Saturday 11th March saw a group of enthusiastic ringers gathered at Ratby. Not for ringing, but for this year’s Guild maintenance course; I enjoy these occasions so was delighted when Mark Pendery, the Guild president, asked me to run the course again. This year we had representatives from a wide area – Ratby, Wigston Magna, Leicester St Margarets, Long Whatton, Great Bowden, Markfield and Stathern.
I started by giving a brief health and safety talk about what is essentially common sense, something that sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how often accidents are caused or made worse by not using common sense. The example of Robert Wood, who had a lucky escape when he lost his footing whilst doing routine maintenance and came off second best to a Hastings stay and had to be flown by the Yorkshire air ambulance to hospital in Middlesbrough (his case was used on a recent television show), was used to illustrate how things can go badly wrong.
Duly chastened and with instructions to look for and point out to me any hazards, my charges ascended the tower to look at the bells. I’m pleased to say that a number of potential hazards were identified, fortunately none of them was major but something for the locals to address.
The bells at Ratby hang in an unconventional frame; it comprises of a single grillage of steelwork with the pulleys and Hastings slider brackets being supported from the belfry floor. Perhaps because even with this arrangement the bells hang half way up the louvred windows is the reason the more conventional cast iron and steel frame was not installed by Taylors in 1896. The frame was laid out for eight bells, although the two trebles were not installed until 1931. As you might expect, the engineering on the installation is very robust and apart from regular maintenance and painting it is just as it was left, even the plain bearings on the back six are still working well. The tower is significantly larger than the room required for the bells which was very useful in that it allowed plenty of room for us to walk around and look at the installation.
The bells are hung with very typical ringing fittings, cast iron headstocks, wooden wheels, clappers, pulleys, stays and sliders. We talked through the potential problems with all of these and what it was possible for the steeple keeper to repair and what needed more professional attention. After a welcome break for drinks and biscuits we concluded our discussions in the belfry by ringing one of the bells up and looking at the way that the slider arrangement works which elicited plenty of questions and answers. I invited everyone there to contact me if they wanted any further advice or a visit to their own bells which I’m pleased to say they have done.