Project Pickled Egg - Part 2

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Where did the Standard 8 come from?

It is not entirely clear how the current Standard 8 came about. The first peal in these eight methods was at Brierley Hill in 1939, but it was very much a one-off. I have spoken to leading peal ringers who were ringing spliced in the 1960s and the Standard 8 was being rung then even if not referred to explicitly as such, other than by Wilfrid Williams, who was definitely remembered to have used the term. However others don’t remember the term at all. It may have been the publication of all-the-work compositions in the ‘60s and ‘70s by Noel (Jim) Diserens (1969) and PGK Davies (1975) in these methods, which gave them traction.

Going back a little, the Ringing World of 1941 contained an almost weekly discussion on the subject of the ‘Standard Methods’ (interspersed with reports of which towers in the City of London had been destroyed by enemy action). No reference is made to the Brierley Hill peal, and the discussion appears to have been prompted by the publication of the “Surprise Major Collection”, a book containing most of the methods known at the time. In an early article, the unnamed author says:

“I don’t pretend to explain why it is, but I fear too many of us are not enthusiastic as we might be. It may be due to inertia, which affects us all more or less, but I wonder how many good ringers have been lost because their home company refused to progress. What should we think of the musician who, year after year, played nothing but the same old tunes? But too often we are content with ringing the same old methods interminably., all unconscious of the fact that no matter what the art or subject may be, it can only be a living thing as long as it commands our interest.”

The standard methods of the time had become standard because they were the only methods available. This was not a larder with many ingredients – no place here for quinoa or edamame beans. Superlative and Cambridge started it off, with Yorkshire and Bristol also known. At this time London was considered to be the preserve of the experts, nevertheless, the phrase ‘Standard Four’ appears in the correspondence referring to CSL and B. Cambridge seems to only have achieved its place as a standard method because it was rung first. The first ingredient in the larder was still there, stuck down, with no one daring to check the sell by date on the jar.

Although the series of articles peters out before the end of 1941 without conclusion, it contains glimpses of the future. Cornwall is introduced as a new method which “seems to be the one best fitted to become a standard method”. The figures of Glasgow are presented as an example of the impossible!

Standard methods – Episodes II and III

Perhaps the most well-known attempt to find a different set of methods was the formulation of the “Nottingham 8” in the 1990s. The aim was to add more variety of lead-end orders and thus give more scope in composition. The Nottingham 8 added Cassiobury, Cornwall, Lessness and Glasgow to Pitman’s 4 (the common group name for CSL and be B based on AJ Pitman’s ground breaking compositions of the 1940s and 50s). It was first pealed in 1997, and has been many times since, but without really penetrating beyond the peal ringing community.

In a letter published in 2013, AJ Barnfield proposed a group of 12 “good methods and true” – Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Cooktown Orchid, Cornwall, Deva, Frodsham, Lessness, London, Superlative, Turramurra and Yorkshire. His aim was to provide an improved experience for ringers from increased variety and quality of the methods proposed, and he also saw the group as dynamic, changing gradually over time so as not to go stale.

Episode IV - A New Hope

I only scratched the surface of research into the origin of the Standard 8. I had hoped to find a defining moment, some plan that had brought it into existence, that might inform the job of replacing it, but I didn’t. Rather they seem to have just grown from the only methods that were around, and became embedded by habit and the production of compositions. That does nothing to enforce their status.

In Part 3 I will introduce the criteria that we have developed for selection of a core method. Unlike our forefathers, we do not need to start with the only ingredients available. Maybe the criteria will steer us towards the deli counter!