by Faithful Friar
While reading her favorite book to a blind, elderly friend of mine, I came across this description of bell ringing in their little town of Church Enstone in England in the early 1900’s. It seemed especially appropriate as we approach the time of All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day…..
As soon as anybody died the family ‘ud send for Thomas to toll the church bell. Our St. Kenelm’s has six bells. They was recast in 1831 but some retain their original inscriptions. Thomas’s favourite was ‘I to the church the living call, and to the grave do summon all.’ It were widely believed in the old days that the sound of bells ‘broke the power of lightnings’ and ‘drove away thunder’, and that the air were the Great Highway of evil spirits waiting to snatch the soul of a dead person before it could reach the haven of heaven. Thomas’ tolling kept ‘em all at bay. He’d let you know which soul had fled by giving three lone knells before tolling regular for a man, two lone knells before tolling for a woman, and one for a child. How long he went on tolling ‘ud tell everybody the status of the dead person in the parish. Thomas were a proper ringer, tolling full-bell, ringing on the sally. If he warn’t able to ring, swinging the whole bell, he’d tie the rope on the clapper for a volunteer toller to hit the clapper against the bell, waiting a whole minute between claps for the note to die away. I done that for him many a time.
(If you’d like to read more, see Lifting the Latch by Sheila Stewart, Oxford University Press, 1987)