Cheltenham is a town with lots of festivals throughout the year – Horse Racing, Jazz, Music, Literature and Science.  In January I had an email from a member of the clergy in the Gloucester Diocese asking if the bell ringers at Cheltenham Minster (St Mary’s) would be interested in taking part in the Science Festival.  Of course I said yes, though I hadn’t the slightest idea what it entailed.   The subject was to be the science of bell ringing.  I was asked for suggestions for people to speak and one of my recommendations was someone from Taylors.

In March we were told the date would be 3rd June at 6.30.  We said we would ring a quarter peal beforehand and could provide hand bells if needed plus people to ring them. It was also agreed that we could put up our Branch banners and leaflets about our recently launched appeal to replace the bells with 13 new ones on one level.

On the afternoon of 3rd June three of us arrived early and met the organisers from the festival and agreed where we should sit and to do as we were told when the time came.  We successfully completed our quarter peal and three of us joined the 91 people (including a dozen ringers) who had purchased tickets for the event.

The first half hour was a talk by George Dawson of the Bell Museum at Taylor’s Bell Foundry about the history and science of making bells.  He had brought some bells with him and we heard the difference between the different metals that can be used to make bells.

The second talk was by Dr Rob Surman, a mathematician from Leeds University.  He is not a ringer but has always been fascinated by the theory behind bell ringing methods.  He told us that bell ringers had discovered group theory over 150 years before mathematicians had!  He put on the screen an illustration of the extent on three bells and asked us to demonstrate it using hand bells.  Reg and Isabel Hitchings and I held a hand bell each and swapped pairs over by stepping round each other as instructed.  He then described the first eight changes of plain hunt on four, and George helped us illustrate that whilst holding a piece of paper with our number on it.

I got a bit lost with the rest of the theory – my O Level maths wasn’t up to it.  But the descriptions of combinatorics, a triangle with dotted lines across it to show symmetry, rules of what an extent is, permutations and even and odd subgroups was very entertaining.

And the thing he was most excited about?  Because he is a mathematician it was the fact that so much information about methods can be written down as place notations!

The event was a great success and I am very glad that we agreed to do this.  Now more than 90 people understand a little more about bell ringing.

Liz Coke, Tower Captain