Transcript for ‘Inspirational bell restoration project’

Transcribed by Emily Watts

TIM: So being able to demystify all of this and show people how the sound that they hear and love is made, is going to be very exciting. Just seeing the looks on people’s faces, the smiles, the sense of wonder, the surprise, and therefore it’s very important that what we do is engaging, that it’s fun as well as informative and also that we feel that we’re offering an enormously rewarding activity that those who want to try it and find that they can do it and want to stick with it. For those of us who’ve rung on and off through our lives feel a huge debt to the activity itself and therefore making it available to the next generation seems to me to be a very important motivation.

[Bells ringing rounds]

CATHY: My guest today is Tim Keyes. He learnt to ring in 1979 on the heaviest eight bell ring in the world at Sherborne Abbey. He became a tower captain in the mid-1980s, but then took a break from ringing when he had a young family. When Tim became Head of the King’s School in Worcester in 1998, he rang intermittently at Hallow and also forged a rewarding link between the school and Worcester Cathedral with its innovative teaching centre. When he retired in 2014, Tim became a regular member of the St Michael and All Angels in Ledbury, where he took over as tower captain in 2018 after initiating the project to restore and augment the Ledbury bells. This three-year project is currently coming to fruition following the reinstallation of the bells by Whites of Appleton in early December 2020. Hello, Tim.

TIM: Cathy Hello.

CATHY: Hello. Hi. First of all can you tell me a little bit about Ledbury?

TIM: Oh yes, Ledbury is a lovely place. It’s just on the Herefordshire side of the Malvern Hills. Very pretty place. Lots of local walking. It’s on the train line from Hereford to London, so it also feels quite connected, not far from the M50. But it’s a place with great history and a great range of activity, it’s a place a number of people come to retire. And many of these people are experienced, energized, keen to take a part in the local community and so on. It has lots of independent shops, so it’s a very popular pre-Christmas shopping place. And the church with which I’m quite closely involved is very much the oldest and biggest building in the town, I think I could say. And quite central too. The sound of the bells is certainly easily heard across the immediate town area.

CATHY: Great. And I want to go straight to the Ledbury restoration project. Could you tell me a little bit about what that involved?

TIM: Yes, we’ve had a report back in 2016 from Andrew Nicholson suggesting that we should begin to think about some significant restoration work on the bells and the frame. So we had that in the back of our minds. And very often this sort of project starts almost by accident. And towards the end of 2018, no 2017 actually, I’d been alerted to the fact that a local man who was himself a ringer and many other things too in his time, he was also an ordained clergyman, had previously offered to fund a new bell for Ledbury at a time when it looked as though there might be an augmentation. And at the time, I think it was about some 20 years ago at least, the offer had been declined by the Church Council because it just wasn’t the right time for such a project. I had a chat with him and he renewed his offer. And that got us thinking about whether we should be taking the opportunity to follow up on this report. So we commissioned a second report, this time from the bells adviser to the Hereford diocese, chap called Roy Williams. So Roy had a detailed report at the start of 2018, and that was the trigger really. Roy identified that although there was no crisis, there were all sorts of ways in which the whole installation needed some quite serious attention and that this might also be an opportunity to add some new bells because there was space and Ledbury’s a large tower and certainly a place that could sustain 10 bells.  So that got us started. And yes, it all followed on from there.

CATHY: So you replaced two bells and you augmented by two bells.

TIM: Yes, each time we’d had a serious report, two particular bells of the old eight, it was the second and the fifth, both of which interestingly, were much later bells than the original installation of 1690. They were late replacements one in the 1800s and one in the 1900s, were simply not of the same tonal quality as the rest. And this stuck out a bit, and certainly purists felt that it let down the general sound of the ring. So I suppose it had always been in the minds of ringers in Ledbury that if anything were to be done in the way of serious work on the bells, these bells might be replaced. They’re also of a slightly different shape. So yes, now those two bells have been recast and are thoroughly in every way aligned with the rest, and we have two new bells at the light end.

CATHY: How much did this all cost?

