Taking its toll: Lockdown silences Kingston’s All Saints Church bells

By Neil Dorgan
April 17 2020, 20.25

For the first time since the second world war, bell ringing has been suspended across the UK following the introduction of social distancing measures, due to coronavirus.

Kingston Bell Ringers

For the 20 members of the Kingston Bell Ringers, aged between 40 and 86, it has stalled their continuation of an almost 500-year-old tradition of bell ringing at the All Saints Church. 

Social distancing has also curtailed the weekly customs of visiting one member’s house for coffee and meeting in the Druid’s Head pub on Market Place.

Kate Flavell, a New Malden resident since 1978, has been ringing for 55 years and met her husband, Paul Flavell, tower captain of Kingston Bell Ringers, through her favourite hobby.

“I do enjoy the ringing and that is good fun, but it wouldn’t mean as much if I didn’t get on with the people that we ring with, and we couldn’t have a session in the pub afterwards, or go for a coffee,” said Mrs Flavell, tower secretary of Kingston Bell Ringers.

“It is a very sociable thing so social distancing is a complete nightmare.”

The Kingston Bell Ringers have a busy calendar of social events, including an annual dinner, summer barbeque and outing and compete in striking competitions across the country against other bell ringers.

As part of reciprocal tradition, bell ringers across the country are welcomed with open arms into other groups, if they happen to be visiting or on holiday.

The group remain in contact through Mrs Flavell’s regular email updates, as not everyone has access to social media or video-conferencing technology, and coordinated a group toast to celebrate the clocks going forward. 

History of bell ringing

Bell ringing was last prohibited during the First and Second World Wars where a resumption of ringing was intended to signal a foreign invasion of British land. 

There were two exceptions granted before the ban on bell ringing was fully lifted during the Second World War in June 1943; to celebrate the Allied victory at Alamein on November 15, 1942, and on Christmas Day the same year. 

During the First World War, where 1,400 bell ringers lost their lives, the ban was lifted on November 23, 1917, when church bells rang out across the country in celebration of the British success at the Battle of Cambrai.

Bells were first installed in the church in the 16th century, but there has been a religious building on the site since at least the 9th century and it was where King Athelstan, who the majority of historians agree was the first King of England, was crowned in 925.

Learn to ring

It takes roughly 10 hours of practice to learn to how to ring and open lessons take place in the tower of All Saints Church every Wednesday evening from 7.45pm.

Mrs Flavell added: “We call it the original heavy metal – we make the biggest noise in the church and we let the whole world outside know that there is a church there and it is alive and active.” 

There may however be some who are currently enjoying a brief respite from the early Sunday morning bell services across the country.

The Lord Archbishop of York, speaking in the House of Lords on March 31 1943, said: “There are, of course, some people who hate bells and they will regard the silence of the bells as one of the only alleviating compensations of the war. But the great majority of people deplore the silence of the bells.”

Further details on the Kingston Bell Ringers can be found on their website:

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