Wells Amateur Bellringing Society and its mission
The ringing in Wells is organised through a society known as Wells Amateur Bellringing Society (WABS) that was formed on May 19th 1875. The Society is a group of individuals who volunteer as church bell ringers at Wells Cathedral and at the Parish Church of St Cuthbert, Wells.
The society rings for service and other occasions as requested, striving to provide the best quality of ringing. We provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment in which members, visitors and those wishing to learn can pursue their own ringing aims.
The History of Ringing in Wells
Although WABS was founded in 1875, the first record of bells in Wells was in 1226 when Bishop Jocelin asked for bell ropes to be purchased for the Cathedral. At the time, the Bishop lived on south side of the cathedral in the newly built Bishop’s Palace and the Canons on north side (as they do now). Bells were therefore used to call the Canons to meetings at St Mary’s Chapel in the Camery Gardens.
A sacristan was soon employed for knollying the bells during prayers and Masses for the dead that became an important part of the Cathedral’s work in the chantry chapels. The income from these bequests was an important part of the Cathedral’s income until the reformation.
Bells were added to and recast over many years during this period with the Dean’s yard used to dig a bell pit for each casting. The current bells are based on a set cast in 1757 by Abel Rudhall – with the tenor having been recast in 1877 at a weight of 56¼ cwt and is the fifth heaviest bell in the world that can be rung “English fashion”. Two more bells were added in 1891 to make the heaviest set of ten bells anywhere!!!!
After the restoration of King Charles II and the changes in the church due to the reformation, bellringing went through a revival and became popular, particularly with the aristocracy where it was – and still is – classed as an exercise. This did not last and was taken over by the “riff-raff” in the nineteenth century, with swearing, smoking and a barrel of beer in the belfry the norm.
Eventually the Oxford Movement in Victorian England started a reform of many aspects of the Anglican Church, including ringing. It was in this atmosphere that many ringing societies (including WABS) were formed and ringing has been flourishing ever since.