The 11th National Residential Ringing Week Concert

Friday 4 August, The Edge, Sheffield University.

Wendy Walters, AHR Musical Director, flanked by Elizabeth Treweeks and Ruth Cantlay.

Photo by Alan Walters

The conductors for this handbell concert included the main man of the Singapore music scene, Damien Lim, the advanced American conductor, Michael Glasgow and maestro, Helen Secker, from this country.

The team of Ringers, including Wendy Walters, our Musical Director, had spent the week at Sheffield University learning to play a new set of handbell music which culminated in a grand public performance on Friday night. 

We, a group of five members of our Alton Handbell Ringers team, had the honour of attending the concert last Friday night and were impressed and held spellbound by the performance.

The array of bells laid out before us when we took our seats was amazing, ranging from tiny bells to huge bells, some of which were too heavy to pick up and ring and so had to be malletted on the table. There were also chimes, boomwhackers and percussion instruments.

A section of the chimes were so big they had to be mounted on a stand and were rung wth mallets.

The opening music was 'Polaris and the Northern Lights'. This piece was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain (HRGB) and was composed by Brendon Bevan from Toronto.  Our Alton Handbell team has added this item to our repertoire.

It began as a quiet, haunting, ethereal sound which built up and crescendoed into loud, moving, sustained notes, which faded away at the end. It was very moving.

A Beatles number was next, 'Here Comes the Sun'.  We heard beautiful runs from the high bells, a rhythmic mix of mallets and damping of the larger bells, with chimes giving another dimension and elevation to the whole sound.

'Resound', composed by Karen Thompson, was an apt title as the bells were ringing out in rounds and peals, following on from one another in circles of resonating sound. There was also amazing use of ring touches on the table from the big bells.

The theme tune from 'Sesame Street' was next, where some of the ringers played Boom whackers: coloured tubes, which they could bang on anything handy to produce a musical sound!  The Ringers were brimming with joy in this one and were engaged and happy.  It was bright and jolly with a drum rhythm and chimes lifting the tone.

'Recollection', composed by Tim Woore, was a mindful piece of music, calming and thoughtful, transporting the audience to higher realms of fantasy and peace; a chance to switch off from reality.

The final piece of the evening was Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance', a stirring and upbeat rendition, very regal with lots of trills; some bells were played 4 in hand. The plucking technique on the big bells was very effective. 

I found the whole evening very magical and enjoyable; well done to the whole team of Ringers!

Jean 4.8.17

Checkley (Staffs) Church Bell Extravaganza 22nd July 2017

The 22nd July 2017 has been in my diary for several months. The Alton Hand Bell Ringers, of which I am a member, had been invited to take part in this significant local event.

However, for the people of Checkley this occasion was something they had looked forward to for many years.  The bells of Checkley Church fell silent decades ago after the bell tower was deemed to be structurally unsafe.  As an ex tower bell ringer myself, I can remember ringing in several church towers where you could feel the building move due to the inertia of several tons of bells swinging around.  It is remarkable how many old bell towers have survived as well as they have when you think about the mechanics of tower bell ringing.  The original oak bell frame at Checkley is thought to date back to 1575.  So, silence befell the church tower at Checkley and this was a great loss to the local community.

There had been talk of restoring the bells for many years and it was Clive Smith, the late husband of the current vicar of Checkley, the Reverend Irene Smith, who was the driving force behind this project.   Sadly, Clive passed away in 2016.   The total cost of restoration would be in the order of £100,000.  Undeterred by the scale of the necessary fund raising required, the people of Checkley, together with the support of local businesses, began their fundraising activities and phase 1 of the restoration project was completed in 2005 to strengthen the tower of the Grade 1 listed medieval Church of St Mary and All Saints.  The second phase of the project was to build a new steel frame in the clock tower to rehouse the six original Rudhall bells which were cast in 1762.  The bells had to be removed for the first time in 255 years, and they were restored and retuned by the Whitechapel Foundry in London, which is where our hand bells were made. Upon their return to Checkley, they then had to be installed in their new frame.  This work was completed in 2016.

So, the 22nd July was a celebration of the completion of this work.  There were all sorts of family activities in addition to tower bell ringing and even a mobile Belfry located on the Community Centre car park, enabling anyone to try their hand in the art of bell ringing.  Closed circuit TV cameras have been installed in the bell tower to give people in the church live footage of the bells being rung.  This is a great idea as most people have no idea what this looks like.  For the weekend celebrations, a temporary awning had been erected leading from the church to the pub next door which I thought was a nice touch!

The Alton Hand bell ringers’ performance had been billed as a Hand Bell Ringing ‘demonstration’ and we were not sure quite what this meant.  Would people be passing through as we rang?  Would they be talking?  Would there be much interest?  Well, we had a very attentive audience and our pieces were well received.  In fact I cannot remember another event where we had so much interest after we had finished ringing, with several people wanting to ‘have a go’.  So much so, that we played Aura Lee together with members of the audience which was great fun especially for the children, who found it easier to play the chimes and so played them along with the hand bells.  Any new recruits Wendy?

