The English art of church bell ringing includes what is known as change ringing and it involves the bells swinging in a full circle using a rope and a wheel, with one bell ringer to each bell. This art has its origins in the late 16th century and the method has never been adopted on the Continent. When the bells are rung in order from the treble to the tenor, the row, or change, is known as ’rounds’, i.e. 12345678. Ringing changes involves slowing down some bells and speeding up others to vary the striking order. The rules demand that no bell moves more than one position in the change at a time, though more than one bell can move position in each change. For example:


There are two procedures for ringing changes. The first, and most simple, is for one of the ringers, the conductor, to ‘call’ a pair of bells to change places in the order of a change. The second, more difficult and complex, involves ringing a new change with each pull of the ropes. The ringers have to memorise patterns of changes known as ‘methods’, which prescribe when each pair of bells will change places. The bells begin in rounds and return to rounds without repeating any row along the way. The simplest method is called ‘plain hunt’ and is illustrated here using four bells.


The maximum number of different changes that can be rung on five bells is 120, on six bells it is 720, on seven it is 5040, on eight it is 40,320, and on twelve it is 479,001,600! At normal ringing speed it would take about 36 years non-stop to ring all the possible changes on twelve bells without repetition. It takes about three hours to ring 5040 changes. Since that is a moderate challenge, 5040 is chosen as the defining number of changes for a ‘peal’.