Author Archives: Elizabeth

Christmas 2018

We had five to ring at Stepney this morning and seven yesterday evening (thanks for double-handing, Dave!) – the first time the current band has rung for both the midnight mass and the Christmas morning service – thanks for organising, Greg!

Walking home from morning ringing today, I wasn’t sure if I heard faint bells –  my ears often turn indistinct sounds into distant bells in changes. But reaching my flat, stepping out to the balcony  it was unmistakable: call changes. How unexpected and nice! Was it Limehouse? Had Dorinda rallied sufficient ringers? Or was London so silent that I could hear Rotherhithe? The amazing and rare: London so at peace on Christmas morning – a soundscape no doubt aided by low cloud and the absence of any breeze.

It was later confirmed by Dorinda: Limehouse bells were rung for the morning service – and clearly heard in Stepney.

For me, Christmas Day is often a chance to do nothing at all but read a book all day. This Christmas, I’ve opened a book given to me by Jennifer earlier in the year: Those Greenland Days by Martin Lindsay, published by Penguin in 1932 about the expedition to survey Greenland prior to establishing the “great circle” route for trans-Atlantic flights.

Once read, I will pass this book on to my sister, an archaeologist whose current work is in Greenland.

Barely three pages in to chapter one, the Greenland expedition is setting off from St Katherine’s Dock and encountering what is now some of Docklands Ringers’ Heritage.

No doubt this expedition’s company heard Rotherhithe. If the Thames and east end were as silent on a Sunday in July 1930 as they are today, perhaps they might also have heard Hart Street, Bermondsey, St George-in-the-East, St Paul Shadwell (ringable then?) and maybe Stepney – but unlike me this morning, they would not have heard Limehouse, the tower having only acquired bells in very recent times.

Note a familiar ringing family name in the list of expedition members.

And a prominent tomb in Stepney churchyard bears the family name Lemon.

To have provided ringing for Christmas services where 12 years ago there was no band… to find in an unexpected place a reference to the sound of our bells nearly 90 years ago… Forgive me for being a credulous colonial, but I do often thrill to marvel at the layers and layers of connections circulating around this place and radiating outward through space and time, and to find myself living and in a small way participating in that nexus.

Thanks and Happy Christmas to the ringers of Docklands, and best wishes for 2019.

Crafty Ringers

As well as ringing for Remembrance Sunday 2018, at Stepney the Armistice Centenary was also marked by the production of some fine handicrafts to serve and to commemorate.

old, fragile Stepney muffles

In anticipation of the approaching centenary, at their January AGM Stepney’s band decided it was an appropriate time to invest in new muffles – the old muffles with their leather straps and buckles were difficult to strap on securely, some were worn, fragile and damaged and Stepney’s flightless 6 required special measures involving gaffer tape – not pretty. The last thing we wanted to happen for the centenary ringing was straps breaking, muffles slipping or wearing through.

Wilf and George at Stepney

An order was duly placed with Wilf Grove and great was our relief to learn that the order had been received before the cut-off in order to be ready for the big day. Although through spring Wilf encountered interruptions that threatened delay, he hand delivered the muffles to a Thursday practice in August with his colleague George, both ringers at Streatham and true craftsmen who care deeply about the quality of their products.


Ingenious Wilf rose to the challenge of devising a crafty muffle for our flightless 6. To see his solution, you’ll have to visit Stepney!

Deputy Steeple Keeper Éva economically shared out a tin of the recommended non-slip paint between the three towers where she rings regularly: Foster Lane, St Giles-in-the-Fields and Stepney all had their clappers so treated. By the end of August we were fully prepared.

A test in August confirmed the fit of the muffle for the flightless 6. A half-muffled practice 8th November reassured us that the muffles would not slip. We were very pleased on 11th November, when nine ringers enabled us to ring all 10 beautifully muffled bells in different combinations of 6 and 8 for the morning service.

Stepney’s muffle bag

10am service half muffled ringing

Of course our new set of muffles are housed in one of Wilf’s trademark bags, complete with beautiful embroidered ‘portrait’ of the church. It’s possible to view the whole gallery of these wonderful embroidered tower ‘portraits’ on the Big Wilf’s website


Toward the end of summer, on his travels, Steeple Keeper Julian admired a life-sized WWI soldier-in-silhouette in a pose of solemn reflection and was inspired to create one for St Dunstan’s – finding two, in fact, could be produced from a single sheet of plywood. Daytimes these figures would be found in the churchyard.Brought in at night to protect them from unwanted attention, they were positioned standing guard at the entrance to the lady chapel and ringers entering the church for practice would double-take: Their uncanny presence almost life-like, their stance quietly but powerfully conveying the awful solemnity of the armistice and irrecoverable desolation of what had gone before, everyone agrees they are arresting and very moving in both locations.

St Dunstan’s Lady Chapel

We are blessed that a member of the Stepney band can always be relied upon to ensure that special events are commemorated – often with handicraft keepsakes. The team organising the centenary ringing was consulted about numbers and a small team of elves contracted for production.  Accordingly it was seen to that all who would ring for the armistice centenary at Docklands towers and Foster Lane could wear a specially made ‘Ringing Remembers’ poppy.

Anna, Elizabeth, Minmin, Julian, Mark, Sue and Joe following the midday open ringing at Stepney (with one of those who rang at nearly Limehouse). See also this lovely picture of the Lewisham Band.

12.30pm open ringing in celebration of peace.

More than 70 poppies were hand made by lead elf Anna and her small team of elves (Elizabeth and Kristen-of-Foster-Lane) from felt with custom commissioned ribbon stems jacquard-woven with ‘Ringing Remembers 1918’. The Docklands distribution network (Stepney ringers have many useful connections to other towers and their practices) was mobilised and all consignments were efficiently delivered by their couriers to the eight Docklands towers where ringing would take place as well as to Foster Lane in time for ringing for peace on the afternoon of 11 November.

One of the Docklands Ringing Remembers Poppies.


The numbers turned out by this small production line are an encouraging reminder of the numbers of Docklands ringers who can rally to the request – in this case, expressed by the governments of the UK and Germany – to provide ringing. It is also a tribute to the skill of outgoing DRC Secretary Gill, who has many times expertly grappled with the logistics of assigning ringers to as many Docklands Towers as possible for a special occasion.

We’ll look forward to many years of service from our reliable new muffles and to wearing our poppies next November when we will be reacquainted with our soldiers and the gravity of their reminder at the beginning of their next centenary’s service.

Stepney’s Tied Bell Practices

A Stepney practice in 2016

Stepney has held a weekly tied bell practice in the hour before main practice since early 2012. It is modelled on the Foster Lane approach, where some of us are also band members. Its benefits there are obvious and so it seemed a good practice to adopt.

It is an excellent enhancement to basic training: one-on-one handling practice, uninterrupted time to refine technique for those ‘safe on the end of a rope’ and, at Stepney, a simulator is added  providing for self-directed learners at the stage of developing listening skills and learning methods. All levels happily co-exist before the main practice and it can be quite a busy hour.

The benefit to those who take advantage of it is clear and we are pleased to celebrate the achievements of band members and to have their feedback.

Jennifer, who first expressed an interest in learning to ring in 2011, was taught using facilities at Stepney and Bermondsey. With restricted stamina preventing long stretches of ringing, we are looking forward soon to an eighth peal especially for Jennifer. In the meantime, Jennifer rings for weddings, practices, most Sunday services and joins us on outings when she can. Her repetoire includes Bob Doubles and Grandsire Doubles, treble bobbing minor and plain hunting on higher numbers. Jennifer says:

“I really appreciate the flexible ringing training at Stepney.  I always feel really welcome and very supported in progressing within the limits of my health.  A big ‘thank you’ to all the trainers at Stepney, and particularly to Elizabeth, who got me started and continues to be hugely encouraging, patient and always ready with just the right advice.”

Éva, a member of Stepney’s congregation who discovered ringing in August 2013 and who has also joined the Foster Lane and St Giles-in-the-Fields bands, is a keen ringing evangelist and an energetic and ambitious learner who has already rung 3 peals and 85 quarter peals. She rang her first quarter peal at Stepney (as cover) only 5 months after her first lesson and her first peal at Foster Lane – Doubles & Minor on an inside bell –  less than 2 years later. Éva doesn’t stop at ringing bells: she is also maintaining them as an apprentice steeple keeper at two towers!

