Handbell Tune Ringing

Bells probably originated in China and hundreds have been excavated from ancient tombs there, but we do not know how they were rung. Bells were also in use in Israel in Old Testament times, though mainly as a decoration for the priest's robes.

The Romans had bells but again, we cannot be sure how they were used. The first Christian missionaries to Britain rang a handbell to gather people together. In medieval times a handbell was rung by the priest when leading a funeral procession to the churchyard. Gradually it became necessary for a larger bell to summon workers in the fields to the daily services in the monastery churches. This is the origin of church tower bells.

The art of change-ringing began in England in the 16th century. In order to practise the changes, the smaller handbell evolved in the 17th century. Two hundred years later, in Victorian times, these sets of handbells were often used to ring tunes and the popularity of tune-ringing spread throughout the country. There were famous competitions between teams of ringers in the manufacturing towns at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1967 a national society was founded and now there are teams of ringers throughout the British Isles with rallies held in each area. Guildford Cathedral hosts a festival service with massed ringing each autumn.

The art of handbell tune ringing is now worldwide, mainly in America and the Commonwealth countries but also in Japan and Korea.