The Woodhouse Change Ringing Machine

When I first became interested in the Carter Ringing Machine I soon became aware that it was not the only mechanical device capable to change ringing. George Woodhouse, a science master at Sedbergh School had also made one. His dates from a little later than Carter, sometime in the 1930's. See the Ringing World, 18th March, 1938, for a breif report on his progress.

After making enquiries I discovered that the machine was 'resting' in Broughton-in-Furness, and was able to make a visit in 2011, courtesy of its custodian. Most of my photos of the machine date from that first visit. Unfortunately, we were unable to see it working at that time, and a further visit, this time in Sebergh Church, had a similar outcome.

When he died, Mr Woodhouse bequeathed the machine to The Lancashire Association who appoint five Trustees to manage and maintain the machine. Recently there was a vacancy, in fact three vacancies, for Trustees, and I was fortunate to be appointed as one of them. A major development is that the machine has now been placed in the church in Sedbergh. A custom-built cabinet was designed so that the machine can now be seen by anyone visiting the church. The machine is currently working well and is occasionally demonstrated.

Some details

The machine was actually the last in a series of machines which Woodhouse built. This is believed to be number 8! The machine has a set of eight small bells, similar to those used by the Carter machine. These are mounted in a small cabinet. The bells are rung electrically, with a cable to connect them to the machine.

In order to keep track of which bells should ring at which point, there are eight sliding bars, one for each bell. These have a contact spring at the end which presses on eight bars which determine the order of ringing. Initially, the bars are positioned so that the bells ring in rounds. A subtle mechanism, which needs to be seen to understand, manages to make the bars slide left or right depending on the method being rung.

The method is defined by a keyboard which rests across the front of the machine. Rows of buttons can be depressed in order to select the changes to be made. I undestand that an earlier version had a rotating drum at the front, and this had pegs, rather like an outsize musical box to determine which places were to change. This was conveyed mechanically to the device which moves the bars. In the machine as it now is, the buttons operated contacts below the keyboard and the changes are made by solenoids which determine which bells will change places. The original machine was set up to indicate changes, which the present machine does the opposite - it indicates which bells should make places, which, for those unfamiliar with ringing jargon, means that they do not change. Any which are not making places must exchange with an adjacent bells in the order of ringing.

While the machine is operating, the keyboard moves left or right to bring another row of buttons over the contact mechanism. Additional buttons are located at the rear of the keyboard to determine the limits of motion. When these are reached, the mechanism for moving the keyboard reverses and the keyboard returns to the starting point, where it can also reverse and repeat the sequence of changes. This covers a wide range of ringing methods provided the sequence of changes is symmetrical about a mid-point. This is a restriction on the methods that the machine can ring without manual intervention, but not a great one as most methods fall into the symmetrical category.

The machine can be driven by hand. A small handle fits into a shaft on the front of the machine and when rotated clockwise with sound the bells in sequence. On occasions the machine has been known to jam, and this can usually be undone by reversing the direction briefly. Once the method is thought to be set up correctly, the handle can be removed and an electric motor, with reduction gear, can be slotted into the drive shaft to provide a steady ringing speed.

Photos of the machine can be found here.

Page Created by Bill Purvis. Last update 24th May, 2017
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