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The Bellringing

[ Roud 1515 ; trad.]

This song about a bell ringing contest in Devon comes from the collection Songs of the West by Sabine Baring-Gould; the author is unknown. Tony Rose recorded it in 1970 for his first album Young Hunting. A live recording from Cheltenham in 1971 was included in 2008 on his posthumous CD Exe, where it has the title Devon Bell-Ringing Song. Tony Rose commented in the original recording's sleeve notes:

The Bellringing, with its attractive tune based on the sound of the bells, is a song from the Baring-Gould collection Songs of the West. Broadwoodwidger, Ashwater and Northlew are all small villages near Broadbury Down, west of Dartmoor. I learned the song from Vic Legg of Bodmin.

Cyril Tawney sang The Bell-Ringing in 1970 on his album A Mayflower Garland. He commented in his sleeve notes:

An old Dartmoor farmer, William George Kerswell of Postbridge, gave the Rev. S. Baring-Gould this song in January 1890. “When sung by the old farmer over a great fire in the kitchens, his clear, robust voice imitating the bells produced an indescribable charm” says the collector. It is unfortunate that Mr. Kerswell was the sole source of this song as there seems to be a lack of agreement between Baring-Gould and his two musical collaborators Dr. Bussell and the Rev. Fleetwood Sheppard regarding the precise form of the tune. Furthermore, I have discovered that I myself, in the course of over ten years singing the song, have introduced my own variations.

The villages of Northlew, Ashwater and Broadwoodwidger are all in Devon, but close to the Cornish border. Thus the return contest is held near Launceston. How Callington gets into the act we are not sure. Baring-Gould suggests there were actually two return contests in the original song.

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes sang The Bell-Ringing in 2008 on their WildGoose CD Grand Conversation. They commented in their liner notes:

A beautiful song from Paul's home county of Devon. The church at Northlew has the words proudly displayed on the wall.

Lyrics

Tony Rose sings The Bellringing

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 naughty, 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.

Acknowledgements and Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Bellringing.

The lyrics are from the Digital Tradition via Garry Gillard. The variations in Tony Rose's actual singing were transcribed by Reinhard Zierke.