TIM: It’s in the region of £300,000 and that’s that actually comprises a lot of other work to the, Ledbury has a detached tower, it’s one of a small number of churches in the country, but there’s a concentration of them in Herefordshire, where the tower is separate from the church. Dates back to 1230. It’s a wonderful medieval building in that sense. Very, very fine, it’s got, with its spire it’s about 200 feet high, so it’s quite a landmark and it ought to be, certainly struck me. It should be somewhere where visitors come in large numbers and find out about, not only about bell ringing but about the significance of this particular building. But actually it was in not a great state internally or externally, and that’s another problem. And the ground floor for instance over the years, understandably had come just to be used as a dumping ground for stuff from the church that there was nowhere else to put, which wasn’t a great way to introduce yourself to this fine medieval building. And in all sorts of ways it was tired and there were repairs needed to stonework and woodwork and windows. And certainly getting up to the parapet of the tower from which you’ve got a wonderful view of the town, you needed, not exactly to take your life in your hands. It was safe, but it was a bit scary going up the final set of steps, easing your way out onto the parapet. So we wanted all this to be much easier and much more welcoming and much safer. And so a big part of the project was actually significant improvements to the inside of the tower as well.

CATHY: So how did you go about raising all this money?

TIM: Well, the initial sum was so much smaller, the sum for the bells was in tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands when we first considered it. But then you think, “Well actually, if we’re going to do this, why don’t we do that as well?” And so the list grew, and always we had thought that actually at the heart of significant fundraising might be an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. So that was an early priority. I think the key thing for us was having a really good core team, and our core team initially was three of us. I was really the person who was going to be on the communication and fundraising side. I’m a member of the church congregation. I know lots of people in the church and through those links and links with the town, I had confidence that we could get the message out there that this was going to be something really worthwhile. Frank Seabright is our district ringing master and a tremendous supporter of our tower, but also somebody with a tremendous practical and if you like engineering background and so on all matters of the technicalities of the project, he also knows a tremendous amount about bells. He was going to be our man and keep an eye on that side of things. And then Judith, the third member of our team, has a background in finance and therefore somebody who could keep an eye on the budget and oversee everything to do with that. And then to that group of three, two members of the church PCC, the Secretary and the Treasurer joined us. So they became the key link with the church and we have had monthly meetings for three years to make sure that we’ve been on top of the project, obviously for the last year and more that’s been by Zoom, but it’s been very efficient and it’s been a very harmonious team. There have been challenges but actually we’ve met them head on and for the most part it’s been a remarkably smooth project, though at particular moments it was a bit hair raising, especially on the fundraising.

CATHY: Oh, what was hair raising?

TIM: I think the first thing really was we’d banked on getting quite a lot of money from local businesses. Because Ledbury is a small town, it’s a population of about 10,000 a little bit more now maybe. But with a lot of small businesses, but also there are some medium sized ones too and the great sense of engagement by these businesses in the town. But just as we were planning our approach to these businesses and we sent out a letter to them all and it was all ready to go. Of course Brexit happened and not Brexit itself, but all those endless arguments that led to the downfall of Theresa May and the advent of Boris Johnson. And you’ll remember that the mood of the nation throughout 2019 was one of trepidation. What’s going to happen? What if there is a no-deal Brexit? What’s it going to do for businesses? So there was understandable nervousness and therefore our expectation that that would be the heart of our fundraising was pretty quickly dashed. That’s not to say that a lot of local businesses have not supported us, they have. But it was no longer going to be one of our major sources of funding. So in the end, when we put up a donor board in the base of the tower at the end of this project, there will be something like 180 entries on it and that represents families, individuals, businesses, trusts, organisations, local activity groups. So that gives you some idea of the breadth of support, but also that it’s been quite a challenge to diversify our sources of funding to try and reach that target.

CATHY: How did you get in touch with all those people?

TIM: I suppose we’ve kept out constant communications, we set up a website early on that was that was about the project but also about the history and the bells and so on. We wrote and put on a show in the church and then again in the local theatre and that did a great job in raising the profile. I think the other thing is that we launched the whole operation on Remembrance Day 2018, which of course was 100 years on from the armistice at the end of the First World War. Now, normally you do your public launch of a major project some way into it. You try and find your sources of major funding first. But we did it slightly back to front because we thought we could not miss this opportunity of in some way marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice. So the new treble bell is actually a bell for remembrance and a bell for peace and it carries an inscription to that effect and it has a frieze of poppies. And we therefore launched the project to a packed church on the 11th November 2018 and tried to fire up the people of Ledbury with the idea that this was going to be something really important to the town. It wasn’t just to do with the church because we could see tremendous opportunities for the church and the tower becoming a much bigger part of the reason why visitors came to the town, but also the Ledbury bells before this project were quite difficult to handle and it was some years since learners had been taught on the bells. They tended to be taught on easier bells in villages around and then once they were up to scratch they’d come and ring in Ledbury, and that really wasn’t good enough. We wanted it to become a teaching tower once again so that, that twin aim of exploring the history and the heritage of the building and of ringing in the town, but also really making this a fascinating hobby for people of all ages, was the main motivation.

