Bells ring out for Pancake Day in Norfolk market town

An ancient Pancake Day tradition was revived in Dereham this morning with the ringing of the St Nicholas Church bells.

It is thought that the Shrove Tuesday bells would have been rung as far back as the Middle Ages to call the community to church to confess their sins ahead of Lent and to tell the housewives to use up their rich foods including the eggs, milk and butter ahead of the fasting period.

Six ringers rang a traditional round at 11am, a custom they started up again for the first time last year.

Gordon Barker, historian and bell supporter whose wife Celia is a ringer, said he thought the 'pancake bells' tradition would have probably died out around the beginning of the 20th century.

'People started to get their own timepieces and had clocks in their homes so they would not have relied so much on the bells to tell them the time of day,' he said.

'We learned about the tradition from the diaries of a former rector Dr Armstrong in the 19th century.'

The bells are thought to be some of the most powerful in Norfolk and can be heard at least two miles away. It was no mean feat keeping them in time, but with tower captain Bill Dingle giving a few words of advice the bells rang out a tuneful melody.

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Mr Barker said: 'Norfolk was the cradle of bell ringing with many of the earliest bell ringers creating the methods we use today. It takes a lot of practice to get it right but a real expert can make it look easy.'