The first ring of bells to be installed in Africa was hung in the Grahamstown Cathedral tower in 1879. The bells, an octave cast by John Warner and Sons in London, were supplied complete with fittings and with a frame of English oak.
The frame was assembled in the tower by local labour but not, apparently, in the way in which Warners had intended. Mr Galpin, a local clockmaker, had been employed by the town council to install the town clock in the Cathedral tower. He wished it to strike on bells other than those intended by Warners and modified the frame accordingly, placing one bell in a subsidiary frame raised above the other bells. As a result, seven of the eight bells swung in the same direction. This made the bells extremely difficult to ring and it is probable that they were only, initially, swung chimed. In 1887 it was reported that the joint of the bell frame " require tightening up throughout ".
In 1902 remedial work was undertaken on the bell frame and fittings and a band was in training under the tuition of a "Cape Town expert", Mr Stephens. In 1903 the ringers were "Mr Lancaster (Captain), Dr Drury, Messrs G. Barnes, Charles Cory, Huntly and Walker". Unfortunately the bell frame still gave trouble and ringing ceased in 1913.
In 1959 "Mr Eardley from Stoke-on-Trent ... fitted new ropes" and undertook sufficient maintenance to enable four bells to be rung. In 1968 a change ringing band was formed under the tuition of Paul Spencer, who had learned to ring at Armitage Bridge in Yorkshire, and Bill Jackson, who had learned at Dalton-in-Furness in Lancashire.
In 1993, supported by Rhodes University, the bells were rehung in a new steel frame donated by Koch's Cut and Supply Steel Centre of Pinetown, Durban, with new headstocks provided by Eayre and Smith (Overseas) Ltd. The frame was designed by Dr Ray Ayres with pits for ten bells and was assembled in the tower by local labour guided by Dave Webster of Eayre and Smith and by Colin Lewis.
The first peal on the bells was rung on 17 December 1995, conducted by Alan Regin in 3 hours and 12 minutes: Cambridge Surprise Major. In 1997 two trebles, cast the previous year in London at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, were added to the ring. The first peal on the ten was rung on 4 April 1998, conducted by Timothy G. Pett in 3 hours 19 minutes: Cambridge Surprise Royal. By the end of 2000, five peals and 27 quarter-peals had been rung on the bells.
The Cathedral ringers practise from 17.15-18.30 on Thursdays, with a beginners' practice on silenced bells from 17.00-18.00 on Mondays during University term. Sunday ringing is normally from 18.00-18.55. The band presently ring call-changes and Plain Bob Doubles. Recruits are urgently needed, since some of the band are University students who will soon, inevitably, leave Grahamstown. Some of the students are reading for the Certificate in Change Ringing offered by Rhodes University.
The Cathedral band also ring at Hillandale, some 10 km from Grahamstown, where there is a light-weight ring of four bells at the Monastery of the Order of the Holy Cross that was installed in 1999. Ringing there is under the direction of the Cathedral Ringing Master. By the end of July 2001, four quarter-peals had been rung at Hillandale, all by the Cathedral band.
If you are interested in reading a fuller description of the fascinating topic of bell ringing go to http://www.cccbr.org.uk and click on "What is change ringing?"
Visit the Web site of the South African Guild of BellRingers