Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers

Church bellringing in the Salisbury Diocese

Queen Camel: A Trip Down Memory Lane

For many ringers, there is nothing more enjoyable than ringing a deep-toned, boomy, heavy set of bells well. The bells of Queen Camel in Somerset, well known in ringing circles for their superb tone and immense weight, fit this very nicely, for they are the heaviest ring of six in the world. Though the new tenor at St Buryan (Cornwall) was deliberately cast overweight in 1992 to beat Queen Camel to gain the official title of the world’s heaviest six, Queen Camel far outdo St Buryan and every other ring of six in terms of total weight. With a total weight of 6.011 tonnes, many still consider Queen Camel’s ring of bells to be the true heaviest six.

Queen Camel’s impressive tower (Photo: Jack Pease)

I first rang at Queen Camel for my thirteenth birthday in 2012 where I was made most welcome by the local band. Returning the following year to ring a quarter for my fourteenth birthday, it was scored in a blisteringly fast 48 minutes, when it is remembered the tenor is a shade under the 37cwt mark. This was not intentional, it had to be done due to a late start, but it was nevertheless a fine quarter, and possibly the first and only time the bells have been quartered with women on both back bells; rung by a mother and daughter team, Angie and Linda Jasper.

It would not be until my twenty-fifth in 2024 that plans were made for a return visit. A band formed of ringers from Devizes, Dorchester, East Dorset, Mere, and West Dorset Branches converged on this small Somerset village on the evening of 11th March, many for the first time. The bells here never fail to impress; despite being cast by three different founders over four different centuries, they are boomy, melodic and for their immense weight, surprisingly easy to ring.

Queen Camel’s bells on return in 1908 outside the church (photo of framed print in the ringing room, Jack Pease)

Ringing up here is a feat in itself, with the front three rung up in peal first, followed by the 5th on its own, then the 4th and tenor together. All the back bells had strappers, with two each on the 4th and 5th, and three on the tenor – success, all the bells went up the right way! This was easy to confirm, for the ringing chamber has a TV screen with a video link to the belfry, showing that indeed, all the clappers were on the correct side.

Queen Camel’s medieval tenor (photo: Jack Pease)

The ringing began rather cautiously, with two sets of simple called changes to get used to ringing a six from balance point to balance point; a necessity when it is remembered that even the treble is as heavy as many village church tenors. The band soon got the hang of them though, and it progressed to plain courses, then touches of, Plain Bob and Grandsire, all successful. Ringing in the last half of the practice became more ambitious, with a bob course of Plain Bob Minor, a touch of Reverse St Bartholomew, plain courses of St Augustine and St Martin’s, and touches of Stedman Doubles all brought round respectably.

Ringing Room TV cameras make for spotting bells up wrong effortless (photo: Jack Pease)

The final two touches before ringing down were perhaps the most ambitious, but most enjoyable, of all. A touch of variable treble Plain Bob Doubles was conducted by Johan from nearby Ilminster, which was a first for most of the inside band, followed by a plain course of Cambridge Surprise Minor, conducted by the author on the tenor. With a peal speed equivalent for the latter of 4 hours and 3 minutes, it was the slowest and heaviest six the band had ever rung Minor on, but all worked hard to produce what was for the most part, a well-struck and rhythmical, if very slow, piece of ringing. Lowering the bells at the end, all six bells, with a strapper on the tenor again, struck for the catch at the end of the lower – a job well done. Another visit has already been discussed – hopefully sooner than another 11 years!

Jack Pease

QP for my 14th birthday
Weights board, ground floor of the church (photo: Jack Pease)
Cambridge for my 25th birthday