CATHY: The show, that was about the history of the bells.

TIM: Yes, it was a bit of a romp really. The whole idea was that it should be fast moving, it should be colourful. It had music and drama and poetry, and the information side of it was pretty quick fire so that we weren’t going to bore anybody with lots of tedious history about bell ringing or Ledbury. And we got a group of about six of us together to devise and share the writing of it. And we tried to turn certain things that would have otherwise just been information into dramatic scenes. So there are various historical and even legendary incidents to do with the bells at Ledbury that are quite fun and intriguing. One is a medieval legend, so that was a lovely thing to turn into a little scene and have costumes and so on. And we had another, which was an occasion when a new spire was put on the church and the church warden, who was very, very keen to get the bells back in, was a bit too keen and in the process the tenor bell fell and broke. And the PCC was pretty punitive in its reaction to his hastiness and insisted that he pay for the replacement of his own pocket. All of that might have been a bit dull, but we turned it into a short, dramatic scene.

TIM: There was another dramatic scene in the 1800s when the then rector of Ledbury was sacked in disgrace for fathering a child on one of his staff household staff. But the ringers on his side and protested, and there was a real falling out between a local publican who was a ringer and a rather straight laced curate who’d taken over from the rector, all of which led to some dramatic happenings. We made it into a sort of music hall song with a cast of thousands, and there’s a lovely bit from a local paper about how the news at the end of the First World War reached Ledbury. It’s a dramatic eyewitness account of the sudden nervousness turning into everybody finding out what had happened and this general sense of rejoicing. So we turned that into a scene and we got the town crier to come along with his bell and his full regalia and announce the end of World War One. So lots of colour and lots of poetry because there’s a lot of literature associated with bells. So it was an attempt to give some historical and cultural background to something that’s at the heart of our community.

CATHY: That sounds brilliant. This cast of thousands, they weren’t all bell ringers?

TIM: Oh no, no, no. We had quite a few youngsters involved and just people from around the town who we came across who were interested in taking part and friends and so on. It was great, great fun to do. And yes, it went well in the church first of all. And then the local theatre said, could they help? And we said it would be wonderful if we could stage this again in a rather more professional way. So their sound and lighting man was an absolute star. He made the whole thing look much better than it was, I think. But yes, it was. But you asked about how we got the message out, and that was one of the ways. So the launch on Remembrance Day and then the show both did a tremendous amount. And we sent out regular emails to everybody we had any connection within the town and kept them up to date with progress. And I suppose there’s always, you look for potential major donors. And we found a number of people who prepared to sponsor between 5 and £10,000 each for their name to be on a bell, either a new bell or a refurbished bell. Those amounts kick you forward quite dramatically.

TIM: There was one other initiative that we came across almost by accident. There was a Carillon attached to the clock. Or I suppose technically it’s called an extended chime, which plays hymn tunes four times a day, a different hymn tune every day. And the combination of that Carillon and the clock chimes means there are actually 22 hammers that hit the outside of the bells, either to strike the quarters in the hour or to play the hymn tunes and all these needed refurbishment as well. And that was going to be quite expensive, taking them out and putting them back and getting them repaired. And somebody emboldened me to think that we could get people to sponsor a note. In other words, sponsor an individual hammer. And at £500, which was the sum we boldly went for, I think we managed to get sponsorship for all 22 hammers within about two months. And again, that sort of thing with gift aid you know it kicks you forward quite dramatically in fundraising and that sense of having lots of good news to put across both about fundraising and progress with the project itself creates energy and people like energy, and they respond to it.

CATHY: And you had lots of volunteers as well, didn’t you helping?

TIM: Yes, we did. There were various ways of saving money. One of the most successful I suppose, was the whole business of getting the frame ready for the bells to return. There were some new elements of the frame obviously, to accommodate the two new bells, but substantially the 1951 metal frame was going to be repaired. But then the whole business of brushing it down with wire brushes, cleaning it, all those nooks and crannies that you get in a bell frame and then painting it with primer and undercoat and then a top coat of gloss, all that was going to take a lot of time if the Bell Hangers did it. And I put out a plea to the congregation and other people who were friends of the church and local district ringers and had a tremendous response. So we had gangs of cleaners or painters working over a number of days very effectively in June-July last year when things had eased a bit in terms of the pandemic. And then it buries other times when we needed the place cleaning or further work to be done. I found volunteers were easy to come by. One of the key bits of the whole project, as I’ve said to you, is the historical and cultural bit and the ground floor of the tower, which is a wonderful space when it’s not full of clutter, is going to be an exhibition space.

TIM: And we had great fun planning and designing 17 different display banners 2m display banners, each one on a different theme to do with bell ringing in some way or to do with the tower or the church. These will be the basis of a very colourful and informative display in that space. They’re currently on display in the church while we finish things in the tower. But that’s going to be a very important introduction to the tower in future. You come in on the ground floor straight ahead of you. You will see a 5m high painting. It was a painting printed onto perspex, of the tower and what happens on each level. So we found a local artist who took on the challenge. So she did a very vibrant picture of what happens on each bit of the five levels of the tower. So that’s quite a striking image as you come in. And then there will be a lot of information. We’ve published a comprehensive leaflet that takes you through the history and the everything else about bell ringing in Ledbury, and there’s a screen there which takes a feed from nine different cameras around the tower so that we can show people what’s happening on the other levels if they don’t want to get above the ground level.

CATHY: And you’ve mentioned there’s poems as well?

TIM: Yes. I love poetry myself and have been involved in one or two projects with the church for the annual Ledbury Poetry Festival, which is a national poetry festival. So it’s a big event in poetry and it’s lovely that Ledbury hosts it. So I organized one or two events during the poetry festival that touched on the church and thought this was an opportunity not to be missed. So I’ve written an ode to each of the ten bells. And these are short poems. The whole point of them is that they try to summarize something of the character of the bell because all bells have their quirks, but also a bit of their history and any history of sponsorship. And rather than putting that in what might be rather dull text, I thought it might be quite fun to try and turn them into poems. So at some point, those will be published.

CATHY: And we hope to have you reading out one of those at the end of this episode.

TIM: Yes, that’s right.

CATHY: So the people get, yes, that will be good. Great. How did COVID affect the project?

TIM: In some ways, quite significantly, in other ways not. In the way that it didn’t have a great effect, by then, by January 2020, I think we’d done sufficiently well with our fundraising that we could see the end in sight. It wasn’t that there wasn’t still quite a bit of money to raise but we then had confidence that we’d done the bulk of it. So that was massively important because actually, if we’d left significant fundraising till then I’m not quite sure how we’d have done it. It delayed the project obviously. The work would have started I think, in about March last year. We managed to get the clock hammers out in February just before lockdown. So at least they were clear and all that sort of impediment to the Bell Hangers work. So it was purely then a question of when the Bell Hangers could begin and they were able to come in May and the bells went out in June. So all that really was only a matter of months behind schedule. And then they could get on with their work. You asked about volunteers, one effect that there was is that a number of us locally would have helped the Bell Hangers in their work and that would have saved us quite a bit of money on labour.

TIM: As it was, we had two of us, one in particular who under COVID restrictions obviously, was able to offer significant help doing some of the donkey work. But so that made it a bit more expensive. Then everything proceeded well with Whites of Appleton the Bell Hangers over the summer, and in the meantime there was a lot to do in the tower. There were two parallel projects going on. One was obviously a building project with all the other works in the tower and that was going on at the same time really between about May and November of last year, and that dovetailed quite well. It’s needed a certain amount of sorting out so that the builders weren’t there when the Bell Hangers were. So all those details had to be a bit more finely worked out and we had to make sure that we weren’t putting anybody under any risk. And the fundraising was slowed down significantly. But I suppose people also understood that things were difficult and that this was a very good project and they wanted it to succeed. So the generosity continued and I think that was the most heartening thing really, that it could have really stopped us in our tracks but it didn’t.

CATHY: So can you talk me through the stages of the project?

