Chapter 5 – The Raise #
In this chapter I am going to deal with what I think is one of the hardest aspects of Devon call change ringing, and that is the raise.
Elsewhere in the ringing world, ringing up is seen as a means to an end. We need to get the bells up in order to be able to ring other things, and we do it once at the start of our ringing session. If our bells are a little bit heavy, or if as is often the case, a sub-optimal number of ringers have turned up on time, we may get some of the bells up singly, three at a time, or whatever gets the job done with the least pain. We generally don’t view it as a performance, and striking in the raise it rarely critiqued let alone corrected.
Let’s face it, ringing up in peal is difficult, and leading up in peal is very difficult. Fact. You are lucky if you regularly see it done well.
When I went on the Kingsteignton outing in 2021, a day that gave me my initial exposure to good call change ringing, I counted how many times bells were rung up and down, and it was 25 times in both directions. So it is little wonder that they are good at it.
In Devon, the raise and the lower – let’s use the terms they use now – are part of the performance and at least as important as the rest of the peal. In competitions the raise and lower are marked just the same as the call changes and so they need to be taken very seriously indeed.
This chapter is not going to teach you how to raise bells in peal. What it will do is explain how it is done differently in Devon, and give some tips on how to do it better and what to watch out for. My local band has been ringing up in this different style for just a couple of months as I write this, and our raising is already better than it used to be.
The treble starts the race,
The second makes the space,
The tenor sets the pace
I am going to look at three phases of the raise. Just as with the sheepdog trial, there is the lift, the drive, and then sticking them in the pen at the end. This translates roughly into the first half a dozen pulls at the beginning, then the main raise, and then how you slow down to call change speed at the end. In each of these three phases, good call change bands do things a little differently to what method ringers might be used to, and there are differences that can be applied to ringing up generally to useful effect.
Phase 1 – the start #
Immediately there is a difference in the way Devon call change ringers start the raise. Instead of each bell coming in singly - 1, 12, 123, 1234, 12345, 123456, all the bells come in at the same time and with the same pull - 123456 – all the bells strike in the first round.
How is this achieved? It is often call ‘pitching in’ and what they do is start with two pulls of the sallies which do not cause the bells to strike but get the bells swinging, and then give a big third pull to the make all the bells strike in rounds from the off.
I think this is quite clever because it plays on the fact that all the bells have slightly different swing speeds so it will start the bells off in very close rounds. If every ringer does their first pull exactly at the same time, the natural swing speeds will cause the second pull to be slightly more spaced out (treble will be a little earlier than the second and so on) then the third pull they are a little more spaced out again, BUT NOT MUCH.
So the bells all set off in an upwardly direction very close together, and it sounds good.
That is a cue for the first demonstration video – just watch the first 40 seconds of this then pause it:
Notice how the instruction at the beginning is just “going….gone” at which point all six ringers pull at the same time. There are two silent pulls, then a bigger pull that causes all bells to strike.
There is no convention for what to say to start off. Different bands develop their own way of doing it. As I have introduced this in my band it has taken a while to know how to start! Definitely having silence and a pause beforehand helps, then everyone needs to be clear when the treble is going to start pulling. Key is for your band to get consistent and understand the plan.
Phase 2 #
The middle part of the raise shouldn’t really be any different to you what you are used to – it’s just an increased focus on doing it as well as possible. If you go back and continue with the Kenn video above, one thing you should see in particular is the constant pushing in of the handstrokes, letting the backstrokes rise.
From 40 seconds in see how the treble ringer is pushing the handstroke in so the bell is striking immediately after the tenor – all the way up (this clip finishes before the top).
Notice also how most of the ringers in this clip, and most Devon call change ringers anywhere, let the rope slide through their hands from the handstroke to the backstroke, something that is often frowned upon in other circles. Whilst not saying that you have to do it, it is worth understanding why they do it. It is to get much more of a constant feel for the bell, being perfectly in control, able to adjust at the last moment, and removing any chance of the backstroke being slow.
This is why it is important to use the sally as early as possible. Too many ringers leave the sally alone and think they can ring up just by pulling the backstroke, but everyone should be encouraged to use the handstroke every time and as early as possible. Pushing the handstroke in is very important and you need to be able to control the bell both strokes in order to fine tune its placement.
A number of things commonly go wrong in the raise but all these problems are essentially the same – bells not going up at the same speed. The tenors might think that they have to pull with all their might in order to keep up, but if the treble is being careful not to go up too fast lest they lose their second or third sheep, the tenors need to rein in their enthusiasm and be mindful of what is happening earlier in the row.
What can also often happen is the 2 and 3 leave too much of a space – they don’t keep close enough to the treble, and can end up taking up more than half the space that each complete row needs to take up. On the smaller bells you really should feel that you are pushing the handstrokes right in and holding the backstrokes up. It’s a drive.
Even more common though is the treble just not going up at a speed that suits all the other ringers and not understanding what is going wrong – too fast and you lose those who cannot pull hard enough or keep up – too slow and others will go up too fast.
The bottom line is that “The tenor sets the pace” – you cannot go up faster than the tenor can manage or they will end up with a hernia (common tenor ringer condition). So the tenor effectively sets the pace, and the other bells fit in.
If you all start together, go up steadily with the treble making sure to strike immediately after the tenor both strokes, it ought to work. “It’s not rocket science -you just follow the bell in front of you.”
Phase 3 #
In the sort of ringing up you are probably used to, the slowing down at the end happens because the treble opens up the handstroke gap. When ringing with closed handstroke leads you need a different way of slowing down, or getting to what I call ‘battle speed’. At battle speed the bells don’t quite go over the balance.
Top call change bands have a very good understanding between the treble and tenor in particular and the slow down is gradual and relatively instinctive. “The second makes the space” – responsibility also falls on the second to make what might be an almost imperceptible opening up of the gap which the other bells can follow. If you’re thinking about where to put your best ringers, the second is a critical position.
There is no silver bullet for being able to do this well unfortunately…
…although there are ways not to do it badly.
Top of the list is not letting anyone go over the balance while still ringing one handed. This is very common and caused by a ringer’s fear of going two handed too early and not being in control, and by still pulling the backstroke too hard when the bell is nearly up. All ringers need to settle into the rhythm of pushing in the handstrokes and not pulling the backstrokes too firmly as the bells reach the balance.
Here is another good example of a raise, this time at
And just to show that when you are learning to do this and are not as experienced, here is an effort from Moseley. This is an average Sunday service band, used to ringing up in the ‘traditional way’ but with a few weeks of experimenting with ringing up in the Devon style. You can decide which of the faults identified above we are guilty of!
Raising bells like this is very much a team game. All the band needs to be listening to every bell to get a feel for how a raise is progressing. The treble ringer is clearly very important, and the tenor ringer too, but the other ringers have their roles in the team. The ringer of the second has a very important job to set the pace and get the gap exactly right all the way up, including when starting to slow down at the top, but unless the other bells are in the right place you don’t stand a chance of getting a decent raise.
Practice makes perfect. Make a feature of the ringing up every time you ring, rather than just seeing it as a means to an end. It is part of the performance, and just as noticeable to those people outside the tower who can hear the bells.
The main takeaways from this chapter are:
• The raise is a team game
• Speed is driven by the tenor
• The second needs to be very aware and get the gap right
• Push the handstrokes in to get the backstrokes up
• Handstrokes must be kept under close control from as early as possible