BELL ringers in Morpeth have an ap-peal-ing new feature thanks to a donation of rare books.
Morpeth Clock Tower Bell Ringers were forced to clear out their first-floor junk room when the wooden staircase, trapdoors and an external door were repaired or replaced in 2009.
Following a grant from Northumberland County Council’s Community Chest, the group has been able to find a new use for the space as a welcoming reception area and teaching room.
And now a small library section has been added, courtesy of a donation from the family of the town’s most prolific peal-ringer Nicholas Wright.
Mr Wright joined the bell ringers when the Clock Tower bells were restored in 1951 and though he left the group in 1964, he retains the record of ringing more peals than anyone else in Morpeth, having rung 30 between 1956 and the end of his 13 years’ service.
He previously gave the group a piece of the original oak bell frame that was removed from the tower in 1951 and following his death earlier this year, Mr Wright’s family donated his collection of bell-ringing books.
Tower Captain Richard Major said: “The first level of the clock tower in the past has really been used as a bit of a junk room, but we had to clear it out when the new staircase was built and we got a grant to make a storage area and somewhere people could sit and read or where we could do teaching.
“We had some books, but now we can have a bigger library after Nicholas Wright’s family kindly donated his collection.
“The books are all about bell-ringing and most of them are out of print now so they are of historical interest as well.”
The bell ringers form a big part of Morpeth’s traditions and events, sounding peals at annual fixtures such as the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering and Fair Day, as well as Remembrance Day.
Younger members are responsible for ringing the curfew bell at 8pm every day.
But the centuries-old tradition relies on new recruits learning the ropes, and with some of the veterans set to go off to university this autumn, the need is as great as ever.
Mr Major said: “We are looking for new ringers. We have quite an active group of young ringers who keep the curfew going every night, but it is the usual case of people disappearing off to university and we desperately need to recruit some more young people to take over from them.
“Lots of people think the bell is mechanical, but it’s not, there is a person up there ringing it. Whenever we have open days visitors are always surprised that it is rung by hand.
“Morpeth is one of the few places that still maintains the curfew bell so it is something special.”
There are no particular skills required to join the bell ringers as full training will be given, but it is unlikely to be suitable for youngsters under the age of ten.
“If anyone is interested in joining us we would like them to make contact with us,” said Mr Major. “We will provide them with one-to-one training on safe bell ringing and once they are good enough they can try ringing with the rest of the group on a Wednesday night and can also join the curfew rota.
“Of course, we’re also open for older people to join us as well. Bell ringing is suitable for anybody looking for a new hobby.
“The basic requirement is turning up to practice every Wednesday evening for an hour-and-a-half, and we also hope that people will turn out for the main town events.
“People don’t need to be musical and they don’t have to be particularly strong, contrary to many people’s views. The one thing we would hope for is a sense of rhythm.
“It is an opportunity to learn a skill which is quite different to anything else.”
Anyone interested in joining the Clock Tower Bell Ringers should contact Mr Major on 01670 513492, or turn up at practice on Wednesday evenings from 7.30pm.