TIM: Yes, the getting all the necessary permissions, the faculties as they’re called, for significant changes to any of the fabric in a church building do take time and that at times was frustrating. We had to apply for various things that needed to be done. Obviously, we were making substantial internal changes of various sorts, all improvements obviously to the tower. So there was a certain amount of waiting there and a lot of paperwork. But I have to say that the what’s called the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the DAC, which makes all the recommendations about work to be done in churches, was enormously helpful. Quite often these bodies are seen as quite obstructive but I can’t give anything other than praise to the Hereford Diocese and the DAC, who all the way through were trying to make things easier for us. So all those permissions in the end came through. So yes, then it was a question of drawing up a detailed timetable. So the bells coming out was a significant point. Then all the repairs within the tower. Some of these repairs, for instance were to the stone spiral staircase. A lot of the steps were very, very worn and simply not safe.

TIM: You, you didn’t feel very comfortable walking up them, even as somebody who knew the tower well. There were lots of repairs to the ringing room, there were major refurbishment in the sense of repairing and repainting or lime washing, depending on the previous treatment, the walls at different levels. A lot of carpentry work to be done. The main trap door through which we needed to lower the bells was completely stuck so it needed to be removed and then a new one put in and some repairs to some very fine old bits of carpentry as well. The ringing room door needed repair and that was quite a technical and expert job. But on the whole, these were jobs where one or two people came in at a time the electricians came in, the whole tower was rewired. That was a huge undertaking, but it didn’t require many people in the tower at one time. So it needed careful scheduling. And yes, just our core team keeping an eye on both the progress of the works and the finances.

CATHY: So you’ve talked about the bells going away, but what about the bells coming back? Can you tell me a little bit about what happened then?

TIM: Yes, it would have been wonderful to have had a major event. I think one of our regrets about COVID and these are such minor things to complain about at a time of national crisis, but it would have been lovely to have had a big service, a celebration when the bells returned. It would’ve been lovely. We had all sorts of plans to involve local schools, the local primary school and the local secondary school. In previous years, we’ve been into both schools and bell ringers have been in and given them sessions on what bell ringing was all about. They were quite engaged, so lots of youngsters in the town knew all about what we were doing and their parents as well. To have had the bells returning to the church on an open cart of some sort and taken through the town with some ceremony and the brass band. All sorts of opportunities offered themselves, and none of that was possible. What we could do was have an outdoor simple ceremony of blessing for each of the bells. So the rector and my wife who was a lay reader at the church and a couple of us on the team went along the line of the bells that were all laid outside looking, spanking new and pristine outside the church along the path.

TIM: So each one was duly blessed. And because it was an outdoor event, we could tip off the donors in particular so they could come and have their picture taken with their bell before they went up the tower and obviously take lots of pictures and get lots of publicity. So it would have been lovely to do more but actually, Ledbury knew the bells had returned. There was lots of excitement about that. I expect most small communities, small-town communities like Ledbury have a local Facebook page, and there is a Facebook page called The Voice of Ledbury. And as is the nature with social media, quite often what people put on there is complaining about the inconsiderate behaviour of other people in the town or village, whatever it might be. But actually, when you put news, good news stories on there, it’s amazing how they’re spread around. So we found if we put a story about the return of the bells or whatever it might be, even if it was not a particularly big event, smaller things to be put on there. And there was such a warmth of response that people were so delighted to hear the bells again that it encouraged us to think that the community has really embraced what we’ve been doing.

CATHY: So then the bells went back up the tower. Can you tell me about when they were first rung?

TIM: The reinstallation went very well. We were delighted with the work done by the Whites of Appleton. We’d done our research carefully before we chose them. We visited a number of different towers in Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, where work had been done by different Bell Hangers. And I have to say that the work of all Bell Hangers is pretty highly rated. It’s an expert skill and all those who do it do it well. But we found that for Whites in particular, there was universal commendation of the work that they’re done. So they were our choice and they entirely vindicated that choice. So in the reinstallation of the bells, we had absolute confidence that they could solve all the challenges. Obviously the frame needed to be reconfigured to a degree, and another challenge had been for us to enable the lowering and the raising of the bells in terms of how the strain would be taken. Previously, it had been done using cross beams in the spire, but these were were wooden and they’d been used before. But our advice was they shouldn’t be used again. And so we were advised to install some brand new steel girders to take the weight of the lifting gear. All that happened in February last year and was quite a late decision, but a decision that we were delighted to have taken because actually Whites found that their job was made hugely easier by these beams, which allowed great flexibility in where you establish your point of lifting and so on.

