The Woodhouse Ringing Machine

George Woodhouse

An elderly gentleman used to sit in the front window of number 2 Highfield Villas, Sedbergh, knitting industriously. It was Mr George Fraser Woodhouse, affectionately known as "Bobby Woodhouse" because of his great interest in bell ringing and the frequent use of the term 'bob' major or minor etc. used in it. He was tower captain at Sedbergh for many years, and, during the War when the bells had to be silent, he continued to teach his campanology pupils with the bells tied. He watched them ringing and could remember every mistake made and told them about it in no uncertain terms. He gave all the learners pages of typewritten lists of numbers for Bob Major, Bob Minor, etc. When a new member of the team passed his or her proficiency test, he either knitted them a pullover, the front of which bore an intricate design in relation to the bells, or made them a beautiful miniature brass bell in position in a tower with stays, rope and sally, in complete working order. During the War every minute he could spare in his busy life he spent knitting pullovers for the troops.

Inventor and Engineer

In 1897 Woodhouse was appointed to Sedbergh School as a Science Master. As well as being an inspirational teacher, he was also a talented inventor and engineer. He devoted much of his spare time over many years to the production of a Ringing Machine which could produce changes on a set of static hand - bells. During the course of his life, he produced eight different models, each one an improvement on its predecessor. He invented a ringing machine which could be programmed to ring plain courses and touches of even the most complex of methods. During his later years, method splicing was gaining in popularity, and so he decided to adapt his macine to ring "spliced" and thus go one step better than John Carter (Carter Ringing Machine) with whom he had been in friendly rivalry.

Moving On

The machine was referred to in the Ringing World (18 March 1938) as follows:

"Mr G.F. Woodhouse's machine grows more wonderful than ever. His latest development is the provision of a double panel, by which the mechanism for one method can be set, whilst another is being rung. As a result, the machine can produce spliced method ringing. We have received from Mr. Woodhouse the diagram of a touch of nine leads, made up of Bristol, Ealing, Cambridge, Bristol, Ealing, London, Bristol, Superlative and London Surprise."

Bobby Woodhouse died in 1957 and bequeathed his books, his designs and his No. 8 machine to the Lancashire Association. At that time, however, although the principle on which it worked was still sound, many of its moving parts had become worn and its working was, consequently, unreliable. Custody of the machine passed to Gordon Thwaites of Kentmere near Kendal. During the next 5 years, he completely stripped down the machine, re-made many parts and introduced several improvements - notably an electric drive and the use of electro-magnetic relays (the original machine was operated by hand.

Present Day

The present machine is a combination of G.F.Woodhouse's ingenuity and inventive ideas and Gordon Thwaites' understanding, skill and craftsmanship. In recognition of his work, Gordon was made an Honorary Vice President of the Lancashire Association.

Keith Hackney