Remarkable phd study of bellringers pay and habits : Gareth Davies

Restored 1788 peal board

An interview with Gareth Davies

Restored 1788 peal board
Restored 1788 peal board at
Great St Mary’s, Cambridge

In this podcast, historian Gareth Davies challenges everything you ever thought about the history of bell ringing in one of host Cathy Booth’s most engaging interviews yet.

At times, Gareth makes being an 18th century ringer sound like everyone’s dream job. Fancy being paid £80,000 a year, enjoying a free tab at the pub paid for by the parish council and getting pension support in your old age?

However, once you learn about the six o’clock starts, the fines for a no-show and the ringing room chamber pot you might well change your mind!

This brilliant romp through the history of the Cambridge ringers is full to bursting with fascinating facts, eye-opening insights and colourful real-life characters.

And as for bell ringers smoking, swearing and being drunk? Well, maybe some things never change …

One of a page dated 1729 from the first account book of the Society of Cambridge Youths,
recording decision to ring at 4am during the summer and 6am in the winter
(this was for about 6 annual parish occasions, not all ringing).

About Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies
  • 1970 Started learning to handle at Danbury in Essex, where he had recently moved. Invited to the tower by Peter Came, his geography teacher, who also lived in Danbury. Taught handling by Dick Roast, father of the tower captain, Joe Roast. Very slow learner!
  • 1972 First tower bell peal – treble to Plain Bob Minor
  • 1972-1975 Studied history at Royal Holloway College. Rang with the RHC society and with Essex ringers out of term.
  • 1975 Rang (and called) his first handbell peal – Plain Bob Minor
  • 1976 -1984 Moved to London and rang regularly with ULSCR and ASCY. UL Master
  • 1977-78 Central Council representative
  • 1980-1981 Called peals of 23-Spliced Major, 14-Spliced Royal, and 10-Spliced Max atw with a largely resident UL band
  • 1984 Resigned from Civil Service and moved to Cambridge to train as a primary teacher at Homerton College. Joined band at Great St Mary’s.
  • 1988 Won National 12-bell at Cambridge
  • 1989-1991 Master of the Cambridge Youths. Won the National 12-bell twice, at Liverpool and Ipswich.
  • 1990 Only claim to fame as a composer – composed and conducted first ever peal of spliced cinques and maximus (Stedman & Bristol). First ever peals of Cambridge Surprise Sixteen i(n hand)
  • 1991 As 12 bell winners represented England in the international striking contest that was part of the celebrations of 100 years of the Central Council. 8 bell competition at St Lawrence Jewry. Came 2nd to Australia! First ever peal of Lincolnshire Surprise Sixteen (in hand)
  • 1989-1994 Two series of maximus handbell peals. First ringing the alphabet to existing methods. Then ringing the alphabet to new methods named after East Anglian Fens.
  • 1995 – 2010 His ringing seriously tailed off after 1995 with the arrival of children and a flock of sheep. Rang no peals and hardly any other ringing in the first ten years of the new century.
  • 2011 on – Started ringing again at local tower (Swaffham Bulbeck) and renewed interest in handbell ringing.

To date has rung 835 peals – 506 tower, 329 in hand. Has called just over 100.

Top 5 takeaways

  • Why not visit your local record office and see what you can find out about the history of ringing in your area
  • If you’re struggling with your ringing technique, don’t give up! With hard work and enthusiasm it’s possible to develop from a ‘jelly fish on a piece of elastic’ to being the master for the winning band of the 12 bell striking competition
  • Look after your own tower’s historic records so that historians in the future can see the part that ringing played in our culture today
  • If in doubt, just ring first and ask for the money afterwards
  • Look out for Gareth’s new book – his twitter handle is @charollais

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5 thoughts on “Remarkable phd study of bellringers pay and habits : Gareth Davies

  1. Helen Pettet says:

    Fascinating insight into early ringing. Can’t bring up survey.

  2. The Fun with Bells podcast says:

    Thank you for your comment. Try

  3. Simon Burren says:

    I really enjoyed this interesting podcast however since we are told that the bells were not rung for religious reasons and anyway they and the tower are the property of the Church I was left wondering why the band had free range to ring several times a week and for substantial payment.

  4. Roger Booth says:

    As Gareth mentioned, in the past Churches had many civic roles, in addition to their religious ones. The buildings were the centre of the local community, so the bells were used for many other purposes, in addition to their religious ones. Hence why during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the development of change-ringing led to many churches increasing the number of bells in their towers. This work was paid for by the wider community in order to enable change-ringing, as local communities were proud of and fiercely competitive about their bells and their ringers.

  5. Catherine Elliott( nee Mills) says:

    This was a really interesting podcast. In fact I learnt to ring in Danbury at the same time as Gareth and he was certainly not a slow learner! It was great to hear him say Danbury was his favourite tower. His teachers would be very proud of him.

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