TIM: You could shift the gear along the beam and raise and lower each individual bell really quite straightforwardly. So their work went very well indeed, and all that finished around the end of November in 2020. By now, there have been a spike in COVID, so we wondered whether we’d be able to do anything at all. But we really, in terms of our due diligence and justifying the money that all this had cost, we couldn’t sign off the work without having rung the bells to show that we were satisfied. So we took advice and we agreed that we could ring briefly all 10 bells so long as each person only rang a particular bell and only that bell and we all wore masks and we didn’t do it for very long at all. But we rang the three combinations and that is obviously all 10 or the what previously would have been the eight, but are now the back eight or and one of the most exciting things about this installation is that we now have a really nice light front six, which I imagine we’ll ring quite often for services for instance, when we don’t have a full complement of ringers there.

TIM: So we needed to ring those different combinations and be satisfied. And so that happened early in December and we were absolutely delighted. There were some very good ringers there who knew their stuff and said that we now had one of the best rings of 10 bells in the country and should be very proud of them, so since then it’s been single bell well, led Herefordshire was in Tier 1 for a couple of weeks running up to Christmas, so we were allowed to ring up to six bells and could do so on Christmas Day which was great. And then everything was closed down again. So since then, we’ve been ringing one bell on a Sunday, but also in response to the Archbishop’s call to prayer at six o’clock each evening like so many other towers. We are ringing one bell for about five minutes each day, which is a nice way of reminding the people of Ledbury that we are still in a time of comparative crisis when we need to stop and think or stop and pray if you’re somebody who prays because we’re not through it yet.

CATHY: And the remembrance bell, and there was a special ringing of that.

TIM: Yes. We wondered whether the bells would be in place in time for Remembrance Day because now it was two years on from that Remembrance Day when we’d launched the project in 2018. And to their great credit, the Bell Hangers managed to get the two new bells, the treble and the two, the brand new bells as it were additional bells, in the frame with a wheel on and a clapper on in time for that morning. And at 11 o’clock, I put some ear defenders on and I lay underneath the brand new treble bell with its poppies and struck it. Struck the clapper once against the side of the bell for each person who had died in Ledbury in the area in the first and second World Wars. And that was a moving moment. It was the first time that Bell was heard. So that it should be heard on Remembrance Day, which was the second anniversary of launching the project, but also for all of us in this country, a day of special significance was a small but special moment.

CATHY: Very special. Can you tell me a little bit about the clock and carillon?

TIM: Yes, they were installed in about 1900. They were a gift to the church by the family of a much loved GP. And the clock strikes the Westminster chimes on the quarters, but the Carillon, or Extended Chime is like a giant music box. It’s a big metal drum with teeth on it, and the teeth activate the wires that lead up to the Hammers on the outside of the bells, and they play a different hymn tune each day and they play it four times, and each time they play it, they play three times, three verses if you like. So you get to know these tunes quite well. So at 9am, 12 noon, 3pm and 6pm, the hymn tunes sound out and there’s a clever camshaft system that shifts all the levers on, one notch if you like on the drum each day so that they activate a different set of spikes on the drum and play a different tune. But it’s a lovely feature. It’s unique in Herefordshire. It’s the only one of its sort left and therefore something that’s that we pride, even though it causes complications. Because this mass of wires leading up from the clock and carillon to the bells means there are lots of potential trip hazards, so we’ve had to work around that as well.

CATHY: Returning to the bell ringing, do you need any more ringers?

TIM: Yes, we do. We are an aging band. We’re a very loyal and dedicated group, but we need refreshing and that was a big motivation behind this project. As I said to you earlier, the bells had a reputation of been quite difficult to handle and quirky, and therefore were not recommended for the first stages of teaching a learner, which is an immediate turn off really for lots of people, they want to learn to ring where they live, not to be told you can go out to such and such a village and ring in the church there. So it was really important for the future of ringing in Ledbury that once again we became a place where learners could enjoy learning and do so safely. So we’ve installed a very fine training bell, a dumbbell in the ringing room. It’s it looks like a bell. You can observe it being raised and lowered and rung as you stand back. And so in that sense, it is, as a visual item it shows you absolutely clearly how a bell mechanism works, and it handles very much like a bell, not much lighter than the lightest of our bells. Obviously it’s much safer than that because it doesn’t have the possibility of breaking a bit of wood and the bell rope winding around the wheel and so on.

TIM: But it does mean if you learn to ring on the training bell, which feels very like a proper bell, then naturally you’ve rung something that is almost the same weight as your first experience of ringing a real bell. It goes really well. It’s a lovely piece of engineering, and of course, you can attach it to a computer to get a bell sound. It’s got a sensor on the wheel, as indeed all the bells that will shortly have so we can ring all the bells in a simulated fashion attached to computers so that we can silence them so we can have extra practices that don’t disturb the locals. This is common practice in a number of towers. So that combination of a training bell and the simulator is going to be a huge benefit. And just the fact of having a screen in the ringing room now which from which you can feed from cameras in the bell chamber. So there are three cameras with different angles on the bells and the bell frame. So to be able to see what’s happening while you’re pulling the bells is another great educational asset.

CATHY: So if I was living in Ledbury now and listening to this, but I knew nothing about bell ringing, how would you encourage me to come and join in.

TIM: Once we are allowed to? We will hold regular tower open days. This is all part of the agreement with the National Lottery Heritage Fund. They gave us £100,000 towards this project and a lot of that is to do with the educational side of the project. Not so much to do with the Bell plant as it were. So actually, we’ve got to justify that investment and we’re delighted that we can. So we printed about 5000 really attractive leaflets, which is a sort of double-sided, A3 fold-over which is going to be disseminated widely around the town. We will go into schools again. We put together a really nice package of a one hour experience for a class of children, which we could repeat a number of times throughout a day. So it had an element of introduction. It had an element of theory, but theory in a very practical way that we got youngsters to work out how a simple method was constructed and they could do things with handbells. And they could also have a go on a portable training bell, which we have in the district, which is quite hard work to carry around the place. But you can shift it around on a trailer and put it up and take it down again. So actually, we’re quite well set up on the educational side. The fact that some of us have been teachers is probably helpful. My wife was a primary school teacher, so she has a particular affinity for explaining things to primary age children.

TIM: So we’ve been into the local primary school and we’re really looking forward to doing that again. But we also want adults of all ages to engage, and so we hope lots of them will visit. And the fact now that we feel it’s safe to take them all the way up the tower to the parapet, to see Ledbury from up there and everything in between which has multiple points of interest, one of the nice things about getting lots of volunteers working on the frame and the bells is that a lot of people who’ve never seen that part of the tower now feel a real stake in it and feel that they understand what goes on. And they’ve crawled underneath that frame where the bells are and they’ve scraped it and they’ve painted it, and there’s a sense of ownership. So the fact that lots of volunteers have been engaged all helps with this message that this is something that we want lots of people to come and be part of. And I just think it’s the tower is now very safe. Every level has really interesting things to see. So purely from an interest point of view, whether or not you ever want to take up bell ringing, there are good reasons to come and see it as a historical monument with lots of fascinating features.

CATHY: Sounds great. You mentioned children. What age can they start?

TIM: I suppose late Primary is the youngest you’d start, so years five and six. On the whole, you would generally leave it a little bit later simply because you could learn on a training bell at that age probably, but you’d be quite limited in what you could do until you’ve grown a bit taller and stronger. And therefore, it might be rather frustrating to learn to do it well and yet to have to wait. I suppose we would target particularly early secondary age, and when we’ve gone into our local secondary school, we’ve done our sessions with year seven and eight, so they were the obvious ones to target. So we want to get lots of groups of youngsters visiting the tower we’ve had. Previously we’ve had the local scouts and guides up there. We’ve had a local youth group up there as well as the primary school have been to visit. So I think the first thing is just to invite lots of youngsters to come and see what we do and then we can go and do a bit of teaching with them and take it from there.

CATHY: And what is it that you’re most looking forward to?

TIM: I think we all feel a huge sense of pleasure and pride in seeing the reaction of people visiting the tower because very few people in Ledbury have ever been in there because it simply wasn’t something that was open for public access, we would take groups up, but actually most people would never have seen the tower and certainly not have seen above the ringing room, not have been up to see the bells themselves. So being able to demystify all of this and show people how the sound that they hear and love is made it’s going to be very exciting just seeing the looks on people’s faces, the smiles, the sense of wonder, the surprise, and therefore it’s very important that what we do is engaging, that it’s fun as well as informative and also that we feel that we’re offering an enormously rewarding activity to those who want to try it and find that they can do it and want to stick with it. For those of us who rung on and off through our lives feel a huge debt to the activity itself and therefore making it available to the next generation seems to me to be a very important motivation.

