The Bellringing

an anonymous Devonshire poem

Poem analysed and read by Jim Bartlett.


                                   One day in October, neither drunken nor sober
                                   O'er Broadbury Down I was mending my way
                                   When I heard of some ringing, some dancing and singing
                                   I'll always remember that jubilee day

                                                  Chorus:'Twas in Ashwater town, the bells they did sound
                                                  They rang for a belt and a hat laced with gold
                                                  And the men of Northlew rang so steady and true
                                                  That there never were better in Devon I hold

                                  'Twas misunderstood for the men of Broadwood
                                   Rang a peel on the tenor should never have been
                                   But the men of Northlew rang so steady and true
                                   A difficult matter to beat them I ween

                                                  (Chorus)

                                   Those of Broadwood being haughty then said to our party
                                   We'll ring you a challenge again in a round
                                   We'll give you the chance in St. Stephen's by Launceston
                                   The prize to the winner a note of five pound

                                                  Chorus:'Twas in Callington town, the bells they did sound, etc.

                                   So the match it went on at good Callington
                                   And the bells they rang out o'er the valley below
                                   And the old and young people, the hale and the feeble
                                   They came out to hear the sweet bell music flow

                                                  Chorus:'Twas in Callington town, the bells they did sound, etc.

                                   Those of Broadwood once more were obliged to give o'er
                                   They were beaten completely again in a round
                                   But the men of Northlew Rang so steady and true
                                   No better than they in the West can be found

                                                  Chorus:'Twas in Ashwater town then in Callington Town, etc.


Hear this poem read by Jim Bartlett.


       This song was collected by Rev. Sabine Baring Gould in 1890. The jubilee day referred to in the first verse is almost certainly the Golden Jubilee of George III as it is the only one that fits the October Date (celebrated at the commencement of the 50th year of his reign on 25th October 1809). It was also the first of such jubilees to be marked by public events right across the country. It is probably true to say the song was written sometime shortly after the events it describes.

       Both lyric and melody bear signs of a certain erudition not usually found in traditional folk song. The version printed here is from the singing of the late Tony Rose, who admitted to making changes to suit his singing. This is common practice amongst folk singers and shows that the oral tradition is not dead even in these days of printed and recorded versions. This may account for a number of anomalies such as ... mending my way ... surely wending or making.

       The lyric is well constructed using internal rhyme (often double syllable) in the first and third lines of each verse with the second and fourth lines rhyming conventionally. These unities are maintained throughout. The mainly crotchet based tune, with all its notes contained in a single octave, is appropriately redolent of a peal of bells. Incidentally this makes it difficult to sing as it does not allow any space for breathing. The mistake that cost the Broadwood men the prize, referred to in this version as ... a peel (sic) on the tenor should never have been ... is a campanological error as no single bell can ring a peal. In another version the line reads ... a blow on the tenor... which is more correct and likely to have been the original version. Unfortunately I have not been able to visit Northlew church where the lyric is apparently displayed on the wall. Neither have I been able to establish when this first appeared.

       The author betrays his partisan leanings in the first line of the third verse when he refers to ... our party ... and I believe it quite like that he may have been the incumbent or curate of St. Thomas's Northlew.

       The biggest problem with the content of the song is the question of how Callington gets in on the act since the challenge to a second round was due to be at St. Stephens by Launceston. Another version of the lyric gives St Stephens or Launceston. The parish Church at Callington being dedicated to St Mary doesn't help either. Ashwater is about ten miles north of Launceston and Callington about the same to the south of it.

       Baring Gould believed that there may have been verses lost from the original song describing a second round held in the parish of St Stephens by Launceston one of several Launceston parishes, but this poses difficulties. If Northlew won the second round a third would be pointless and if there was a third held at Callington surely all three wins would be recorded in the lyric of the song written up in the church. If the Broadwood men won the second round then a third, deciding round might have been considered necessary and, having won that, the Northlew men would hardly have bothered to record the lost round in the song. It would have been difficult to do this anyway while maintaining the unities of the piece. My view is that there were only two rounds, both won by Northlew and that St. Stephen's by Launceston was unavailable for some reason so the second round was moved to Callington. Neutral ground was presumably required for these competitions otherwise St. Thomas's Northlew or St. Nicholas's Broadwoodwidger could have been used unless of course if these churches did not possess peals of bells.

       There is plenty of fascinating room for further research on this subject and I would be grateful to anyone who can throw any light on the matter.


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