The Ellacombe apparatus is a device that enables one person to ring all the bells of a church. Each of the bells is struck while the bell is static instead of the bells being rotated. The apparatus was invented by the Revd. Henry Thomas Ellacombe while curate at St Mary’s Church, Bitton (located between Bristol and Bath).
It is said that Revd. Ellacombe (his portrait is shown here) devised the mechanism so that all the bells could be rung by one trusted person without involving a band of unruly and perhaps drunken ringers.
The Ellacombe apparatus is a mechanism devised for performing change ringing on church bells by striking stationary bells with hammers. However, it does not have the same sound as full circle ringing due to the absence of doppler effect as the bells do not rotate and the lack of a damping effect of the clapper after each strike.
The mechanism has a frame which is located in the vestry or the bell-ringing room of the church. When in use the ropes are taut and pulling one of the ropes towards the player will strike the hammer against the bell. For normal full circle ringing, the ropes are slackened to allow the hammers to drop away from the moving bells.
Revd Ellacombe was the editor of the bell ringing column of a church periodical called “Church Bells”, and was not slow to criticise the actions of bell ringers who did not ring exclusively for church services. A particular target was “prize ringing”, where teams from different churches competed for a prize for the best ringing, usually accompanied by a social event. An example was in 1875 when he weighed in with a diatribe against a ringing competition at Slapton in Devon, when he wrote, “We blame the Vicar and churchwardens for allowing the bells to be so prostituted for the benefits of a publican’s pocket…” (John Eisel, The Blackawton Boys, The Ringing World 2017, edition No 5519, p. 103)
The apparatus fell out of fashion or has not been maintained at a number of church towers and consequently has been removed from a number of the towers in the UK, but there are still visible holes in the ceiling which the ropes would come through into the ringing chamber, and often the frames are still in the ringing chamber, without ropes. In towers where the apparatus remains intact, it is generally used like a Carillon, but to play only simple tunes, as a real carillon has at least 23 bells, which are played serially to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord.