[Bell Historians] List of long lengths

Richard Smith richard at ex-parrot.com
Wed Sep 25 16:58:11 BST 2013

michael.wilby at gmail.com wrote:

> What's the case for/against the 1690 peal? 

Trollope gives a lengthy analysis of the arguments for and 
against the peal in his unpublished "London Ringers and 
Ringing in the Seventeenth and Eighteen Centuries", and, 
regrettably, I cannot immediately think of any evidence that 
has come to light in the past 80 years that might require a 
re-evaluation of the arguments.  He concludes "that there 
are very good reasons for accepting the account of the 1690 
peal, and the objections are not unsurmountable."  I concur: 
on balance, it probably happened.

As the Trollope MS is handwritten and fairly poorly indexed, 
I've reproduced his argument below.  (That's not intended as 
a criticism of the CC's CD of the MS: they've done as good a 
job as their time and buget has permitted.)  The 
transcription is mine, as are any errors in it.  I dare say 
it's still copyright and I shouldn't really reproduce such a 
large chunk, but I hope no-one will object.  The quoted 
passage is from volume 2, chapter 3, pages 498-522.



The Great Fire which laid waste the centre of London and 
destroyed so many towers and bells, must have seemed to 
ringers especially a disaster, but it proved in the end 
rather a blessing.  In a very short time new towers were 
ringing on the ashes of the old, and there was a great 
activity in bell-founding.  Meanwhile the College Youhts did 
not suffer any lessening of their activities, for they had 
still several towers to practice at, and sometime about 1680 
they discovered the merits of Grandsire Triples.  Where they 
got it from we cannot say.  It was one of the fifte-three 
peals composed for the Society by Stedman, but he called it 
College Triples, and it is at least likely that it was rung 
not only by the College Youths, but by other ringers as the 
natural extension of Grandsire Doubles to seven bells.  At 
any rate some time before the century ended it was being 
practiced by bands in different parts of the country, and 
presently was the only method rung in eight bell towers, 
except for Plain Bob Triples.

Just once the curtain is lifted a little and we get a 
glimpse of the actual doing of the College Youths.  On March 
18th 1684 they rang on the back six as St Saviour's 
Southwark, a 720 of each Oxford Treble Bob, College Bob, and 
Single Oxford Bob, "the first time that so much was ever 
rung without standing." The tenor weighed 47 cwt, and 
therefore it is certain that ten or a dozen men were 
required to ring this length, for at the time and long 
after, it was the custom to have two, three or even four men 
to a heavy bell.  Earlier in the same year, we are told, 
they rang two eighteen scores of Grandsire Triples, followed 
two days later by 700 changes in the same method.  These 
performances were at St Sepulchre's Holborn, and it was at 
that church that the Society is said to have rung on January 
7th 1689--90 the whole peal of Plain Bob Triples in three 
hours and three quarters.  This reports has generally been 
discredited by writers, but as the claim is to be first five 
thousand ever accomplished, it is necessary to examine it 
carefully before we decide whether it is likely to be sound 
or not.

The evidence, as we now have it, is contained in a statement 
on the front page of one of the Society's peal books and the 
account is said to have been taken from the Oxford Ringers 
Register Book and to have been communicated by Mr George 
Scarsbrook in 1796.  As it stands it is a composite 
production.  Part was copied from a manuscript written in 
1738, part from Shipway and perhaps Osborn, and part is 
editorial comment.  Who actually wrote it, apparently is not 
known, but it is done so badly that it is quite easy to see 
the joins between the parts taken from different sources. 
The only portion which need concern us here, for it is the 
only portion which has any historical authority, is that 
copied by Scarsbrook from the Oxford Ringers' book.  The 
original is lost, but it evidently was written in the year 
1738 by a man who had, or professed to have, intimate 
knowledge of the College Youths, and who was a University 
man not a townsman.  I came to the latter conclusion from 
the fact that he gives a date with the double style --- old 
and new.  In 1738 the Oxford ringers used the old style as 
did the College Youths and the generality of people, but the 
more educated people such as University men, were either 
using the new style, although the law had not yet been 
altered, or else were using both. If we compare the dates of 
some early Oxford peals given by Hearne with the dates in 
the Oxford peal book we shall find that they differ by a 
year.  The writer of the manuscript, then whoever he was, 
clearly was a man interested in ringing and familiar with 
the doings of the College Youths.  It was not Hearne, for he 
seems to have known nothing about London ringers apart from 
Annable's visit in 1733; but though ringing largely 
disappeared in Oxford as an undergraduates sport, there were 
still some University men who took a great interest in the 
art.  Such a one was John Sacheveral, a gentleman who lived 
at Cumnor.  As he was a member of the Society of College 
Youths and had been steward in 1702, he had come into 
personal touch with the men who had taken part in the peal 
if ever it were rung.  He had a great reputation in Oxford 
as an authority on bells and ringing and he may have been 
the author of the manuscript, but in any case it is clear 
that there were men in Oxford in 1738 who might be supposed 
to know something about the history and doings of the 
College Youths.

