The art of handbell ringing has found the ideal home for its historic archive at the University of Huddersfield’s Heritage Quay.

The Huddersfield area was once home to some of the world’s best handbell ringers, and now a fascinating collection of artefacts dating back centuries will be housed at the facility in the University’s Schwann Building.

The collection comes courtesy of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain (HRGB), having been spread out around homes and storage facilities until now and is on display until 5 August in the first-ever national exhibition devoted to tune-ringing on handbells.

“It is a major step forward for us,” says Alan Hartley from HRGB. “It means that the archive is being looked after properly in a controlled environment, rather than houses or storage facilities. It is also available to the public. Before we were formed in 1967, there was very little information and some of the information was in danger of being lost but in Heritage Quay it is available to everybody.

“As soon as I realised there was a possibility of coming to the University of Huddersfield, it seemed the right place. Teams from Crosland Moor, Honley, Woodroyd, Shelley and Almondbury used to dominate handbell ringing competitions, and the area was full of handbell ringing teams. The stars seem to have aligned for us.”

An event on 8 July, ‘Handbells at Heritage Quay’ will celebrate both the exhibition and the collection. It will include a performance by the Clifton Handbell Ringers, a look behind the scenes at Heritage Quay, and a chance to have a go at ringing.

Some of the collection will be on display at Heritage Quay until 5 August. It includes a handbell dating back to around 1700, the trophy presented to winners of the Belle Vue competition in Manchester from 1855 until 1926 and many examples of the unique way in which music is written for handbell ringers.

As many ringers do not read music, tunes are written as sequences of numbers, letters, boxes or as a full score. This means that handbell ringing can be accessible to a wide range of people, and the range of music that HRGB plays epitomises this.

Sheffield's Ecclesfield handbell ringers demonstrate the 'Yorkshire style' of off-the-table handbell ringing.

Tunes by Bach, Elgar, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Coldplay are among the many played at events throughout the year.

“We enjoy promoting HRGB by playing in care homes, churches, WI events and lots of smaller events,” adds Alan. “There are many Christmas events of course, and we constantly have to explain that handbell ringing is not just for Christmas!

“Some of the bigger teams have sets of around 140 handbells, and we have put together regional teams in areas including East Anglia, the south-east, the northern region that consist of around 40 players ringing three or four sets of handbells plus other instruments to make a small orchestra.”

The collection also includes material on the foundries that have made handbells, collated by handbell expert Bill Butler that could form the basis of further research into the subject.

Dr Rebecca Bowd, University Archivist says, “We are delighted that the HRGB have chosen Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield as the permanent home for their archive.

With its local roots, this national collection is an important addition to our music collections, which also include the Brass Bands Archive, and the British Dance Band Collection. These collections are a rich resource for anyone wanting to research the role of music in the development of working-class cultural identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“We look forward to welcoming researchers and members of the public interested in exploring this and any other aspects of HRGB’s archive to Heritage Quay, and to working with HRGB to develop the archive in the future.”


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