Long Statton church bells to celebrate Christmas Eve

The bells of ST Mary's Church in Long Stratton will ring for the 61st year in a Christmas Eve tradit

The bells of ST Mary's Church in Long Stratton will ring for the 61st year in a Christmas Eve tradition that's unique.Pictured are bell ringers Elisabeth Spry and Matthew Thornton. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

For 60 years they have resonated over a Norfolk village as a call to prayer on Christmas Eve in a ceremony unique in this country.

And now the bellringers at St Mary's Church in Long Stratton are preparing for a marathon session on Thursday that will see residents' ears perk up at the familiar seasonal chimes.

From 10am a full peal of six bells in the church's round tower will be performed with the half dozen bell ringers expected to spend two hours and 45 minutes completing 5,040 pattern changes each.

The annual ceremony was started on Christmas Eve 1955 by William Duffield and the enduring tradition is thought to be unique to St Mary's Church.

Elisabeth Spry, assistant priest and head of the church's bell ringers, said: 'As far as we know no other church tries to do this on Christmas Eve.

'William Duffield thought it would be a nice way to celebrate Christmas Eve and it has carried on from there.

'It is a call to people to worship. As Dorothy Sayers said, it is the one loud noise made to the glory of God.'

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She said the hardest part of bellringing was the concentration needed to maintain the changes and patterns of the bells and added it was 'good for the midriff'.

The oldest bell, numbered four, in the church dates back to 1320 and in 1904 the sixth bell was added – leading to the first full peal on May 13, 1905.

Heather Wilcox, rector of St Mary's Church said: 'The bells just make people aware of the church and many do look forward to hearing them every Christmas Eve.'

There are eight regular bellringers at the church, with the latest recruit being a boy aged 11.

Another member is Matthew Thornton, 28 and a charity worker whose grandfather John Dowe used to ring the bells at Wymondham Abbey.

He said: 'It is good for team building and I like the history side of it.'

Anyone interested in joining the St Mary's Church bellringers can visit the group practice sessions on Mondays between 7.30pm and 9pm.

Is your group or organisation carrying on an unusual tradition? Email anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk