Author Archives: Elizabeth

After 28 silent Sundays

This morning, for the first time since the spring lockdown, Stepney bells sounded before Sunday service. The last regular ringing had taken place Sunday 15 March. 

Socially distanced full-circle ringing with a 15-minute limit is not really practicable with bells as heavy as Stepney’s to raise and lower. However, equipped with Ellecombe chimes on the back eight, Stepney has a stand-by alternative though it needed some TLC: accustomed as we are to ringing full circle every Sunday pre-lockdown, the Ellecombe has been disconnected for several years. Following a full inspection, maintenance and reconnection by Steeplekeeper Julian and Assistant Steeplekeeper Éva, it’s easier to ring now than ever it has been.

Éva and Elizabeth took turns ringing this morning for the 10am service. Huge thanks to Julian and Éva for looking after the installation so expertly.

The bells are barely audible in the gallery before the organ overwhelms them entirely. Can you identify all the named changes just by watching the orders of the ropes? We like the matching face mask and wellies!

Ladies come together to ring for Christmas 2019

It wasn’t planned or intentional, but by coincidence, the band ringing Christmas morning at Stepney was all female and – yes – we rang the back bells as well as the front 6. Many warm thanks and well done to Minmin, Josie, Chris, Helen, Elizabeth, Trisha, Éva and Sue. Happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year to all!

Stepney Xmas Ladies

The band ringing Christmas Morning 2019 at Stepney

Do four quarters make a peal?

Bumped into Harriet at Foster Lane practice this evening. She tells me all four of the quarter peals in which she rang today (Docklands Quarter Peal Weekend) were scored! Okay, even if not technically a peal, on such a hot day to have cycled between the towers too earns epic respect.
Very well done, Harriet! Well done to all the bands and congrats to Guy and Bo on firsts, too!

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.