Definition of Touch

nitramwe edwardwmartin at
Mon Mar 15 08:55:13 GMT 2010

--- In bellhistorians at, "Graham" <graham at ...> wrote:
> I am interested in any authoritative definitions of the word "touch" from the ringing literature, and its source / derivation.
> Any suggestions?

I don't know authoratative this is but first the online OED has:
"9. Bell-ringing. Any series of changes less than a peal. 
1872 ELLACOMBE Ch. Bells Devon, etc. ix. 471 A peal..means the performance of the full number of changes which may be rung on a given number of bells; any less number of changes would be called `a touch'. 1898 G. S. TYACK Bk. about Bells viii. 141 Five thousand the smallest number to which the name of a peal is technically allowed, less than that number merely constitutes a `touch'."

As I've notified the editors (at least twice over the past 20 years to no effect) there are earlier quotations in Shipway's Campanalogia (1813 – 1816) but the earliest use that I have found is in Clavis Campanalogia (1788) , p.56 where, advising how to call a peal: "but in order to lead the young practitioner on progressively, we advise him to ring the following 168 . . . He may then venture on other short peals or touches (as they are called)." 

At the end of the book he notes:
"a complete set of touches is inserted in the following Appendix"

"In giving what are generally called touches, we shall endeavour to select some of the most musical and curious, beginning with GRANDSIRE TRIPLES, and only pursue this plan in those methods which are constantly in practice."
He then gives various lengths for Grandsire 7 9 & 11 ; Plain Bob 8, 10, 12;  Oxford T.B. 8, 10, 12.
What is perhaps pertinent is that even in Grandsire Triples, these are not necessarily short by our standards of useage, from 168 through 336, 462, 700, 1260 ("commonly called a quarter peal") to 1386 and 1638.

On p. 186 is a footnote:
"It was a maxim formerly, not to constitute any number of changes of a peal, that is under 5040, the extent that seven bells will produce, no practitioner would think of ringing a less number than the whole for a peal of Triples, but it is no reason why it should be the standard for a greater number of bells, for if 5600 changes are rung it is only deemed by the exercise a five thousand; therefore, why not as near five thousand as possible, this certainly is reason sufficient to constitute 5000 changes a peal, and it is as worthy of record as 5040."

This probably states the general opinion of ringers in the mid to late 18th century.

Eddie Martin


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