Inspiration for Steeple Keepers - 3


An ironic aspect of our exercise is that in spite of our bells being designed as the loudest musical instrument, we sometimes need to silence them altogether! The iron tongue is restrained.

I always make sure that the first exercise for a new recruit is on an "open" bell, as also should be the first attempts at rounds - but in between comes a lot of individual practise for which, to be kind to the neighbours, the bell is tied. In relative silence we can "hear ourselves think", but also we will hear the movement of the rope, pulleys, stay and slider; distantly up above, helping with those early stages.

Sometimes bells are tied in order to inspect the condition of frame, bearings or other fittings, or to check alignment of rope, pulleys and holes. Without the sound of the bells, more concentration can be placed on the mechanism, and measurements are more safely taken. More recent innovations such as simulators also require a bell or maybe several to be silenced - to enable appropriate practise on the working bell/s using electronic aids.

A person familiar with rope can tie a clapper in 10 seconds or so, although access and exit takes a lot longer, depending on each individual tower layout. Clapper stays are sometimes used which are useful for those with topolophobia (an abhorrence of knots), but personally I have found few which are as easy as rope, although they do have the marginal advantage that they hold the clapper in the middle - which does take longer using rope. There are a great variety of these "clapper stays" - mostly based on a wooden bar with a notch in it for the clapper shaft, and a clamp to hold it in place. The clamp should preferably be of the lever type - wing nuts are sometimes found which are fiddly and take time. They generally fit only one bell in the ring, so you need one for each bell. If the fit allows a small variation in position on the shaft, it can be made to "silence" the bell completely, or alternatively leave a small movement which provides a quiet "ring" at approximately the right place. As it is a wooden bar the sound is like a quiet bell rather than a muffled bell (which has distinctly damped higher frequencies).

If using rope, remember that knots should always be tied in such a way that someone else can undo them - as easily as you would expect yourself. Both for this reason and ease of use and storage I always use a smaller gauge of rope than bell-rope. In fact 6mm braided nylon appears ideal to me. A neat way of using it is to put a short loop in the middle of a suitable length, which is slipped over the flight of the clapper - there are now two ends which can be looped round the crown-staple nut and stay - and looped and tied together. The only knots required are the figure of eight for the loop, and the reef knot, finishing with a bow for easy undoing, just like your shoes. Like the clapper stay, the rope may be left slightly loose in order to give a quiet bell sound at about the right time. Another method is to use discarded cycle tyres, which can be a relatively fast method of application - and if on one side can offer a small sound if the stay is bumped!

Some people make a point of securing the clapper in the middle - by rope from each side. As the mass of the clapper is usually only about 4% of the mass of the bell, there is really not much difference for handling practice purposes - except that the relative depth of "set" at handstroke and backstroke may be noticeably different when tied to one side. When the bell is tied in the middle of course - you won"t be able to make it sound quietly, unlike with a clapper stay, or resting on the bell.

So, if you are "in charge" upstairs, make sure that the facilities are ready for use, that other members of the band are familiar with them (and know how to tie knots!); and why not arrange at least once in a while a brief ring on all the bells tied (silenced) - and watch them and all the parts working properly, observing the rigidity of the frame, the flight of the ropes, the turning of the pulleys; listening for any squeaks and knocks.

Watch, feel and listen, to the silence of the bells.

Very Zen.
DWS 4/2014

Document last modified 3-APR-2014