There is a long history of bells being hung in the churches of Sussex, a number are still in existence that, although not dated, can with confidence be dated back to the thirteenth century. Gradually single bells were added to, and bell fittings were altered to give more control over the sounding of them. Bell foundries were established in Sussex to cast new bells for local churches due in part to the problems of transporting heavy goods any distance.
With more control of the bells, the order in which they sounded could be altered and so change ringing was born. Dating back to the sixteenth century there are numerous records of payment for ringers across Sussex, from Bosham and Pagham in the west to Bodiam and Hailsham in the east. New rings of bells were cast to provide the musical instruments for change ringing to be practised upon.
Some of the methods being rung would be familiar to ringers today. The first peal of 5040 changes by Sussex ringers was completed at Horsham in 1766. This was Grandsire Triples and it is possible that over thirty years earlier this method was being practised in Chichester. In those days bellringing was seen very much as a secular sport to be carried out by the upper class tradesman of the town. This was the case right into the nineteenth century, however things were already changing. The Oxford Movement was developing and this resulted in more control being taken by the clergy over the bells hung in churches. This led to the formation of ringing societies up and down the country, however Sussex lagged a few years behind the pioneers. The situation was soon to be rectified.
At Brighton the formation of a Sussex ringing society had been discussed but had got no further than just talk. The catalyst was the installation of a new ring of bells at St Peter’s church in Brighton, and one of those taught to ring was George Attree. He was a well-connected business man in the town and through his endeavours our present Association was formed. He called a meeting at Brighton in December 1884 and the Sussex County Association of Change Ringers was officially formed in January 1885. The Association had 251 members from 25 towers across Sussex, and George Attree was the first secretary. The Bishop of Chichester was president; there was initially no master.
Many bellringers from Sussex have served in the armed forces. Those who never returned from the First World War are commemorated in the Roll of Honour.
Today, the Association has about 1,300 members ringing at 139 towers. The aims of the modern association are similar to those when it was first formed. The SCACR has survived and evolved to meet changing times and needs. It is in a strong position to continue supporting and promoting bellringing in Sussex into the future.
David Kirkaldy (Master of the SCACR 2010-2013) has written a book about the first 125 years of the association: "The Sussex County Association of Change Ringers - 1885-2010".