Project Pickled Egg - Part 9

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Bristol Surprise Major

Last week the larder had a good clear-out, and the stuff at the back, long past its sell by date and going a bit mouldy, has gone to make way for nice new ingredients! The next to go in is neither radical nor surprising though – Bristol Major is the method equivalent of sugar.

As with Superlative, in the early consultation there wasn’t a bad word said about Bristol. The list of plus points could have gone on forever so we left it at the following:

• It is a classic on all numbers

• Musical in the plain course with a pleasing line

• Composition-friendly so helps composers produce a great range of compositions

• As an MX method, it is useful in short touches of Spliced

• Coursing bells working closely together helps ropesight and helps the conductor

• Bristol becomes the most useful thing to ring on 12 so it is worth seeing early

Last week I introduced the concept of different lead end orders and their notation with letters. Cambridge, Yorkshire and Superlative are all b group methods, while Cornwall is l (as in l for leather). Bristol is defined as mx, i.e. an 8ths place method with 8ths place bell becoming 6ths place bell. mx methods have the ‘repeating lead’ feature - when a bob is called all the bells above where the bob is made dodge at the lead end, then go back and ring the same lead again.

This has a number of good practical effects. Firstly, if you have a lead with some roll ups in, calling a bob at the end of the lead means you get those roll ups again – you will see lots of Bristol Major compositions which have bobs in pairs, many of which will be repeating musical features. Secondly, repeating the lead means all those bells have another chance to practice that lead and perhaps get it right! Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly at this stage, if you call three consecutive bobs the touch comes round, with bells 5 to 8 all doing the same lead three times, while 2 3 and 4 all ring the front work. The front work isn’t too taxing either as two leads are the reverse of each other, either side of the symmetrical pivot, and none of them goes above fourths place. This is a great help for people wanting to learn and practise Bristol as it can be done in bite-sized chunks. There is a relatively low entry point in terms of what you need to learn to participate, and a high reward for having done so.

Those relatively new to Surprise Major learning gave me a few useful and interesting observations on Bristol. Knowledge of Stedman was considered an advantage – that would introduce the ‘Stedman whole turn’ work which appears a lot in Bristol, the concept of doing a point (single blow in a place and then change direction) which would otherwise be new, and wrong hunting. Perhaps that’s why Bristol Major was rung so long ago by ringers used to practising Stedman and Kent? Many thought that the line of Bristol was quite difficult to get to grips with for various reasons, and it is a line that is difficult to get back onto once you have fallen off it (essentially it is easier to get right in a set of places or a dodge than in a fluid mix of wrong hunting, points, etc.), especially if the conductor is using terminology that is unfamiliar.

Although not a primary consideration for Project Pickled Egg, Bristol is a method which not only extends logically (by that I mean it is what your average ringer would expect the line to be at each stage), but extends to produce decent methods on all numbers. On 10, opinions vary as to whether London or Bristol is best (I am a London man), however on 12 bells Bristol Maximus is the undisputed king. On more bells than 12, Bristol’s dominance becomes even greater – you may be surprised to know that there have been about 35 peals of Bristol Sixteen, compared with only four of Cambridge!

The structure of Bristol only really starts to be clear when you ring it on more bells. For instance when you learn Bristol Major, you will see that 3rds place bell has two Stedman whole turns, one in lead and one in 4ths place, nicely symmetrical and mirroring the pair of Stedman whole turns that appear at the start of 6ths and 7ths place bells. Those bits of work are actually being driven by a structure that sees bells plain hunt for three blows immediately after the lead end and half lead, do a point at handstroke, and then wrong hunt in the other direction (as amended by some other rules). Similarly there is wrong hunting to a backstroke point three blows before the half lead and lead end. Bristol on higher numbers is just like Bristol Major but padded out with dodges between these points, and a set of rules governing how you pass the treble. In some ways this makes Major the hardest stage to ring Bristol on because you get all the rules and none of the padding!

There are a few suggestions for the ‘try also’ section alongside Bristol. One method which will be familiar to at least 1,000 ringers is Double Dublin, which comes before Bristol in Norman Smith’s peal composition of 23-spliced. This is a slightly more static variant of Bristol, introducing triple fishtails (I have always called them whale’s tails) in 12 and 78 instead of the Stedman work. Dublin does the same but only above the treble. The top pick for a ‘try also’ though is Frodsham. Frodsham is Bristol above the treble, offers different music below (arguably easier depending on how you learn methods) and offers straightforward and musical peal and quarter peal compositions. We had considered Essex for a main entry in Project Pickled Egg, which is used in Chandler’s 23, but it didn’t add enough, so putting in the less well-known Frodsham as a ‘try also’ is better.

Bristol’s inclusion in Project Pickled Egg is assured. In reviewing it at this stage in the series I am not necessarily suggesting it fits in some preferred order of learning, although I think it could be learned earlier than 7th or 8th which is probably typical of those learning the old Standard 8. There is no doubt that learning Bristol is a big jump – more explanation as to how it works and fits together would help Bristol’s undoubted rewards to come more easily.