The Bowls Match, c. 1967
As a member of the church choir at Meldreth I had become increasingly interested in both the bell tower and also the bells themselves. John Gipson was the chief bell ringer and as a member of the choir also, it was he whom I approached and confessed my interest. To my delight he was only too keen to show me the inner sanctum of the mysterious tower, with its rickety wooden stairs, the tangle of ropes and of course the view from the tower itself.
He let me ring one of the bells “up”. In normal circumstances the bells all hang down, as you would expect. To ready a bell for ringing it has to be hanging upside down and ready to fall. It would then ring on the way down and come to rest upside down again ready for the next pull on the rope. Over the next few months, I regularly attended the practice sessions and could ring with others, what I would suppose most people would call a scale, that is from high to low.
The tenor bell is the largest of all and the lowest note. This bell is also used to sound the hours as time passes and has a small clapper that hits the outside of the bell for this purpose. I also discovered that a long wire runs from this external clapper from the bell tower and rests on a hook where the bell ropes hang at the bottom. It didn’t take long to realise the potential for some fun with this.
On most Sunday afternoons and some summer evenings a bowls match was held on the green opposite the church. I had told my friends of the plan and with eager anticipation we furtively entered the church and climbed to the roof, where a grand view of the bowls green was to be had. Churches in the area were unlocked in those days and although we knew we should not be in there any vandalism was a strict taboo for us. After all some of us had been singing there that morning and it was our church.
As four o’clock approached I left my friends watching from above and went back down the stairs, released the wire and held it in my hand, waiting patiently.
The noise of the whirring mechanicals above could be heard as the clock reached four and the bell sounded. Bong, bong, bong, bong. With near perfect timing I added another with a sharp pull on the wire, re-hooked it and scurried aloft once again.
The scene that greeted me was hysterical. Some were crying with laughter as we peered between the castellated wall to see the white clad bowls players checking watches, looking puzzled and pointing to the clock.
We stealthily made our escape and returned home, content that the plan had worked so well.
I wonder still if anybody remembers that day. I know that I will never forget it and although it was great fun we had the sense never to repeat it. It could never have worked any better anyway.
This article originally appeared in the 20th anniversary issue of Meldreth Matters in November 2008.