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Bell Ringing

The English art of church bell ringing includes a practice known as change ringing and requires that the bells swing in a full circle using a rope and wheel, with a bellringer to each bell.

This art has its origins in the late 16th and early 17th century. The bells are first rung in order from the lightest (the treble) to the heaviest (the tenor), striking in the row, or change, known as 'rounds' i.e. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 etc. Ringing changes involves slowing down some bells and speeding up others to vary the striking order. The rules of change ringing call for no bell to move more than one position in the change at a time, though more than one bell can move position in each change. For example:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
2 1 4 3 6 5 8 7

There are two procedures for ringing changes. The first, and most simple, is for one of the ringers, the 'conductor', to 'call' a pair of bells to exchange places in the order of a change. The second, and by far the most difficult and complex, is in order to ring a new change with each pull of the ropes, ringers memorise patterns of changes of varying complexity known as 'methods', which prescribe when each pair of bells will change places. The bells begin in rounds and return to rounds without repeating any row along the way. The simplest method is called 'plain hunt' or 'original' and is illustrated here using six bells.

1 2 3 4 5 6    rounds
2 1 4 3 6 5
2 4 1 6 3 5
4 2 6 1 5 3
4 6 2 5 1 3
6 4 5 2 3 1
6 5 4 3 2 1    back rounds
5 6 3 4 1 2
5 3 6 1 4 2
3 5 1 6 2 4
3 1 5 2 6 4
1 3 2 5 4 6
1 2 3 4 5 6    rounds

The maximum number of different changes that can be rung on five bells is 120, on six bells it is 720, on seven 5040, and on twelve is 479,001,600 ! At normal ringing speed it would take about 36 years non-stop to ring all the possible changes on twelve bells without repetition.

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