The Indispensible route to better ringing
The Wombel ("one bell!") campanile was designed as a high quality, portable, light-weight framework which can easily be carried around on a pair of simple roof bars and, together with a Saxilby Simulator unit, taken to schools, fairs, etc. in order to raise the profile of ringing by allowing an initial hands-on experience.
Peter Dale did amazing work using the Wombel to promote ringing in Kent and wrote the following Wombeling in Kent article which appeared in The Ringing World on August 4th, 2006.
Wombeling in Kent
Visitors to the Newbury Roadshow would have found it difficult to miss, standing nearly 12ft tall in a prime position by a main entranceway. Throughout the day there was a steady queue of ringers waiting to try it, so it wasn’t until the very end that I had a chance of a few pulls on it. By then the computer was shut down and its keepers were hovering, waiting to dismantle it. Little did I realise how familiar it would become to me.
I am referring to the prototype of the Saxilby Simulator, which, together with its unique supporting framework, has been christened “Wombel”, an onomatopoeic form of “one-bell”, although the little furry mascot attached to it encourages the obvious misspelling.
Now, having assembled it at ten locations during the last two months, I probably know as much about the Wombel as anyone, excepting of course it creator and owner, David Horrocks. Six more of his Saxilby Simulator units in the form of a complete “ring” were also in constant use at the Newbury Roadshow.
The Wombel came to The Cinque Ports Ringing Centre in Dover on Heather’s suggestion. We were about to start a bell club at the church primary school in Dover and the Wombel is ideal for this, with its remarkably realistic action and benign reaction to mishandling. Brian Butcher, Kent bell restoration officer, and I collected it in early April from Geoff Horritt, a member of the Education Committee, who had been using it at Sandon in Hertfordshire.
The attention to detail in the Wombel’s design and construction is immediately evident. The main wheel unit fits snugly into an estate car and the three large sections of support framework, together with four long bracing struts, are easily lifted on to a roof rack. The small top platform, a pair of bell-shaped weights, two computer shelves and a box of fittings complete the load. The ease and accuracy with which it all fits together is remarkable. Our first effort at assembly and trial use was on my driveway, and provided an intriguing diversion for some builders working on a neighbour’s roof.
Debut in Kent
This was a useful practice run for the Wombel’s debut in Kent, on Easter Monday at Benenden, on the occasion of the Kent County Association AGM. Here, as at Roadshow, it was on display to an appreciative audience of ringers. All those who tried it were unanimous in their praise of the “feel” of its action, and several copies of the Saxilby Simulator promotional leaflet were taken. This was to be the only specialist demonstration of the Wombel during its stay with us, the target audience at most of the other venues being the general public.
St Mary’s primary school in Dover had invited the Ringing Centre to present an assembly about bells, after which we used the Wombel to give the older children a chance to try bell ringing. The local press published photographs of the event and Radio Kent interviewed me, and some of the children. Clearly the Wombel has public-relations potential as powerful as its teaching capabilities.
The churchyard of St Peter, Bekesbourne, on the following Saturday was an outdoor venue. The bells and organ had just recently undergone restoration, and the Wombel was there to promote ringing at an open day on
the eve of the re-dedication service. Four new recruits and two instructors have since started training there. Another church appearance on the following Sunday was to support the launch of an appeal at St Mary, Eastry. This will be a major project, augmenting the five to an octave.
Ringing for the diners
Two weeks later the Wombel was to have been an outdoor attraction at Quex Park, the Powell-Cotton estate and home to the twelve bells of the Waterloo Tower. Alas, the weather was uncertain so a last-minute change of plan meant the activity took place in the restaurant, while Sunday carvery was in full progress. The vaulted ceiling gave us just enough headroom, but it was a close thing missing the fluorescent light!
St Stephen’s, Canterbury, “looked after” the Wombel for a few days. This was half-term week for the young ringers and it was good to see the equipment being used in the teaching role for which it is intended. From there we took it back to Dover and another public relations exercise, with some brief television news coverage by BBC South East. We had been allowed two days to stage an audio-visual exhibition of bells and bell ringing in the foyer of the Dover Library and Adult Education Centre complex.
This is an appropriate point to describe what’s involved in erecting the Wombel. The supporting framework is reminiscent of a Meccano kit. Everything required is supplied with it, including tools and a little pot of nuts and bolts. Two people can bolt it together easily in forty minutes, or less if one of them is familiar with it. Four long bolts then secure the Saxilby Simulator unit to the top of the framework, and the bell weights are bolted on to the wheel, one on each side.
I should observe that assembly is carried out with the Wombel lying on its side. We proved to ourselves the folly of trying to fit just the weights when it was upright; lifting the whole wheel unit so high is unthinkable. Five strong people are needed to heave the machine upright. The end sections of the supporting framework then double as ladders, allowing someone to climb up to screw the sensor to the wheel frame, and attach the little furry Womble mascot. David’s attention to detail even goes so far as to provide a picture file on disk for Abel to display the Wombel’s sally colours of black, red, and gold.
After the disappointment at Bridge, lack of headroom might easily have been a problem again on the Saturday had it not been for some glorious weather. St Martin’s, Chelsfield, church fête was the Wombel’s last appearance in Kent, on the outfield of the village cricket ground. There I left it in Jim Rooke’s capable hands, before its return journey to Sandon with Geoff Horritt on the following day.
In retrospect I wonder how the Ringing Centre managed to get so deeply involved. Our original intention was to use the Wombel only at St Mary's Primary School. When Heather told us it was available for two months it seemed like a good idea to make the most of it, and things just snowballed. The benefit of our efforts to the Exercise as a whole is hard to assess, but we presented ringing to more people, more vividly, with an ease and flexibility than has ever been possible before.
In my view the Wombel, or rather the Saxilby Simulator unit that it uses, is the best equipment on the current market for promoting ringing. The novel stay/slider design makes it an exceptionally safe means of teaching bell-handling, and a training platform par excellence when used with programs such as Abel and Beltower.
We at the Cinque Ports Ringing Centre consider ourselves very lucky to have been given the opportunity to take it into four of the six Districts in the Kent County Association. The interest generated may well bring David some trade.
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Saxsim website last updated August 2021