Church bells rang out across the country at the beginning of May to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla. One Gloucestershire bell ringer shares her fascinating story of ringing bells for a number of historic royal occasions spanning 70 years.
Patricia Halls, 85, is a retired teacher who lives in Bishop’s Cleeve and worships at St Michael and All Angels. Pat spent many years living in Derby before moving to Gloucestershire five years ago to be closer to her son.
“As a child I lived in St Leonards-on-Sea, in East Sussex, and went to Rye Grammar School, but when a new boarding house opened, my parents got places for me and my sister there. One of my teachers, Ruth How, was a bell ringer and she brought in some hand bells to teach us how to ring. I was really taken with it, so I took up learning to ring church bells at Christ Church in St Leonards-on-Sea and would ring on my holidays there and in Rye during term-time.
“I rang the bells for the funeral of King George VI in 1952, and then a year later, when I was 15, I rang at Rye for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. And I’ve been bell ringing ever since.”
Bell ringing has played a key role in Pat’s life and been a truly family activity.
“Ringing has been wonderful. It’s made such a fantastic impression on my life. I met my husband through bell ringing and we would go around together to ring bells. One month, before our children came along, we were out every night ringing bells at different churches. We both enjoyed it so much.”
Pat and her husband, Gordon, went on to have three children, all of whom also learnt to ring bells.
“Our children came to church with us every week, and at first they would sit on the floor playing with toys while we rang, but as they got older they asked us if we would teach them. All of my children can ring bells, and while my son doesn’t ring these days, both of my daughters ring bells: one at Parramatta in Australia and one at Brenchley in Kent.”
Australia has a special place in Pat’s heart as, in 1988, with their children having left school, she and Gordon travelled there to ring for the bicentenary celebrations.
“For six weeks, we travelled and rang all over Australia, and got to explore so much of the country. It was a wonderful experience.”
Pat has been involved in several bell ringing associations over the years, primarily in Derby. She rang peals for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees, and also rang for her Platinum Jubilee as well as on the Queen’s death. She also remembers the honour of being invited to ring a peal at Westminster Abbey in October 2013. (A peal is ringing for three hours non-stop.)
“I received a letter which said in recognition of my services to bell ringing that I’d been invited to ring a peal along with four others for the annual Translation of St Edward the Confessor service. It was a wonderful experience, but my absolute favourite place to ring is Derby Cathedral. I was Ringing Master there for 11 years and I just love the wonderful sound the bells make, it’s really quite special.
“The beauty of bell ringing is that – if you know what you are doing – you can turn up to virtually any church and ring with them. It’s also a team activity, and teaches you a lot about working with others and has led to some great friendships over the years.”
For Pat, bell ringing is still very much part of her week, albeit on a smaller scale.
“I can no longer access some bells due to the steps or where the bells are heavy, but I still ring at churches around the county. The Church of St Martin’s in Woolstone is a lovely place to ring as access to its six bells is on the ground floor and I was delighted to ring there on the Coronation of King Charles III; my third monarch. Church bells seem to be rung less frequently these days but I will always love to hear them and to ring for as long as I can.”