The writer of the Oxford manuscript gives a short sketch of 
early ringing and is relying for the early part of it on 
tradition.  The College Youths he says first rang a 
Six-Score of Plain Bob Doubles "about 96 years ago" which 
was in 1642.  Although that is the year in which the Civil 
War began and when as we know many of the leading College 
Youths left London and ringing for sterner things, the 
statement is probably founded on a tradition or it may be on 
an entry in the Societys rule book, and it can be 
corroborated by circumstantial evidence.  The Sixes were 
invented about 1610. Then followed many years in which the 
art developed very slowly.  Grandsire Doubles was composed 
about 1750 [sic --- clearly 1650 is meant]. Plain Bob 
Doubles was called "Old" Doubles in 1667 and so was some 
years earlier, and very well may have been rung first in 
1642.  When dealing with Stedman the writer is generally 
correct, but inaccurate in details, as a man often is when 
recording something other people remember, which he has no 
means of checking.  The later editor too has had a hand 
here, for it was he who added the comment after the 
reference to Grandsire Bob on Six --- "which we call Plain 
Bob".  As he gets nearer his own time the Oxford man writes 
with much greater certitude.  He gives more details and 
evidently is recording performances which were within the 
personal knowledge of the people to whom he talked.

On the whole then we many consider that the Oxford 
manuscript did contain a true account of performances rung 
in the late seventeenth century by the College Youths, and 
we might take it as conclusive if we could be sure that the 
later account is a fairthful copy.  But of that there is no 

We must next ask the question, Is the record inherently 
probable?  Are the College Youths likely to have achieved 
such a performance at so early a date? The only possible 
answer is that judging from what we know of the development 
of the art at the time there is no reason to think such a 
peal impossible or even improbable.  If the date had been a 
few years earlier it would have been a different matter but 
the art was advancing rapidly and the conditions we find in 
Stedman's Campanalogia were being left behind by the more 
expert companies.  Twenty years earlier, we must remember, a 
third of the peal had been rung, and very likely by the 
College Youths.

The time the peal is said to have taken --- three hours and 
three quarters -- will appear now-a-days as excessive and 
almost impossible, but actually is one of those small 
details which lend credence to the report, for it is too 
long to have been invented in 1738.  The only other peal 
known to have been rung on those bells was Grandsire Caters 
in 1731 and that took three hours and a half.  But in 1690 
there would be two men to all the bigger bells and perhaps 
three to the tenor, and the bells would be rung right up to 
the balance.

The evidence for the peal is good but not conclusive and the 
report is not inherently improbable, yet it has generally be 
disbelieved in the Exercise. And first on account of the 
early date.  The first authentiic peal is supposed to be the 
Grandsire Bob Triples rung at Norwich in 1715.  If the 
College Youths rang a five thousand in 1690 would so long a 
time as twenty-five years have elapsed before the next one? 
This argument rests on a misunderstanding.  Though it is 
usually said that the Norwich peal was the first rung no 
such claim was made for it at the time.  What the Norwich 
Scholars claimed was that they were the first to ring a true 
peal. They said that it was "the 3rd whole peal that they 
have Rung; but the first whole Peal that ever was Rung to 
the truth by any Ringers whatsoever;" and on the board which 
records the Grandsire Triples rung in 1718 they say that 
"the extent of this peal being 5040, have oftentimes been 
rung with changes alike."  That it was so is clear from the 
JD & CM Campanalogia.  We know on the testimony of Doleman 
that one or more five thousands of Grandsire Triples had 
been accomplished before 1702.  The 1690 peal is therefore 
not nearly so isolated as has been supposed and if it was 
rung it would be rung as a very special effort which was not 
likely to be repeated for some time.  It stood in relation 
to the ringing of the time much as a fifteen thousand would 
do to modern peal ringing.  It was not until the third 
decade of the eighteen century that peal ringing became a 
normal event in the skilful and active ringer's life.

But the Norwich men did claim that their peals were the 
first true ones that were rung and so far as Grandsire 
Triples is concerned their claim was a sound one. However 
good and accurate ringing may be, a peal cannot stand if the 
composition is false, and there is plenty of evidence that 
before 1718 there was no true composition of Grandsire 
Triples in existence. That brings us to the second reason 
for disbelieving the 1690 performance.  At that time, it is 
said no true peal of Bob Triples has as yet been composed 
and therefore none could have been rung.

