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Bell ringing

Carlisle Cathedral Bell Tower

Carlisle Cathedral has a ring of 13 new bells (tenor 21cwt) in the key of E flat. Ten bells were cast and hung in a new frame for the Millennium in 1999 and three treble bells (including a sharp second) were added between 2000 and 2005. Five of the original ring of eight bells are also preserved in the belfry including Maria who was cast in 1401 and had served the church community for six hundred years before retirement.

The route to the ringing room includes both a climb of 117 steps and a walk along the entire length of the Cathedral clerestory. There is a platform above the bells in the belfry (a further 20 steps) which allows them to be viewed in safety.

Christmas morning at Carlisle Cathedral, 2016

Bell ringing and learning to ring at Carlisle Cathedral

Ringing at Carlisle Cathedral

Practice Evenings: Fridays from 7.30pm to 9.00pm.

All visitors (including non-ringers) are very welcome. Meet at the south door at 7.20pm. The door will be locked at 7.40pm and visitors arriving after that time will not be able to join the practice.

Service Ringing: Sundays 9.45am to 10.30am.

All visitors (including non-ringers) are very welcome. Meet at the crossing inside the Cathedral at 9.35am

Events occasionally take place in the Cathedral on a Friday evening. Please contact Anne East to confirm that ringing is taking place:

e-mail: aeast65sr@btinternet.com or telephone: 01228 513633

The ringers are pleased to welcome any person who would like to learn how to ring or is just interested in the history of bells and bell ringing. There are four experienced teachers of ringing available. The tower also has a simulator which allows bell handling to be taught without disturbing the surrounding community. Individual teaching lessons can be offered at times convenient to the learner on most days.

Meeting Gabriel - A Tale from the Ringing Room

Carlisle Cathedral ringers practise on a Friday night. Throughout the summer months the bells were frequently accompanied by a trumpet player. However, it wasn’t until the practice started late one Friday, because of a concert, that anyone knew. That evening a man carrying a trumpet case appeared at the Cathedral door to enquire whether there would be any ringing that night, explaining that he liked to sit outside and improvise jazz to the sound of the bells. Apparently the music of a B flat trumpet blends well with a ring of bells in E flat. His name is John Bird. He is a very competent musician and jazz performer and he will no doubt return to play his trumpet outside in Castle Street when the warmer weather comes.

Coincidently, Carlisle Cathedral appointed a Poet in Residence in 2013. Martyn Halsall was born in Southport and worked as a journalist for The Guardian as well as being a writer and poet. On one recent Friday evening Martyn attended the ringing practice and, as a result, was moved to write this wonderful poem, Meeting Gabriel. To fully understand some parts of the poem it needs to be explained that, in order to reach the ringing chamber, Carlisle ringers ascend a long spiral staircase then walk the length of the Cathedral on the clerestory before going up a further spiral stair into the ringing room. The Cathedral has a beautiful ceiling, painted dark blue and studded with gold stars, which is appears to be held up by buttresses in the shape of flying angels. Walking along the clerestory gives a wonderful view of this ceiling.

In many religions the messenger of the Gods carries a trumpet. The messenger in the Christian faith is Gabriel whom Martyn also envisaged carrying a trumpet. So Martyn’s poem draws together those impressions of the flying angel buttresses and John Bird, the man with the trumpet, and meeting as Gabriel - the messenger of God.

 

Meeting Gabriel

Spiral into praising; wedged steps lead up to a giddy gallery above the nave.

Higher than carved angels' choir; liana hemp is pulled for the final corkscrew to the ringing chamber.

Twelve ropes are lowered, noosed.

Air's stilled.

Something of a ship: creaked rigging and plain timbering.

A sense of voyage as five tons of sound are raised for pealing.

Also red depth of stone where six foot walls are patterned with diamond light that evening threads through glass.

Time's poised.

Pairs of hands grip each sally.

A slipped leash announcement: 'Treble's going; she's gone'.

Everyone follows.

The hand stroke's pulled to keep the music taught; a slight bounce, and the tail end of the rope is held at head height, keeping the bell in balance, pulled again, bounced, sally's caught, gripped again.

Changes are called. 'Five over six… four over seven… six over two… '.

A tremor's inside the tower.

Rattling of ropes, an underlying rumble, sound billowing following the liturgies of columned numbers: Antelope, Union, Stedman's Slow Course, Grandsire, Erin, Plain Bob Reverse Court and St Nicholas.

Double Oxford, Duffield; equations of Surprises.

Domestic among symphonic, round-shouldered jackets drape on an old half bell wheel, tissues, mints join each bell named from saints, inscribed and blessed.

Bega: 'Hastings and Constance Rashdall gave me to God'.

Maria, retired, hangs silent after six centuries.

The whole air's flocked with ringing, filling distance glimpsed through the slit glass, stretched to distant fells.

Each order is brevity: 'Bob doubles, two plain courses'.

Single word 'Stand' brings each course to its end.

Each rope's looped, hovers in the aftermath.

And someone asks if the trumpeter has come to improvise his jazz.

Solos off sandstone hundreds of feet below, riffling off bells, fanfare and echo, like an angel's meeting.

 

Martyn Halsall

Poet In Residence

Carlisle Cathedral 2013