St Nicholas church has a ring of five bells. The tenor, (the heaviest bell with the deepest tone), weighs approximately 19 hundredweight and was cast in about 1575. The fourth weighs approximately 14 hundredweight and was cast in 1613. The third weighs about 10 hundredweight and is dated 1611. The second weighs 8 hundredweight and the treble, (the lightest bell with the highest tone), weighs 7 hundredweight. Both the treble and second were cast in 1900.
It would be presumed that as the two lighter bells were added in about 1900, the other bells were probably re-cast and the present ring re-hung at that time. All the bells are hung on plain bearings and are rung from the tower floor with a rope length or ‘draught’ exceeding 50 feet from wheel to ringing chamber. This makes the bells far more difficult to handle than many which have been re-hung on modern ball bearings and have a shorter ‘draught’.
Little is known about ringing in Sydling prior to 1900 except for a few records which have been published in the book, ‘Sydling St Nicholas, Glimpses of it’s History’. What is known from speaking to the elder residents of the village, is that the bells were usually rung twice each Sunday and would almost certainly have been rung for weddings and other special occasions. This tells us that there must have been an active band of local ringers at that time.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War 2, bell ringing was stopped as the bells were only to be sounded as a warning of invasion. Ringing recommenced in 1943 and it was quite common for considerable ringing on V.E Day to have taken place.
After the war, and up until the 1970’s, the village blacksmith, Dick Newman, was ‘tower captain’ and several young people in the village were taught to ring the bells. Dick was later succeeded by the builder, John Symes, who also taught quite a few ringers, however, the bells were only rung for weddings and special occasions for quite a long time. Service ringing was carried out by a Mrs Dolly Bugler, who used to chime the treble bell for about five minutes.
After the death of John Symes, the captaincy passed to his brother, Dave. He tried to re-group as many of the remaining ringers as possible and teach a few more in order to have a regular village band again. This was rather too successful as sometimes as many as fourteen people were in the tower on practice night making learning very slow. My wife and I were among the successful learners and there were enough ringers to be able to ring on the first and third Sunday’s of the month. Dave Symes nephew, Kevin Rose raised money during the early 1990’s by doing a ‘Bungee Jump’. This money helped to provide a badly needed set of new ropes.
During the late 1990’s, ringing began to decline again as interest faded. This was partly due to the fact that quite often, there were more ringers than congregation at the Sunday evening services. Also, ringing had to be stopped whilst work was carried out on the tower and West window. Some of the new recruits gave up and one or two moved away from the village. When the bells could be rung again, it was mostly for weddings and a few special occasions.
I was fortunate enough to be permitted to attempt a ‘peal’ on the bells on July 17th 1998. A peal is a continuous piece of ringing consisting of 5040 changes, which takes well over three hours on bells of this weight. The peal was successful although hard work on a hot day, but received many appreciative comments from villagers. A ‘peal board’ was erected in the tower to record the event and hung next to the only other recorded peal that was rung in 1933. Shortly after this, Dave Symes moved from the village and regular ringing stopped yet again.
During the millennium year, I was approached by the Church Wardens and asked if I would take over as captain and try to arrange at least ‘some’ service ringing. After a meeting with the remainder of the band, it was decided that we would practice on alternate Monday evenings and endeavour to ring for the ‘Family Services’ on the first Sunday of each month. This arrangement is continuing at the time of writing.
I was fortunate again to be able to arrange a peal to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of H.M Queen Elizabeth 2 on June 4th 2002. This time, joined by four ringers from the Salisbury Diocesan Guild, we completed 5040 changes of Stedman Doubles in 3 hours and 17 minutes without a single mistake. Since then there have been a few quarter peals rung on the bells with other members of the local band who have gradually been improving their skill.
A point worth noting is that it is very difficult to teach new ringers at Sydling due to the difficult handling of the bells. At this time there being only one learner who is progressing well but still finds the bells at neighbouring villages easier to ring. It is also worth taking into account that our bells are jointly the sixth heaviest ring of five bells hung for full circle ringing in the world. Although there was a proposal to increase the number of bells to six, it was decided that they should remain a heavy five. In my opinion the finest ring of five bells in Dorset.
The bells and their fittings are fast approaching a time when some serious maintenance work will need to be undertaken. The bearings on the heavier bells are showing signs of increasing wear and it would be advisable to re-hang them on modern bearings. At this time, the plain bearings require lubrication on a regular basis in order handle them with reasonable ease. The clappers require attention, as do the pulleys. The third has a ‘cast-in crown staple’ which could lead to cracking in the future if not removed. The third and the fourth bells should soon be turned in order to reduce the wear on their ‘soundbows’.
All the above would be quite expensive, and with the poor state of church finances, I doubt if much can be done without major fund-raising. It is hoped that with some minor work, we can keep the bells going for the time being.
Anyone interested in the bells can contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer any questions.