Two ringing centres and a passion for hand bells : Helen McGregor

An interview with Helen McGregor

Helen and Peter McGregor in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Can one ever have too many belfries? In this fascinating podcast, show host Cathy Booth finds the answer to this is no, as she quizes Helen McGregor about the amazing ringing centres at Tulloch and Alderney.

Helen’s bell ringing started as an excuse not to commit to babysitting for a neighbour but quickly turned into a lifetime’s addiction. What’s more, together with husband Peter, bell ringing has inspired what can only be termed a “belfry creation scheme”.

If developing two ringing centres isn’t enough, Helen also has ambitious plans for her hand bell ringing. She is confident that she could teach you, and possibly your dog, handbells too, if either of you have rhythm.

Whatever your interest is, be it tower bells or hand bells, there’s plenty to interest you in this wide-ranging podcast. And if It gets you thinking about your own ring of bells, there’s always the garage …

About Helen McGregor

Helen learned to ring tower bells in 1979 under the expert tuition of Steve Jakeman in South Hackney, East London

She learned to ring handbells in early 80’s at Bow-in-the Road with Richard Harris & the late Roger Bailey. Peter and Helen were visiting Bow to extend their tower bell repertoire and their practice consisted of 20 mins in the bitterly cold ground floor ringing room of Bow then 20 mins in the warm vestry ringing handbells…then back to the cold…There were 3 of them in their home in Walthamstow at the time, Helen, Peter and a lodger called Dai Herbert. Peter and Helen had a house and Dai had a car. They travelled all over East London ringing tower bells every evening and soon – as a direct result of their trips to Bow they bought a set of handbells.

The only way they got their plain courses of bob minor to come round was for each of them to stick to just one pair of bells – as it happened Peter was on the trebles, Helen had 3/4 and Dai the 5/6. It is how they have orientated themselves ever since…though that really is a case of ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’. They always encourage novice handbell ringers to move around the pairs….just don’t expect them to do so!

They have moved about quite a bit for various work-related reasons. London – Reading – New York – Scotland – Alderney. The more remote the house the better they enjoy it. They always persuade their neighbours to ‘have a go’ at the handbells. Ringing minor they can outnumber them 2:1 so they quickly can see how much fun it is

They run a number of training courses every year, both in Tulloch & Alderney – they have a private ringing centre in both locations so gaining 24/7 access to easy bells is never a problem. Handbells are an integral part of every course they run. Initially they ask the novices to ring only one bell but soon they progress to ringing 2

Rhythm is even more important in hand than in tower – you can’t fake it – you have either got it or you haven’t. Handbells rely to a much greater extent than tower bells on understanding the structure of a method – the big jigsaw is much more apparent – and therein lies the fun

Handbell ringing has been an integral part of their ringing life for 40years – and they are better tower bell ringers for it.

Both Peter & Helen are proud to be Cumberlands, & see their contribution to the exercise as a patient teacher (Helen) & provider of facilities (Peter)

Where has their handbell ringing taken them ….most westerly:

Most northerly:

They (Helen & Peter) rang on Green Island  (off south coast of Jersey) in the 80’s & plan to visit the Minqees with the same bands soon….mopping up the most easterly (Lowestoft) is thought to be easy

Their handbell ringing has been such fun even though Helen says she will never be able to ring in hand what she can ring in tower. But if she was cast-away on a desert island it would have to be handbells bells not tower bells that she would have to ask for as her luxury as they are such a wonderful puzzle

Top 5 takeaways

  • Your hands are stronger together, so don’t ring more with one hand than the other, keep them together
  • It’s a rope, not a rod, so you can’t try and push it up! Keep a gentle tension in the rope at all times
  • Fancy a trip to Tulloch or Alderney? Find out more at  and . If that’s too far to travel, look for a ringing centre nearer to you.
  • Don’t just get stuck on one bell, or pair of bells if you or are ringing handbells. Moving around will help improve your ringing
  • Set yourself some ringing goals. You may not want to ring a quarter peal in each quarter of the British Isles like Helen, but be ambitious and have fun!

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