In June 2022 I was asked if the Cheltenham Minster ringers would host an eliminator for the National 12-Bell Striking Contest and I said yes.  There are three eliminator contests held on the same day and the other two were at Hursley in Hampshire and Melbourne in Derbyshire.

We decided to hold the whole event in the Minster as there is a sink and kitchen area and there are also toilets in the church.  As Cheltenham is a town filled with cafes and restaurants and as we don’t have any cooking facilities in the church we decided that we would just provide coffee/tea and cakes all day.

The secretary to the 12-Bell committee kept me up to date with what had to happen and when.  I had to do an information sheet to go on the 12-Bell Contest website with information for everyone coming to Cheltenham for the day.  I also provided a map of the town centre with the names of cafes.  The teams came from Birmingham, Bristol, Chilcompton, Exeter, Southwark and Towcester and, of course, Cheltenham.

We needed to find a space for the judges where they would not be disturbed. The ideal solution was to use the vestry, which also has a private toilet.  They had their own steward who supplied teas, coffees and sandwiches as needed. We had a visit from one of the judging team at the end of February to check out the microphone above the bells and do some recording for the ‘Strikeometer/Hawkear’ system, which is a feed of the sound of the bells that is used to help the judging.

I then asked for permission for each team to come for a practice on the bells.  This meant that the bells rang every Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon for a month.

In the middle of February I had a meeting with the vicar and she wanted to get the ‘church family’ involved in the refreshments for the day.  She would organise the rota (with names from the ringers as well) and the congregation would bake the cakes. 

On 1st March there was sad news from the church that the vicar was seriously ill in hospital in Newcastle.  This meant that the whole of the refreshments would be the responsibility of the ringers. 

On 13th March the Branch Secretary circulated an email to the Branch asking for volunteers to make cakes and be on the rota.  This was less than two weeks before the contest and I was worried that no-one would answer the call. I was overwhelmed with the offers of cakes and biscuits and volunteers that flowed in immediately the email went out.  There were offers of gluten free items, biscuits and a fantastic array of cakes and I have over 30 names on my list of replies.

On Friday 24th March my trusty team of Minster helpers assembled.  The steeple keeper, and his little team had to stop the church clock chiming so that it did not interfere with the judging, hide one clock, cover another so that the teams couldn’t see them (the techie judge brought with him an ‘atomic clock’ for the ringing chamber and one for the judges) and hoovered, tidied up and swept the path to the tower door.  In the church we had to assemble tables, mark up the flipcharts for the order of ringing after the draw and the results at the end, set up the television screen that shows the bells, put up the price list and arrange the vestry for the judges.

Saturday 25th was a lovely bright day (with a few showers) and we opened up at 9 o’clock and cakes started to appear!  By 10.30 the church was filling up and coffees were being served and cakes were starting to be eaten.  The draw took place at 11 o’clock and our interim vicar, who was a fantastic help, welcomed the contestants with a prayer then drew the names of the towers out of a hat, which showed which order they would ring. 

It then went fairly quiet for a few hours.  Ringers wandered in and out and stood outside listening to the ringing – particularly the Birmingham band who were expected to win. 

The ringing finished at 3 and results expected after 4.  At that point it got busy again on the tea stall.  The judges appeared at 4.15 and one gave a description of each piece of ringing, and the other judge then gave the results.  As expected Birmingham won and Exeter and Bristol also qualified for the final.  The fact that the Cheltenham band came 4th equal at their first attempt was the icing on the cake.

Then the clearing up began and tables and mugs were carried back to St Matthew’s across the road and all the tea towels and plates and pie slices and cake tins were collected by their owners and the money was counted.  We were delighted to be able to donate just under £350 to the Friends of the Minster to be spent on the Prayer Chapel, which needs some work.

Exhausted but happy we finished just after 5 o’clock.