Shortage of young bell ringers could take its toll at Chichester Cathedral

Of all the extraneous sounds that West Sussex residents are happy to tolerate without a quick call to the noise abatement officer, birdsong, the rhythmic ebb of the waves, and the peal of the bells are in the top three.

Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 10:52 am

But unless more young people are prepared to pull their weight, the historic Chichester Cathedral and its bell tower could face a silent future after 600 years of joyfully proclaiming news to the citizens.

Former tower-master Hamish McNaughton, 72, has been bell ringing since he was 17, and described it as huge fun.

He described the social scene as 'a busy one' and said many members even end up marrying fellow bell ringers!

Bell ringers face shortage as fewer young people taking up the pastime at Chichester Cathedral. David Roberts. Pic S Robards SR2108162

But an absence of young ringers is taking its toll.

Steeple keeper David Roberts said: "We have got quite a strong band at Chichester but we are all getting on a bit. I'm approaching 70 and am considered one of the younger ones.

"We are really keen to get younger people. Under 20 would be fantastic - the younger the better. We are just keen to secure the future. We have good security for the next five to ten years but it does take a few years to train up a new bell ringer.

"We all do it for fun. People think we might do it for religious dedication but it's all for fun. It's worth noting that we are not expecting ringing recruits to be regular church goers."

Hamish added: "As bell ringers we are always looking for new recruits," he said, "In Chichester we are not desperately short but we are short of youngsters but bell ringers tend to stay bell ringers and our issue is that we have very few bell ringers under 60.

"One or two are in their late 50s, we then have one in their late 40s, and then we have a couple who are around 20-years-old but one is at university and the other is a bell ringer from Bosham.

"The problem is we aren't replacing ourselves because as we get older we do have to retire.

"If you look at our current bell-ringers, I started when I was 17 and I was one of the older ones.

"One of the reasons we do it is that it is a fun thing to do and we enjoy it.

"It's also an interesting activity, that's what keeps us going."

Asked if he knew why there was such sparse take-up of the activity, Hamish replied: "If I knew the answer to that question we wouldn't be here."

The hobby is also transferable and Hamish has regularly popped into churches wherever he goes and lends a hand. One of his most precious bell ringing memories includes a session at Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

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