Stimulation through simulation at Morpeth

Ringing World   23rd April 2010 Photo: Morpeth simulator

by Richard Major
for Morpeth Clock Tower Bell Ringers

  I first encountered the concept of ringing simulators many years ago when I purchased a DOS version of ABEL. I was impressed by the concept but the constraint of just using keyboard controls (with no possibility of connecting to the local bells in Oswestry at that stage) left me feeling it was little more than a novelty. This early contact probably conditioned my mind as to what a simulator was.

  On moving to Morpeth, having a secular tower in the middle of town, I found there were residential properties with windows only one narrow carriageway distant from the louvres. Not surprisingly the local council impose strict limitations on the amount of ringing allowed.

  Thoughts turned to the possibility of a simulator allowing more frequent use of the facilities (perhaps not for the purist!) and the availability of a grant suggested this should be investigated further. I recall becoming irritated when looking at advertisements in The Ringing World when several devices were all described as simulators despite having differing functions. In particular the Saxilby Simulator stood out as being what is generally described as a dumb bell rather than the more accepted definition of a simulator (more of this later).

  With a generous donation from, the now defunct, Castle Morpeth Borough Council we installed a Bagley multi bell interface, sensing all eight bells, connected to a lap top computer running ABEL. This has allowed quite a number of visiting bands, special practice sessions and quarter peals that would not have been possible under the existing rules.

  A further benefit was that when teaching bell handling, on a silenced bell, the student could experience when the bell sounded from the outset. As they advanced they were then able to learn to control the speed of their bell against the simulator developing listening and rhythm skills long before rope sight became an issue. One disadvantage was the need to apply silencers to the bells and this became an increasing issue as health problems made it harder to clamber around in the belfry.

  At this point my mind turned back to the Saxilby Simulator advertisements and the possibility of installing a unit in the clock room so that it could be rung from the ringing chamber. Although the web site seemed to emphasise how it could be used away from the tower I could not escape the view that it might find a home there. A change of local authority structure brought about a change in tower ownership and this, in turn, opened up new funding possibilities.

  Feeling that it would be unwise to invest without being confident of the outcome I started to enquire where the nearest example might be for a trial. David Horrocks suggested three examples in Yorkshire that were the nearest to Northumberland and so it was that David Potter extended a warm welcome to York Minster to allow a trial “ring” on their installation. (This really was a good ruse, not only did I get to try the Saxilby but I was given a private tour of all the bells, including the carillon, and had details of the ringing references in the medieval stained glass pointed out. Thank you David.) By now I was convinced that this would be a useful tool. It is smaller and lighter than a conventional bell and well designed so that there is little danger of any breakages due to mishandling. A large proportion of the total mass is built into the wheel and this ensures that it turns at an acceptable speed making it a very safe initial training aid.

  Another generous grant, this time from the Northumberland County Council Community Chest, funded the purchase costs and eventually we were ready to receive the Saxilby. I had overlooked transportation and the use of a commercial carrier would have been prohibitive. After a short delay our Association President, Ron Warford kindly stepped forward and transported the unit to Northumberland on the return leg from a family visit south.

  With the Saxilby in the Clock Room it became clear that moving it in and out of position (the plan being to use one of the existing rope holes) was going to be difficult because of the bosses around the holes and various, redundant, floor mounted pulleys. The solution was to mount the complete unit on four fixed castors that raised it and allowed lateral rolling to take place. Mounted at right angles to the main wheel these were adequate to keep the unit in place during “ringing”. Early experience suggests that young learners feel more confident using the Saxilby and that rope handling skills progress faster. There is no doubt that this is a useful practice tool for more experienced ringers and already a couple of members from other towers have tried it out.

Picture: Deborah using Morpeth simulator
  Deborah Bearder (Embleton) has used it and writes “In an effort to try and learn a more complex bell-ringing method, I approached Richard who suggested I had a few sessions practising on the Morpeth tower simulator. I rang the small dumb bell while the computer simulated ringing the other 7 bells for Bristol Surprise Major. Once I got the hang of ringing it in time with the other bells (not easy at first), I then pressed the foot pedal which started the method to be rung. It’s a wonderful feeling when it all goes well! The ringing (of the other bells at least!) is very accurate, so enjoyable because of this, and becomes addictive after a while. Lots of swearing when I go wrong is not heard by anyone in the empty tower, and the exercise is particularly good for ensuring you count assiduously. Because there are no ropes moving to guide rope sight, you have to use other clues – the counting, and noting which stroke of the bell you are on in each place – and, perhaps most of all, listening. Overall, I think this is the best way of learning to ring methods and is a very valuable resource to have at Morpeth.”

  Morpeth can now claim that the Saxilby is correctly named since it simulates the mechanical bell system) and it is intended that use of these aids should be extended locally and offered to individuals and groups from a wider area.

  This report has only made reference to ABEL in terms of ringing software but it is hoped to develop facilities so that demonstrations of other ringing software can be provided.

  As this article was about to be dispatched to The Ringing World a letter arrived from Northumberland County Council offering a further grant to develop a room in the tower (which was mainly a junk room until installation of the new staircase) into a small library, teaching and private study area. Beltower and Virtual Belfry will be made available from the outset, as will Handbell Manager, but suggestions for other ringing software to aid teaching and learning would be welcomed.

Richard Major
For Morpeth Clock Tower Bell Ringers
April 2010

Ed. – See Saxilby Simulator advert on p.406.

End of article


 Back to News Index

 Go back to Homepage