Dave Jones 


Photo by Alan Walters

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Christchurch Church Hall, Tean, Staffs, 10 July 2017

A Monday afternoon earlier in the year. Door bell rings. (no pun intended) Outside is a smiling Lynne clutching a small notelet. The notelet explains that AHR would like to recruit new members and Lynne wondered if I might be interested. I was and so the following Wednesday I attended my first practice session. 

I was immediately warmly welcomed by the group and made to feel at home. The next weeks were to be a very different learning exercise in producing music. This was certainly very different from my usual music lessons and playing with a band.

The music has no notes, in my case only numbers. There are no staves, no time signature, no key signature, no crochets, quavers, minims and all the other odd sounding notes that one might find on a traditional sheet of music.

The handbell ringers have their own method of indicating the note to be played, how long the ring should last and, as I was to find out in later days, what else one should do with the bell to produce different sounds. 

One of the first lessons involved keeping the bell upright having rung it. I was told by Sue to imagine the bell filled with milk and not to spill any. To be honest I couldn't have cared less if I spilled any milk but as soon as I imagined the bell to be filled with 'Speckled Hen' this concentrated the mind and technique much better.

Concentration levels are at their highest when playing, keeping track where one is on the music and counting the beats for each bar.

Anyway, the weeks have gone by and, after considerable encouragement and help from Wendy and support from Alan and Dave who stand either side of me, I was considered good enough to join in some numbers for a concert.

So here we are at Tean Church hall to entertain Tean and Checkley Senior Citizens. A pleasant summer evening and lots of  friendly faces arriving and taking their seats whilst we set up our tables. Ladies were already in the kitchen preparing for the cup of tea at the end of the show, always a good sign! 

After a very short meeting we were then welcomed and thanked for coming to entertain and so the show began.

'Celebration,' our first number, was received with a good round of applause and, above all, lots of smiling faces from the gathered audience showed that they had really enjoyed the piece.

As I was not playing for every number I was able to watch the audience’s reaction to different tunes.

'Thaxted' produced lots of interest at the start of the piece because of the 'Singing Bells.’  (see I have learned some terminology)

The use of Mallets at the start of  'I've Got the Joy' was much appreciated by a group of ladies who smiled and tapped their feet throughout.

'Polaris and the Northern Lights' was very well received and after the show several commented that they were surprised how quietly the bells could be rung and that they had arrived expecting the bells to always be loud.

At the announcement of 'You Raise Me Up' a murmur of appreciation went round the hall and several were humming along with the tune.

'Blessed Assurance' showed another involvement with the audience as it was particularly noticeable that many were nodding their head in time to the tune which illustrates how music affects those listening.

Audience participation was the call of the day for our final two numbers 'Over the Rainbow' and  'You are my Sunshine' when, with the help of a song sheet, the audience became one of us by being our choir.

We were thanked enthusiastically for our very enjoyable and varied programme and we all took a bow.

During tea and biscuits at the end there was a lot of interest shown and questions asked by many of  the audience about the music and bells and chimes.

Peter Walker 10.7.17

Photo by Alan Walters


Checkley, Staffordshire, Bell Extravaganza and Fun Day, Saturday 22 July

Alton Handbell Ringers' 12 bell team will be ringing tunes from 12-12.30pm in the Church.  The Fun Day runs from 11am until 4.30pm.  There will be a demonstration of Tower Bell ringing before and after the Handbell ringing.

The Mobile Bell Frame will be in the Community Centre car park between 11.30am and 4.30pm.  Afternoon tea will be served in the Community Centre from 2pm.


Leek Arts Forum Celebration Evening 29.6.17

Tumultuous applause and whistles!  Well, this was the first time ever! 

At the annual celebration evening in Leek, we rang a selection of 12 bell tunes to a very appreciative audience.

Ours was just one of the many performances by talented musicians, actors, humorists and poets who came together from Biddulph, Cheadle, Alton and Leek to share the range of performance arts that are alive and well in the Staffordshire Moorlands. 

The Alton Handbell Ringers (AHR) are very fortunate to be supported by Cheadle Arts Forum which is a branch of Staffordshire Moorlands District Arts Forum.

Art Development Grants are available for members of the arts forums and over the last few years we have benefited by receiving grants to help with the following projects.

1.Travelling expenses for the team to attend the Annual Rally of the Handbell RIngers of Great Britain in York where we rang and attended workshops.

2.Buying new music stands.

3.Setting up our own website.

4.Recording our own CD.

All of us in the AHR team are very appreciative of the support that encourages us to play and share our music in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Wendy Walters, AHR Musical Director