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.
On 26 June 2021, there was a worldwide celebration of the 200 year anniversary of Ellacombe’s invention of the apparatus. The celebration was jointly organized by the History Group and St Mary’s Church.
A listing of participants is shown here: Participants 062821
Bells rang out through across the world starting in New Zealand at noon and finishing in Vancouver, Canada, seventeen hours later. Crossing 12 time zones in 10 countries.
Our leaflet on the Chimes explains what the apparatus does, the story behind their invention and how the celebration was planned. –> Chimes Leaflet
Live streaming captured the event starting in Collie Western Australia. The bells covered New Zealand and Australia and then moved on to Pune in India. Next stop was South Africa and Gibraltar followed by the Guernsey and Jersey. In the UK local towers took part at St John’s, Bath, Bath Abbey, St Johns, Keynsham and the Holy Nativity Church, Knowle, as well as at St Mary’s, Bitton, their birthplace, where the pupils of the Meadows school at Bitton had made decorative flags, bunting and illustrations of the church and a large celebration picnic party was held in the church grounds.
The event continued next to Newfoundland, spreading across Canada and the USA, arriving finally at Vancouver, seventeen hours after starting out. In all over 150 churches/towers took part and many of these can be seen on the Page, Ellacombe Chimes Bicentennial 2021.
A book, published by Bitton Parish History Group, Ellacombe Chimes: Two Hundred Years, is available from Lulu, £13.72 (ISBN 978-1-304-70761-1). Any profits will go to St Mary’s.
An indexed listing of the videos from over 100 of the churches/ towers that took part in the celebration are shown here:
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.
Listen to examples of the Ellacombe Chimes here: