September 01, 2012

Peals and Pints

Here in Goldhanger we are blessed with some delightful bell ringing from St. Peter’s church. The church is right next door to The Chequers. This seems to be Very Important. The Chequers is about half the age of the church - the church being Norman in origin - and is also an important place in Goldhanger. A service, ceremony or bell ringing practise is often followed by a visit to the pub next door. This must have been happening here for almost 500 years. The church is about 30 metres from our front door so the bell ringing can be heard quite clearly and the pub can be accessed quite quickly.

Somebody from the group of local campanologists writes in our Parish Magazine each month and, although some of the technical terms are a bit beyond me, makes for a very interesting read. It’s like waiting for the next instalment of The Archers each month. They go all over England, mainly East Anglia, ringing at other churches and seem to be very proficient at what they do. Considering the way the author of the monthly articles in the Parish Magazine writes, I’ve thought of asking if they would set up their own blog. The writing each month is interesting, entertaining and informative.

Recently, Stephen and I were out on a bike ride (the pedal-powered kind) and stopped off at one of our sister Parish churches at Great Totham. There is no pub very close to this church, although The Bull is not far away but it wouldn’t be as easy for the bell ringers there to end up in the pub. The bell ropes are clearly visible at the back of the church, as opposed to Goldhanger where they are behind a curtain beyond where the organ sits. On the wall was a plaque describing the death knell, something you don’t see every day! I found this fascinating partly because I had never thought of the Death Knell as a descriptive thing in the sense that it tells sex, age and time of death of a person. This differs from parish to parish it seems but a series of strokes on the bells were/are rung at intervals. It would be interesting to see how similar todays death knell is to that of the late 18th century. 

Death knells were rung at the time of death up to the late 18th century. Communities would have been far smaller and closer than they are now and this would have been possible back then. By the end of the 19th century the death knell was rung as soon as notice reached the clerk of the church, unless the sun had set, in which case it was rung early the next morning. The death knell differed from one parish to another but ‘tellers’ were almost universal and denoted the sex of the person - the ‘tellers’ differing from parish to parish. At Great Totham three strokes for male or two for female are given on each bell.

So, a simple plaque in a nearby church sparked an interest that I will research further. I intend taking a photograph of this plaque to explain the death knell some more. And I still might ask the local bell ringers - perhaps over a beer or two - if they have considered starting a blog.

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