstock branch of Bell Ringers

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Photos © Keith Chandler

South Leigh Bells

We ring the bells on Sunday
And call all folk to pray.
A few will heed the message,
But more will stay away.

God’s bells give Him much pleasure,
And we enjoy them too.
So when we sound our message
What does that mean to you?

"The bells they sound so lovely,
We hear them all quite near.
They’re part of our tradition
And maybe more, that’s clear"

The bells can speak of Jesus
And what he came to do.
There’s blessing there for all of us
And for our children too!

So when you hear our ringing
Just offer up this prayer:-
"Lord Jesus, please bless me and mine
And keep us in Your care"
David Smith