Buckfast Abbey Millennium Festival

To those of us closely associated with this festival it had been long anticipated and in the end it was all, or more, than we could have hoped for. The small team involved was given a little taster at our final meeting prior to the Exhibition but the Abbey staff kept the final details under wraps. It was, therefore, quite exciting to arrive on the first day to see the final shape of the exhibition. Much time and thought had gone into it and all were delighted with the final result.

A last-minute change of plan proved to be inspirational as Paul Hext had erected his Bowerdon Peal mini-ring in the main marquee (with only millimetres to spare!!) and this proved the centrepiece to the exhibition. The Abbey has a vast collection of Archive material including many photographs which were displayed to great effect. Other innovations included a large chart with comparative weights of the bells on it. As an example - Hozanna (Bourdon bell) weighing in at seven and a half tons was equivalent to an Elephant plus a Rhino plus a Bear plus a lion!! All these were imaginatively illustrated. There was also a life-size cut-out of Hozanna so that "Bellfies" could be taken next to the great bell.

The exhibition ran daily from 10.00 until 4.00 for the week before the main festival and a rota of ringers acted as stewards, and what a great job they all did! From explaining how a bell works through teaching people to ring the mini ring to answering endless questions they presented a really positive image of ringing and ringers. We thank them all for a wonderful job. By the Friday the exhibition was really in full swing and creating a real buzz. That afternoon a band turned up, led by Robert Brown who proceeded to ring a full peal of Cambridge S. Minor on the Bowerdon peal. This created much interest among the visitors and towards the end was filmed by the BBC Spotlight team who then ascended the tower where a group of volunteers manned the bells for more filming. The resultant short item that evening, including an interview with Father Christopher, gave the Festival wonderful publicity.

A rainy Saturday was not what we had hoped for, but it did not seem to dampen spirits too much. By then the exhibition had been augmented by the Frank Mack ring (in its own small marquee) and several gazebos containing various trade stalls. Another marquee contained activities with a bell theme aimed at children. A programme of ringing had been put together with groups booking half-hour slots throughout the day. These got underway promptly at 10.00 when a member of the Harvey family gave the signal to start the ringing. Sir Robert Harvey was the original donor of the bells. Quite a party of celebrities had climbed the Tower including the Abbot. He had been very enthusiastic about the Festival and visited the exhibition several times.

It was felt that it was not feasible for the public to visit the tower so more stewards were on duty at the base of the tower and in the ringing room to ensure only experienced ringers manned the bells. Screens had been set up so that anyone interested could watch the ringers and bells in action. This proved very popular, possibly as somewhere to shelter from the rain! One of these screens was in the Schiller Hall where an enthusiastic group of handbell tune ringers gave workshops and a very large exhibition of Handbell tune ringing. On the hour a short concert was given by the Jolly Jinglers from Modbury. A bar and Barbeque catered for refreshments as well as the Grange – all of whom did a roaring trade. A break was taken at Lunch time and this was followed by The Big Ring. A flare was set off from the top of the Abbey Tower and at this signal both the Abbey Bells and those at nearby Holy Trinity church rang a simultaneous Call change Peal. The mini-rings were kept busy throughout the day and very many people had their first taste of ringing.

At 3.30 an invited band rang a service touch before the celebration service in the Abbey. Ian Avery had assembled his ringers' choir (usually in evidence at the Carol service) and they led the singing. Lester Yeo had put together a suitable service and he and Father Christopher (one of the monks who had learned to ring many years ago) led us in prayer and praise. He also gave us an insight into the early days of the ringing activities of the monks including the number of times they were expected to climb the tower steps to carry out their duties. He is the very proud recipient of a Guild Certificate! Following the service the local Call change band rang all twelve bands and they were soon augmented by other ringers anxious to ring these wonderful bells.

It is always difficult to gauge how well a project like this has fared. Its main aim was to educate and encourage recruitment – did we succeed? We do not know, but many people went away with a much enhanced knowledge about bells and ringers. "There is much more to it than I expected!" was a common reaction. We must thank the boundless enthusiasm of Geoff Pring, Alison Gagg and Anna Harris of Buckfast Abbey and all the many ringers who gave their time so enthusiastically. Will there be another one? You never know!

Fame indeed! We made it to the front page of the Ringing World for Aug 31st!!
There are some excellent photos at Buckfast Abbey website.  Click here