Birmingham Cathedral

Avon Delight Maximus By John Fielden, John Anderson and Richard Angrave

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 The Method

Avon is the most ’Bristolesque’ of the treble dodging extending lead Maximus methods. A double method, crafted by Peter Border and first rung in 1979, it was named after the river Avon which flowed past Peter and Ruth’s house in Barford. The added association between the city of Bristol and the (different) river Avon and the then county of Avon made it an ideal name. There was one drawback. In those days Delight methods were still considered by some to be inferior and their acceptability was much less established than it is today; Surprise methods were considered the default choice. When several of the constructional ideas of Avon were developed jointly by Rod Pipe and Peter into Orion Surprise (first pealed in 1982), the more complex blue line, the non-double feature and the unconventional back bell music made it a ‘must do’ and subsequently the first choice mx maximus method. However, Avon has gradually gained a stronger following and become the significantly more popular method in recent times.

This shows in the number of peals rung in the two methods over the years. In the 10 years from 1982, Avon was pealed 28 times with Orion 43 times. In the following 10 years the figures were Avon 46, Orion 49 but in the last 13 years the popularity has reversed with Avon on 66 and Orion 51, the difference being even more marked in the last 5 years, 35 for Avon and 16 for Orion.

Avon’s middle order leads are very challenging, with multiple point blows in various, almost random positions and whether the composition has purely calls at M, W, H or whether in addition it has mid-course calls, as in Richard Angrave’s composition, bells 7,8,9 and to a lesser extent 10 have an abundance of those tricky leads to negotiate. It’s not the place to hide any weaker ringers in Avon or for that matter Orion! But that is not a comment aimed at anyone in this peal. As you will read below, this was a first class performance all round.

 

The Band

Michael Wilby had chosen the band to be fairly representative of ringers with Birmingham connections and there was a mix of experience of ringing 10,000 changes. On tower bells, 3 of the band had never rung a long peal, a further 3 had only rung one long peal and the rest of the 67 long peals credited to the band were shared between the other 6 ringers. John Loveless was easily the most experienced with 28 tower bell peals over 10,000 changes. Nonetheless, this was always going to be a real challenge for everyone in the band. The combination of weighty bells, the spikey method and acoustics which make every slow or quick blow seem like torture, meant it would require a superhuman effort to produce a top quality peal.

 

 

The Peal

All three umpires assembled with the band at 9.15 and as the band exchanged pleasantries adjusted ropes, set up refreshments, etc, they seemed very relaxed. Tom Griffiths had brought Harriet’s high chair for his goodies but I don’t think he bothered taking anything; it is often a case of knowing you have something there rather than actually needing it.

Having 3 umpires we were able to schedule our day on a ‘two on, one off’ basis, so that there were always two of us in the tower, each slot being one hour. With the two first-session umpires in place at a table positioned behind the treble and tenor and with all preliminaries completed, the bells went into changes at 09.42. Our task was to check every lead end change, every call and note the time every 11 leads. The ringing was immediately smooth and controlled, there being only one noted hesitation in the first course which the conductor, Simon Linford, immediately corrected. In the 6th lead, Simon encouraged the band to concentrate on the striking, at which point John Anderson commented to me that he’d forgotten how unforgiving the bells were inside the tower. The ringing had started relatively slowly, perhaps as slow as 3.35 peal speed but in the 9th lead Michael asked for the ringing to be kept tighter and this had an immediate effect with the first 11 leads producing an average speed of 3.32 for a peal which, we noted from the peal board opposite, was exactly the speed of the 16,368 Cambridge rung in 1965. The next 11 leads passed with only one hesitation which was self-corrected and by then the ringing had settled at the quicker speed of slightly over 3.29 for a peal. This speed was maintained with little deviation for most of the rest of the peal.

The striking was now extremely good with only a couple of self-corrected hesitations during the next half hour but during the 6th/Out/7th leads, in course 3, there was a method mistake requiring minor discussion to correct. After a further error in the next course, Simon urged more concentration and asked for the rhythm to be maintained throughout the course. He must have been well satisfied with the improvement as he gave a nod of appreciation to everyone at the end of the 4th course.

The speed had tended to slow fractionally to 3.30 during the split tenors leads but as the ringing progressed that slowing effect was overcome with the result that when the tenors went back together there was a slight quickening to less than the 3.29 speed. The 90ET’s off the front were spectacular and as the peal rolled on, it seemed to be already in the bag with almost perfect ringing to look forward to. And so it was. There were inevitably some slight hesitations and just before half way the conductor had to interject with advice but these incidents were trivial. We noted that only on 8 occasions throughout the whole peal did the conductor or anyone else need to offer corrective advice.

The half way point came up one lead after the 1674523 course end (the 7th course) with a peal speed of under 3.30. There were still very few errors despite the psychological barrier of starting into the second peal but with the mega tittums course approaching in the 10th course, concentration seemed to step up a further notch and it was executed faultlessly – a true delight to hear. The 8th place bob at the 11th course end gave no problems and other than a couple of minor hesitations the rest of the peal was uneventful but with almost perfect striking. Recordings made and subsequently enjoyed indicate what a very high standard was being achieved, especially in the later stages.

With the end now in sight, the thirst quenching opportunities seemed to urge the band to quicken even more, with peal speeds of less than 3.28 in the last two courses. The final Single at Wrong brought the bells into rounds at 16.40 giving a time of 6.58 for the peal.

This was a first class performance by the whole band. Every lead end was checked, every call was correctly made and we have no hesitation in recommending that it be accepted as a record peal.  It must rank very highly in the all-time list of outstanding peals with particular credit to Michael for the magnificent way he rang the tenor. We also feel that that front bells deserve special mention as there are no notes of any errors on their part, a truly amazing performance and with so much little bell music they were always under the spotlight.

Our congratulations to all on a truly first class record peal.

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