St Peter Mancroft Church & Ringing Chamber

This year Heritage Open Days is celebrating the tradition of bell ringing. For this week’s spotlight blog, Simon Rudd, member of St Peter Mancroft Guild of Ringers and Chairman of Mancroft Appeal 300, gives us an insight into the art and history of church bell ringing at St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich, Norfolk, along with a sneak preview of what they're planning for the festival this September.

© Neil Thomas/Ros Burrough - St Peter Mancroft

Tell us about the history of church bell ringing at St Peter Mancroft

1889 Peal commemoration table (© Neil Thomas/Ros Burrough)

The Church of St Peter Mancroft is an iconic location for bell-ringers across the world. 

For a long period lasting from the late 17th until the early 19th century, the Mancroft ringers were regarded by many as the leading exponents of our art and this is reinforced by the record of their achievements.

For ringers there is a loose equivalent to the marathon in athletics and this is called a “full peal”. A peal usually lasts for approximately three hours and is a continuous piece of ringing requiring concentration and stamina. Just as there was a very first marathon that was run, there was a very first ‘full peal’ rung, and the first record of a full peal was at St Peter Mancroft on 2nd May in 1715 (300 years ago last year).

The ringers went on to ring several renowned peals during this period and the grand ‘peal boards’ in our tower record these achievements. The sense of history is ever-present in the ringing chamber and creates an atmosphere like no other tower.

Why is church bell ringing important to you and the community?

Ringing is important to me personally as it is the ultimate form of teamwork. A good performance in ringing requires all of the participants to ring to the same standard and this accentuates the level of satisfaction to be gained from a job well done.

The other immensely satisfying aspect of ringing is that you can be a valued and valid contributor to a team activity from the age of 10 to 90. It is often the case that an excellent piece of ringing might include ringers of all ages and from widely differing backgrounds, but all working in perfect rhythm and timing to produce excellent results. Perhaps this is why ringers so often live to a great age.

Furthermore, ringing, in particular the ‘British’ style of change-ringing, is an integral part of the cultural capital of the nation. It is a unique sound and woven inextricably into the fabric of our lives, like cricket, jam, morris-dancing, watching football in the rain and all of the other things that make us what we are.

Finally, give us a taste of what Heritage Open Days visitors can get excited about this September at St Peter Mancroft Church?

Visitors get the chance to visit the most historic ringing chamber in the country and to see what is, for most of the year, a ‘secret’ heritage. As well as seeing what goes on, we also allow our visitors to ‘chime’ one of our bells and to therefore make the loudest noise in the centre of the city. This always proves popular!

'St Peter Mancroft Church & Ringing Chamber' will open for all four days of Heritage Open Days. For full details click here.

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