by David W Struckett, Northern Branch Training Officer

Various systems of call changes are practised around the country, all of which have their merits although some are more popular than others. However, they are usually based on the principle that when a bell is instructed to follow a different one to that which it is currently following, it soon becomes obvious which other bells are affected by the move, and thus only one instruction is required for each "change", except when helping beginners. A conclusion I have reached about the many variations of call changes is that they generalise into one of only three groups:

The calls are made at a handstroke, and the change commences from the following handstroke. Any bell affected by the call only moves one place in the row (except at one tower where I used to ring, the tower captain called "queens", or "rounds", and we were expected to get there the following row as if we were ringing eight hand-bells!).


In this system, perfected in the West Country (Devon in particular), the bell which is to move UP one place in the row (i.e. away from the "lead") is instructed who to follow. For example: "two to three" from rounds will result in the order 132456. The ringer of the bell to be followed (three in this case) will know therefore to move DOWN one place. Also, the bell in the next place up from the changing pair will know to follow the bell moving up. A sense of rhythm is required because it is not always obvious to the ringer of the bell to move down whom to follow (as it is not told in the instruction). The solution of course is to be in the habit of looking two bells ahead, and not just at the bell you are following, in case you are to be the bell to move down at the next call.

A variation in calling where the conductor calls "two and three", meaning "two and three change places", or even just "two-three", used in Devon, in fact gives the same amount of information.


Often used by ringers who do not practice call changes regularly; also easier on the higher numbers (8,10,12) where high rates of call can be achieved as more information is contained in the call for the two bells required to change. Here, the bell to move DOWN is instructed who to follow e.g. "three to one", to produce the row 132456 from rounds. The ringer of the bell already following that bell (or leading if a new bell is called to lead) will know by deduction to follow the bell called DOWN because, remembering the first rule of change ringing (not to move more than one place at a time), you can"t go anywhere else! The ringer of the bell following the pair about to swap places will know the bell moving down (i.e. the bell being followed at present), and that another will move up. As the rhythm should be unaffected on this bell it does not matter so much that this ringer is not told who to follow.


Sometimes where older traditions have survived, one comes across "ringing from cards", where either the change rows to be rung are written on a board on the floor, or separate cards are hung in front of each ringer. Such systems have been known in the Middlesex and Surrey area within the last 40 years, though are also known in country parts (e.g. Shropshire) and overseas. A conductor will announce "change", "go" or similar instruction to move to the next row (or order). Each ringer must remember where they are on the chart (possibly reading it upside down if it is on the floor!), and change by following the next bell on command (the next handstroke after the call). Usually the changes to be rung (e.g. may be a course of Grandsire) will be written out in full if on a card on the floor. Alternatively, separate cards for each ringer obviates the need for any working out and could therefore be simply a list of the bells to follow, hung in front of each ringer. Sometimes the conductor will call the whole row to be rung, rather than just say "go" or "next".

Other subtle variations of calling like this is where the conductor calls, from memory or by deduction, instructions for the bells which are to change places (even all of them) who to follow, a few strokes later calling "go" or "change", after which the change takes place on the next handstroke. Also, some towers have a "crib sheet" on the wall for the conductors use - listing the calls (either calling up or down as above).


Leading: It is worth pointing out that whilst most of the country practises OPEN HANDSTROKE ringing (handstroke pause of one beat), in some parts of Yorkshire and in Devon and Cornwall CLOSED HANDSTROKE ringing is the norm (sometimes referred to as "cart-wheeling"). Calling "UP" is particularly associated with closed handstroke ringing because of the West Country tradition, but calling "DOWN" is usually done with an open handstroke. Conductors should note the local custom with these combinations, particularly as calling UP seems to be also practised widely with open handstrokes outside the West Country (particularly in Oxfordshire and the Midlands). Note that when changing the first two bells, calling "up" should not require anyone being told to lead (although it is often added), whereas in calling "down", only calling a new bell to lead is necessary.

There is no particular reason for call changes to be an exercise for beginners, although it is often regarded as such in much of the country. One does not have to have rung call changes to commence and achieve plain hunt and change ringing. It is simply a different skill. One could suggest that if an EXERCISE is required, try calling by ANOTHER system to that which is usually practised in that tower!

Call changes are often rung to enable the best standard of ringing that the assembled company can achieve, for example at weddings, at which ringers are usually paid. It is therefore imperative that the conductor has a consistent system and is aware of it's possibilities. Mixing styles can be confusing, especially for the inexperienced. Adding extra information after the main call to guide a beginner (in a helpful manner of course), is however very sensible and to be expected.


The musical possibilities of call changes are endless. Often the popular rows of queens, tittums and whittingtons are aimed for, according to time available. Back-rounds has nothing to commend it, and as it once had the reputation of being a public warning of invasion, should be avoided as there are still some people around who remember it as such. Leaving a discord as an adjacent pair is also not good practice (e.g. a row ending ......28 on eight). Unless suddenly short of time, the bells should always be brought back to rounds before setting. The printed "sixty on thirds" in the Ringing World Diary is from the West Country tradition, and illustrates a systematic "method" of achieving a musical "touch" in calls. The "thirds" in the title comes from the fact that the touch commences by calling the bells into queens (a succession of musical "thirds"), sixty changes according to a hunting and interchanging pattern, and ending by returning from queens back to rounds, making a total of 66 calls.

There is plenty of opportunity to keep everyone interested on higher numbers by alternating the calls between groups of bells, rather than just moving one bell at a time from front to back. This gives the feeling of more movement. Elements of the popular "changes" like tittums etc may be used to good effect at the back end while other "tunes" could appear at the front.

Call changes can be a time to relax and perhaps concentrate on handling and style; and with suitable concentration very high standards of striking can be achieved.

Document last modified 17-APR-2014