AN enthusiastic group of Oxford bellringers desperately wants young members to continue the tradition that dates back centuries.

The bellringers in Iffley meet every Wednesday evening at St Mary the Virgin, where the tower has six bells – the oldest of which was cast 420 years ago in 1592.

The largest bell weighs 10 hundredweight or 500kg.

Susan King, the group’s secretary, said: “We need new bell ringers to keep the bells ringing otherwise we just have an ageing band.

“We need young ringers because otherwise there won’t be any bells for weddings, services or celebrations.

“We particularly need young people to follow on the tradition. But we need older ringers as well!”

The group, which has about 12 members but regularly welcomes visiting ringers from other parishes, rings before the morning service on Sundays at 9.30am.

The ages of the ringers range from seven to 70, which includes four young people under 15. The remainder are between 30 and 70.

Mrs King said: “Bellringing is an activity which is sociable, traditional and totally free.

“The bells have been there for centuries, and instruction is provided by experienced tower members.

“We welcome all newcomers of all ages, accompanied by a parent if of school age.

“The earlier one starts, the quicker one becomes an expert.

“Bellringers are a friendly community reaching over the entire country – a ringer on holiday will always be welcomed by the local tower.”

Mrs King added: “We also ring for weddings and other special occasions, such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this summer.

“On New Year’s Eve we ring out the old year with half-muffled bells, dash up to the belfry to remove the muffles, then ring in the new year at midnight.”

The oldest bell in England is believed to be at St Lawrence in Caversfield, Oxfordshire, potentially dating back to 1219.

Mrs King said that bells started to be hung in churches by 750 AD and added: “In the mid-17th century bells were attached to large wheels, which allowed accurate control of a bell to ring before or after another bell, and thus made it possible to develop methods, or particular sequences, known generally as change ringing.

“This began in 1668 when Fabian Stedman wrote a book called Tintinnalogia which explained the concept, and some of Stedman’s methods are still commonly rung today.”

  • Anyone interested in joining can go to the practice session from 7.30-9pm on Wednesdays or call Susan King on 01865 770144. Under-16s need to be accompanied by an adult.