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Bellringers all at sea

by Michael Ford last modified 09 Jul, 2019 05:13 PM

Not every group of bellringers has to travel by sea to practice, but that's the case for the bellringers of St Mary's Church, Brownsea Island near Poole.

Bellringers all at sea

Original photo from

And this Saturday there is a chance for you to join them on the waves and then on the bells.

St Mary’s has a ring of eight light bells, installed in the early 1980s that are, according to the ringers, easy bells on which to learn the art of bellringing.

But the journey to ring them is far from easy as the Revd Canon Alan Butler, who rings with the group explains:

"The resident island population is very small, and some of these are only resident as seasonal workers for the National Trust, or the John Lewis Partnership at Brownsea Castle for example. Therefore all those who ring on Thursday evenings for the regular practices, weddings, and as many services as we are able to have to travel across Poole Harbour by the ferry, usually from Sandbanks, having travelled in some cases quite a way to get there."

But they do get some help. On practice nights, a free bellringers' ferry leaves Sandbanks at 7pm for the 10 minute journey across to the island. The free ferry returns to pick them up returning around 9.15pm.

And the adventure for this small the group of dedicated ringers doesn't stop there:

"We regularly have 8 or 9 people at our practices, some of whom have come to ringing through their volunteer work with the National Trust on the island. We have been greatly assisted and guided by ringers from Wimborne Minster who have given freely of their time, often on a cold winters night.

"There is no mains electricity at the church for light, or a small amount of warmth in winter, so the generator needs to be set up before each practice and returned to its security box afterwards.

And in light of the national shortage of bell ringers - even those who don't have to get to practice by boat - the Brownsea Bellringers have decided to hold an Open Tower Day as a means of publicising ringing, not only on Brownsea but nationally as well.

This Saturday, the Tower will be open for those who are willing to travel over and have a go.

Alan says:

"Given the large number of visitors to the island this is an opportunity to promote the social and cultural heritage of bellringing as well as demonstrate the art. We hope to inspire people to go home and enquire where their nearest church tower with bells is and to learn how to ring in their own location.

"We have undertaken a health and safety review and propose having limited numbers of people on timed tickets up the tower to watch a demonstration. In accordance with insurance requirements no children under eight will be admitted."

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