That is quite true.  If the method rung was Bob Triples with 
its ordinary bobs and singles then almost without doubt the 
peal was false.  The figures of a true peal had such existed 
would have appeared in the 1702 Campanalogia. But we do not 
know what the composition was.  We do not even know that it 
was called Bob Triples.  All we know is that the method was 
the same as the one that ringers a few years later were 
calling Bob Triples.  Now there was in existence a true five 
thousand called Restoration Triples. Strictly speaking it is 
not Bob Triples for it is composed not with ordinary bobs 
and singles but by a number of extreams made at the course 
ends. It is not a development of Grandsire Bob on Six as Bob 
Triples was but of the older Doubles and Triples on Six. 
In the next chapter I give the composition and need not now 
go into further details.  What we must notice here is that 
the peal is as old as the early part of the reign of Charles 
II (the name shows that), that is was true, and that it was 
traditionally known among the College Youths, for Annable 
had it and copied it in his note book. It does not appear in 
either of the Campanalogias, but that is explicable. Stedman 
is not generally interested in seven bell ringing and a peal 
of Triples was no more than a curiosity to him, and by the 
time of Doleman the style of Restoration Triples was 
obsolete.  But it very well may have been the peal rung at 
St Sepulchres and it is practically the same composition of 
which a third had been rung twenty years before.

All this is conjecture; but it shows that a true peal, true 
in composition as well as in performance, was not an 
impossibility in 1690.

Perhaps the doubts thrown on the authenticity of the St 
Sepulchre's peal are due as much as anything to the mistaken 
zeal of later men who revised and edited the College Youths' 
records.  In their eagerness to round off matters they added 
details to the older account for which there was no 
justification, and these details being demonstrably false 
discredit is thrown on the whole record.  In one of the 
books the peal is said to have been composed and conducted 
by Benjamin Annable and this statement is repeated in the 
1928 edition of the Societys handbook. People who know 
something if only a little about the history of ringing 
asked the question whether it was likely that a man who in 
1690 was old enough to be the composer and conductor of such 
an important society as the College Youths should have let 
the next thirty-five years of his life go by without any 
peals, and then in his age start a peal-ringing career which 
lasted about thirty years.  The thing was impossible, and 
there were further facts that Annable was born in 170-- and 
did not join the College Youths until 17[21].  Of course 
Annable had nothing to do with peal whether it was rung or 
not.  It is easy to see what was in the mind of the man who 
made the addition, and it is easy to see how these 
traditions grow.  Annable he knew, or he had been told, 
composed and called the first peal of Bob Triples; this was 
the first peal of Bob Triples; therefore Annable composed 
and called this.  The statement is also made that the peal 
had 200 singles. Where the writer got that from I do not 
know but it is quite unconvincing for such a peal of Bob 
Triples in 1690 is an improbability which more than verges 
on an impossibility.

There are later glosses on the original account, but they 
should not affect our judgement on the record itself.

An important consideration is that no contemporary record 
seems to have existed in the Society and no tradition of the 
peal survived into the next generation.  Here perhaps is our 
greatest difficulty in accepting the account.  There is no 
allusion to it in the 1702 Campanalogia.  That need not 
signify much, but it is surprising that if the ppeal were 
rung in 1690 Benjamin Annable and the College Youths of his 
time should have known nothing about it especially as Peter 
Bradshaw who was a leading man in the Society and probably 
took part in the peal, was Master in 1723 a year before 
Annable and his band rang their 5060 of Grandsire Conques. 
When in 1731 Annable called a peal of Grandsire Caters at St 
Sepulchre's it ws booked as "the first that was rung in that 
steeple."  It may only have meant that it was the first peal 
of Grandsure Caters; but when in 1730 the band rang 5040 
changes of Bob Triples at Southwark they definitely claimed 
it as "the first that was performed in this method," which 
clearly shows either that they knew nothing about the 1690 
peal or that that they did not beleive in its truth. Annable 
was generally credited with having composed and claled the 
first peal in the method but John Garthon had done the same 
fifteen years earlier and the College Youths either knew 
nothing about his peal or did not believe in its truth.

This ignorance of Annable is, as I have said, the greatest 
obstacle in the way of our accepting the St Sepulchre's 
peal, but perhaps we should not make too much of it.  There 
are signs that shortly before 1720 the Society went through 
changes which may be interrupted a continuous tradition and 
from being a body of middle aged men suddenly almost became 
a band of young ringers most of them little more than boys. 
There was a change too in social status.  Between young and 
old there is often imperfect sympathy, the eyes of Annable 
and his fellows were fixed on the future, not on the past 
and probably they knew little, and cared less, about what 
the members of their Society had done in times past.

On the whole then we may conclude that there are very good 
reasons for accepting the account of the 1690 peal, and the 
objections are not unsurmountable.  Compared with the 
evidence for the widely accepted tradition that the College 
Youths first rang at St Michael's, College Hill, the 
evidence for this peal is far stronger; and if it does not 
amount to a proof, at least it amounts to a strong 



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