CATHY: Okay, so I have two standard questions. Apart from the towers that you regularly ring at. What’s your favorite ring of bells and why?

TIM: Yes, I thought of, two towers bring to mind, one was the one where my wife and I first rang when we were married back in 1979, and that was in Thames Ditton in Surrey. Having learned initially on these very heavy bells in Sherburne for a short while, I was there on a teaching practice for one term, so it just got me going. But then beginning our ringing career seriously on a light, a really, really nice ground floor eight hundredweight tenor ring with lots of people of our age. There are quite a few people in their 20s who were learning to ring or were good ringers. We have very happy memories of those days and just of making rapid progress with good tuition. We had a tower captain called Anne Donaldson, who was a wonderful encourager as well as a very skillful teacher and enthusiast. So I became tower captain at an unreasonably inexperienced stage of my ringing career because there was nobody else really to step into those shoes. But that was quite fun. And by no means being the best ringer in the band, but actually energizing teaching and activity and so on. The other one I choose is a very quirky ring, a very light ring of six in the church in which we were married, which is Old Marston, just north of Oxford. The ropes are very short. You almost catch your fingers as the rope goes up to the ceiling. In the days we used to ring there, it was very difficult even to get into the ringing room because it was behind the organ and you had to do contortions to get in there. So there are all sorts of things that weren’t promising, but obviously it’s a church with a special memory because it’s where we were married and visiting my wife’s parents for years and years after we would drop in and ring there from time to time. And they were a very welcoming bunch and still are. And so we have very happy memories of Old Marston as well.

CATHY: And my last question is, has anything remarkable happened to you that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t taken up bell ringing?

TIM: Well, I mentioned when we, in our earlier married years, we’re ringing in Thames Ditton, there were a number of other people of our age. And if it hadn’t been for COVID last year, that would have been the 35th consecutive year in which the same group, it changed a little bit over the years, but substantially the same core of people whose common interest was bell ringing went for a week’s holiday, nearly always in Devon in the autumn half term. So it’s become part of our lives really. We went before any of us had children, and now there are grandchildren coming along, and we haven’t always done much ringing on those holidays because many of us were quite lapsed ringers at various points in those 35 years. But actually, it says something about any hobby that you really enjoy that if you do it with people you get on with and there’s a common sense of purpose and teamwork, my goodness you can have tremendous fun together and it forges great friendships, and these friendships have been one of the most enriching things in our lives.

CATHY: Thanks, Tim. Tim also made a separate recording of one of his poems, which he will introduce.

TIM: I’m going to read to you one of the 10 short poems that I’ve written, each one addressed to one of the Ledbury bells. This bell, the number nine was originally cast in 1690 along with the rest. But for some reason, most likely a fault that led to a crack, it had to be recast only nine years later. The original inscription is simply prosperity to this place. I pick up this theme in the poem and also the theme of a new inscription that will soon be engraved on the bell “with compassion for the suffering caused by the COVID 19 pandemic and to honour all who have sustained our community”. The number nine bell, though perhaps in the shadow of the larger and louder tenor bell, plays a much more active part in most of the methods that we ring.

TIM: Modest musician ever resigned to vent your voice penultimate in the cascading rounds, weighty yet wielding primacy of weight and noise to one who owns a nobler sound. Your first embodiment lasted but a lean nine years, unpersoned in the restoring blaze you came once more. Speaking to Ledbury’s grateful ears of calmer and more prosperous days, and that prosperity, which healthy limbs and means in part diminished by malady lives confined, we see reshaped in acts of love. The capital of kindly hearts banked to enrich these testing times. So weave your way, move freely on your roaming course. Leaving the tenor to sound behind, speak out your message. Struck with bold yet kindly force balm to our bruised and troubled minds.

CATHY: Thanks to my guest today, Tim Keyes, providing us with the inspirational story of the restoration of the bells at Ledbury during the COVID pandemic. If you have enjoyed this episode, then please consider letting someone else know about it. This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley-Thomas and John Gwynne, Lesley Belcher and the Society of Cambridge youths for the recording of their ringing.

[Bells ringing rounds]