Secret life

“Bells bring people together”

Professor Ed Mallen tells OT  why bell ringing is his form of meditation

Pixabay/Albrecht Fietz

In 2017 there was a call from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers for people to train for the Ringing Remembers initiative, which aimed to replace the 1400 bell ringers who were killed in WWI. I began ringing in memory of my grandfather, Arthur Wester Mallen, who was severely injured at the Battle of the Somme.

I went to Haworth Church, which is just along from where I live in the Worth Valley, said hello and asked if I could come and learn. I have probably rung bells in around 70 towers across the UK and Ireland now. If I hear bells ringing and I’m not busy, I will go and tap on the tower door. A warm welcome is always waiting.

Professor Ed Mallen with the tenor bell at St Mary’s Church, Oxenhope. The bell was cast in 1924 and weighs 616 kilograms.
You learn about the heritage of the bells. At St Bartholomew’s Tower in London, the bells are from the 1500s. It makes you wonder about who has heard those bells. The people who have heard that same sound is incredible really.

The bells at Haworth Church were put in by Patrick Brontë in 1845. The Bronte sisters would have heard those bells while they were writing ¬– that same sound that we hear today punctuated the writing of Wuthering Heights.

In ringing, they say that every performance is a public performance. You can hear the bells in my home tower a mile away. If it is not sounding good, a lot of people know, but if it is sounding great, people really appreciate it.

Bells bring people together. You get a sense of belonging and a sense of usefulness. You ring beside people of every profession, every trade and every age. I have seen people learning who are nine or 10, and I have rung with someone who is 100.

If you have worries or concerns, you leave them at the tower door


When you are ringing and it is working well – you are catching the rope in the right place, you are putting the right amount of effort in – suddenly, the bell becomes almost weightless. What I like about ringing, is that if you have worries or concerns, you leave them at the tower door. All you can think of when you are ringing is the control of your bell, remembering the method – the music we follow when ringing – and staying in time with your fellow ringers. It is my version of meditation really.

During the pandemic, ringing was immediately suspended. It was the first time they had stopped ringing since WWII. There was an online platform that was developed called Ringing Room where people could meet virtually and ‘ring’ together – there was no physical bell, you would hit a button on your computer. It kept people together as a community during that difficult time

I am all for technology, but I certainly hope computers never take over bell ringing. When I was a PhD student at Aston University, I used to walk back to the train past St Philips Cathedral where they ring a three-hour performance most Monday nights. It sounded so perfect, I thought it must be a recording. But it is not – it is 12 human beings, each with a rope in their hand, connected to a tower bell.

As told to Selina Powell.