Swanage church celebrates bell system that kept ringing through Covid

Church bells will ring out across the world, including Swanage, to mark 200 years since the invention of a system that allows one person to ring several bells, something that has come into its own during the pandemic.

The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus was invented by the Reverend Henry Thomas Ellacombe in Gloucestershire in 1821.

St Mary's Church in Swanage

St Mary’s Church and bell tower on Church Hill in Swanage

Avoided relying on ‘wayward or drunken’ bell ringers

Although the main intention back then in the 19th Century was to avoid having to rely on ‘wayward or drunken’ bell ringers, 200 years later it has proved a boon for those needing to comply with social distancing Covid guidelines.

The ‘Chime around the World’ celebration crosses 11 time zones, starting in New Zealand and finishing in Vancouver in Canada 17 hours later. At least 100 churches and towers will be participating including St Mary’s Church in Swanage.

Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus at St Mary's Church in Swanage (
Rachael Rutter

The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus at St Mary’s Church in Swanage

“Used regularly during the coronavirus pandemic”

Rachael Rutter, a bell ringer at St Mary’s said:

“Swanage Bell Ringers will be taking part in worldwide bicentenary celebrations of the invention of the Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus on Saturday 26th June 2021 at 12 noon.

“St Mary’s is one of the few churches which still has an operating chiming apparatus and it has been used regularly during the coronavirus pandemic while normal ringing has been suspended.

“Covid has restricted access to the ringing chamber and this has meant a resurgence of Ellacombe chiming with a number of the regular ringers taking part on a rota basis, chiming for Sunday services, weddings and other special occasions.”

Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus at St Mary's Church in Swanage (
Rachael Rutter

All the bells can be chimed by one person using the strings

St Mary’s Church has eight bells

Others taking part in the UK include Bath Abbey, Dunblane Cathedral and Llandaff Cathedral.

St Mary’s Church has eight bells housed in its tower. Originally it had only four bells but in 1888 four new bells were added and dedicated to Elizabeth Burt.

It’s believed that the Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus was installed sometime after that date.

Further information

More about the Ellacombe Chimes is on the Bitton History website

Watch the Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus in action

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