Chapter 6 - The Lower

Chapter 6 – The Lower #

Method ringers rarely go into the lower straight away after ringing changes. It usually only happens at the end of a longer piece of ringing, a quarter peal or peal, when the conductor will say “straight down” to avoid that inevitable five minutes of faffing about when ringers move around and fail to catch hold, claiming their hands hurt.

In Devon call change ringing the lower is much more likely to follow straight on from completion of the peal, and in competition ringing the lower is part of the marked performance.

As with the raise, I don’t see the purpose of this chapter to be teaching readers how to ring down. Rather I am going to identify how the lower is different in Devon call change ringing, and to suggest some ways in which bands can make their performance better.

Lowering bells is generally done much better than raising them – at least that is my experience with method ringing bands. The bells are going to lower themselves, so the secret of a successful lower in peal is getting the bells to all fall at the same speed. The lighter bells will need to be prevented from falling as quickly as they would like to, while the tenor is effectively going to fall at its natural pace.

That last comment is key, because unless you are deliberately trying to ring down quickly, you should ring down at the speed of the tenor. The treble just needs to stay striking after the tenor, and in order to do that the ringer of the treble will need to keep pulling so as to prevent the treble ringing down too quickly.

The first video in this chapter shows a Devon band ringing down on quite a heavy eight. What I think is particularly worth noting is the effort the back bells are putting into their handstrokes. Check out the guy on the 6th! Even with the handstroke disappearing and the sally too low for comfort, he is putting in a lot more effort than you might have seen in your average fall. This is commitment to the cause.

In your average fall by a method ringing band, ringers tend to concentrate on the backstroke and let the handstroke take care of itself. Maybe two thirds of the way down they won’t be guiding the sally at all. However the handstroke will not take good enough care of itself if you are aiming for excellence. Watch in this video how the back bells stay focused on the sally all the way to the bottom – only the last few strokes, when they are pulling in, do they make the switch to backstroke only, but by then the handstroke has gone anyway.

The final thing to notice at the end of that clip is the standard way of finishing a Devon style lower. Gone is the “After three, miss one and catch in Queens”. They have the bells right down and then just stop, either after a count or just a call from the treble. Note the treble bell is still swinging but she doesn’t check it and risk an extra ding! An extra ding at the end is a career-limiting error.

The Rowing Boat Analogy

I said this chapter wasn’t about teaching you to ring down, however I do want to discuss just one aspect of ringing down that causes the most issues, and how to avoid it. It also gives me the opportunity to introduce an analogy that works very well.

First the analogy. Imagine a line of rowing boats with their rowers all trying to keep their boats moving forward at exactly the same speed. If one of them is getting slower they will fall behind, and in order to catch up with the others the rower will need to row harder. Their boat speeds up and is now going faster than the others, and it’s only a matter of time before they draw level.

What happens then though? The boat that has caught up is going faster than the others and overtakes them! It is only level with the other boats for a fleeting moment. In order to get back in line, the rower eases off and their boat slows down. They are now going slower than the other boats. In a scene reminiscent of Gerard Hoffnung’s “Bricklayer’s Lament” , they go back past the other boats, but this time in the other direction.

This is a great analogy for ringing down (and up). The raise and lower are about controlling the rate of change of speed of the bell. In order to get a bell back into the right place it needs to be eased back, slowing down its rate of change as it gets to the right place, so as not to overshoot.

The problem is typically, and often dramatically or even fatally, exhibited by someone on a lighter bell taking a coil too early, taking in too much rope, and bringing their bell down. I often say to those following me “don’t take a coil before I do”, and I am always ready to give ‘encouragement’ to anyone who has let their bell drop in the coil-making process. The sheepdog keeps a beady eye on those sheep 😊.

Dropping a bell on taking the first coil also happens when the ringer just doesn’t pull hard enough during that crucial stroke. It’s the momentary lack of focus from thinking about making the coil – the handstroke doesn’t get the same attention, the coil is made, the backstroke drops a bit, and the pathway to disaster opens up.

I asked my Devonian experts for any tips here and I got the following: “at the start of the fall, particularly on the lighter bells, it is beneficial to put a little more energy through the rope, i.e overpull slightly on both strokes, to ensure that when you do take the first couple of coils the bell doesn’t drop. Once you’re past that initial part of the fall then you can reduce the pull and concentrate on placing the handstroke in the correct place each time.”

Moving up the rope is a gradual process. Nibble away with the coil hand – don’t take in too much, keep the rope tight at backstroke. Sliding the top hand down the rope after pulling the sally definitely helps with getting the backstroke exactly in the right place as there is more ‘feel’ for where the bell is. Notice in the lower in the following video from Hawkesbury (the lower starts at around 14 minutes) how the ringer on the 2nd takes her first coil with her hands a long way apart at backstroke and deftly makes the coil as hands start to descend.

Notice again at the end of that peal, how they finish. You may be used to a lower which finishes with the front bells still swinging quite high when we catch at the end, and then the bells are brought to an abrupt halt. Notice in the Hawkesbury video how the trebles are hardly swinging at all at the bottom, and when the bells are called to ‘stop’ there is no risk of the clappers hitting the bells again.

Finally, here is another video of a Devon band doing this really well.

and one of my local band not doing it so well, but still not too bad.

I said earlier in this chapter how the lower is included in the judging of Devon call change competitions. Faults are awarded for imperfect rows in the lower just as harshly as they are when the bells are at the top. I had always wondered how you can actually do a fall perfectly and hence get no faults because there is that point right near the bottom where the tenor stops striking on one side before the front bells do, and it becomes impossible to keep the treble striking exactly after the tenor both strikes.

When I asked this question of the Devon experts, I was told that the trick is to just make that phase of the lower as short as possible, so you bring the bells in really quickly at the end. You can see that in the videos in this chapter. For the top call change bands, the end of the lower is one of the most difficult parts of an entire performance.

The main takeaways from this chapter are:

• The lower is a team game (I think I’ve said that before)

• Front bells will fall too quickly if you’re not careful – keep them up especially at backstroke

• Everyone needs to keep working on the handstrokes – they will not place themselves

• The first coil is high risk – encourage the front bells in particular not to take it too early, or take in extra rope at the same time as making the coil. Maybe overpull slightly.

• The back bells will need to work very hard at the end to bring the bells in quickly

• The style is not to have a miss and catch at the end – just stop. No stray dings!