Alan too is a member of the congregation. He began at Stepney in October 2015, rang his first quarter as cover in May 2016, his first as treble 6 months after that and his first inside a month later. Alan devotes time to practice regularly with the simulator and has developed a very well-tuned ear. He has been getting to grips with methods first on the simulator and then, having experienced the rhythm, pace and music, refines ropesight amongst a band. Alan says:

“the tied bell practice at Stepney has been invaluable to me in my development as a ringer. Initially, it gave me the chance to learn about, and to practise, bell handling in a more intensive way than would have been possible if I was only getting a few minutes ringing time during the main practice.

“Once I had learnt the basics of handling, the tied bell practice then allowed me to gain experience of ringing rounds, call changes and methods using the simulator. This, combined with the ever-helpful guidance given to me by the more experienced ringers who assist with the practice, meant I could develop my listening skills and learn methods; at the same time as refining my handling skills. My ringing is definitely still a work in progress, but it is only going to get better through practice- something which has been a joy to do in the patient, supportive and friendly atmosphere at Stepney.”

Daniel, who joined as a learner in the summer of 2015, has an irregular schedule and so practises on free evenings where he can, whether at Stepney, or Middlesex towers Pimlico and Garlickhythe. At this last tower, on 1 December 2016, he rang his first quarter, conducted by Dickon Love, and supported in part by members of Docklands towers. Daniel says:

“tied-bell practice is of unsurpassed importance to me as a learner. At first, it constituted most of my rope time, and offered an occasion for private instruction, when I could communicate with my teacher, and attempt things without worrying about mistakes. By speeding my progress, it has sustained my interest in ringing, which did waver, especially before I had learnt to properly handle a bell. I observe others at practice, but do not find it especially useful, for I learn best by doing. Perhaps we all do. At any rate, I find it easiest to fix something in my mind by doing it many times in succession. Nevertheless, ringing has made me sharpen my observational skills. Tied-bell practice remains indispensable to my progress : it allows me to direct some of my learning and to refine basic skills. Even the virtuoso begins his daily practice with scales ; surely a humble learner must do the same.”

Thomas came to London from Switzerland as part of a 6-month arts residency at the beginning of 2016. With an interest in English Change Ringing he came first to Stepney and then doubled his training opportunities by joining the Foster Lane band as well. He rang his first quarter peal as treble at Foster Lane the day before he returned to Switzerland and rang a second on a recent visit. Thomas says:

“change ringing gave me a fantastic and pleasing opportunity to join some interesting and nice people from London, in an atmosphere (church towers and bells), practising something very very English (what I can’t use in Switzerland – that’s a good reason to return from time to time to London). I took some beautiful experiences and memories with me – and friendships, too.”

Anna, who joined in September 2016, has had to take a break from ringing in 2017. But in her first four months of training with Gill, Callum and Geoff Anna proved herself a keen learner and made tangible progress each week. As 2016 drew to a close, Anna was ringing both strokes confidently. She attended the tied bell and main practices where she was ringing rounds and call changes two or three times each practice. Anna says:

“for many years I have stopped my bicycle by the side of the road to listen to Church Bells and now I am on my way to learning to ring myself! I was greeted with friendliness and treasure and appreciate greatly the patients afforded to me by the Stepney Band.”

Representing the diverse range of experience amongst the Stepney band, these members have now been joined by three more learners since January 2017 who are keen and making excellent progress.

There are many training models in London and around the UK –  this one has been working well for us since 2012.  Confidence is built along with learner / mentor relationships. Equally important is the low-pressured buffer it provides of warm-up and consolidation before the main practice. We hope to allay the common laments heard at times from learners everywhere – struggling with a new skill in front of the whole band, feeling slow to pick up skills, or of taking up practice time.

Not everyone who expresses an interest in ringing ultimately decides to make the commitment it requires. We feel it’s important to welcome everyone and provide capable teaching in a supportive environment. Having offered that, we trust that the friendly atmosphere encourages those who come up the tower stairs to become ringers and, we hope, band members.