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   This is an article I wrote with Philip Saddleton about Dixon's Bob Minor, the problems classifying it, and other rule-based constructions. Maxey Church
In the ringing room of the church at Maxey, a village a few miles north of Peterborough, there is a stone tablet which states that, on December 11th, 1863, "Mr Dixon's Peal of Bob Minor Variations was rung for the first time in this Belfry after being composed for 34 years in a masterly style". As no time or number of changes is given (unlike for two other peals mentioned on the same tablet), there is an ambiguity as to whether a full peal or just an extent was actually rung.

In "Dixon's" Bob Minor, all bells ring plain hunt, except that 2nds is made whenever the treble leads, as in plain bob, and 4ths is made whenever bells two or four lead. The plain course is 64 changes, and standard 14 and 1234 calls are used when the treble is leading to produce an extent.

To recreate the historic performance, a Cambridge University Guild band travelled to Maxey on December 29th 2001 and rang a peal of Dixon's Bob Minor.

Cambridge University Guild
Maxey, Cambridgeshire
Saturday 29 December 2001 in 2h56
5040 Dixon's Bob Minor
Composed by: A E Holroyd 1,3,5,7(Queens'),
P A B Saddleton 2,4,6(Trinity)

1)A J W Tibbetts (C) (St Catharine's)
2)I J Wells (Corpus Christi)
3)J E Galloway (New Hall)
4)S C Farrar (Jesus)
5)P J Earis (Clare)
6)J D Shanklin (Magdalene)

Believed to be the first peal of Dixon's Bob Minor.
100th Peal: 4

The Classification Problem
Dixon's Bob minor is not easy to classify. Unlike all methods, it cannot really be described by a place-notation. In Dixon's, different leads have different numbers of changes, depending on the relative positions of bells two and four: a lead may have between 8 and 16 changes. The Central Council requirements for methods state that a method is defined by the places made between successive rows of its plain course, divisible into equal parts called leads; clearly Dixon's doesn't qualify as a method under the current rules.

The peal board in Maxey Church.  Click for the full-size high resolution picture.It cannot be considered a plain bob, with bobs made whenever bells two or four lead, as this does not conform to the decisions on calls, since a call "is effected by altering the places made between two consecutive rows, without altering the length of a lead". However, there is a historical precedent breaking this rule: in Clavis Campanalogia (1788), there is a 720 by John Holt with three extra bobs affecting the treble, to give a bobs-only extent.

There are nine possible leads in Dixon's, of which three are symmetrical (and could be regarded as Little Bob, Single Court and Yaxley Alliance), and three asymmetric pairs. Each of these has a five-lead course, and can be considered as a method, except for the pair where two and four are in 26 or 36 at the lead-head. Here, the treble dodges once in the lead, giving a six-lead course and an out of course lead-head. With a 14 lead-head, these each give the same symmetric method with two hunt-bells. The Central Council decision states that, "Compositions in more than one method in which the change of method occurs at the lead-head and/or the half-lead shall be called 'spliced'." Is it permissible to have the lead-head in a different place in different leads of the same method? Or to have two methods with the same place-notation, but starting in a different place in each? Whilst Dixon's may be able to be classified as 'spliced' under the current decisions, it hardly accurately and elegantly represents what was rung.

Under the current decisions, Dixon's could be described as an extent of Original Minor, with three types of calls (12, 14 and 1234), and silent calls being used whenever bells two, four, or the treble (at plain leads) were leading. However, this is not what we rang. Extending this logic, Plain Bob Minor should be considered as Original Minor with silent 12 calls when the treble leads.

What we rang, despite being a true extent, certainly does not fit easily into the current requirements. Unlike nearly everything rung before, it is rule-based rather than method-based. How should Dixon's Bob Minor, and other rule-based constructions be categorised? Furthermore, is the current requirement that a peal should be rung in methods really necessary?

Expansion of the rule-based construction
Dixon's is just one example of what can be defined as a rule-based construction: the feature being that the transition from one row to the next depends upon the particular row, and not simply the number of rows that have been rung. There is not necessarily a dichotomy here: methods with a hunt-bell can be defined by the work done relative to the hunt, and many of the rules by which we learn and ring methods are based on what the treble is doing. Many ringers ring plain bob solely by dodging when the treble leads, for example.

When it comes to composition, the Q-set laws mean that often it is easier to learn a rule for constructing a composition rather than the order of the calls (certainly it helps if the conductor can work out from the current rows or coursing order where in the composition he is). A few examples:

  • The standard 720 of treble dodging Minor: a call is made whenever 5 is affected, and 6 not. This is related to 60 Grandsire Doubles, which can be considered as Original with bobs whenever 5 is affected, and 1 not. The extent of Grandsire obtained by doubling this with singles appears in Tintinnalogia, and would appear to pre-date the plain course.

  • Simon Humphrey's peal of Lincolnshire S Major: there are several arrangements, but the simplest rule (for a 5376) is to call bobs at Wrong and Middle whenever 3 is unaffected, and singles at Home whenever 3 is affected, and not 2.

  • Spliced Triples: choose a different twin-hunt Triples method when each bell is in the hunt, and call a bob every lead. With the right methods this splits the extent into two blocks, one of 10 leads and one of 350, which can be joined with a pair of in-course singles.

  • Spliced Minor: 3-lead and 6-lead splices are used to replace leads where either a given pair of bells cross at the half-lead or one bell is the pivot respectively with others where these bells do the same work. By choosing five back works and five front works appropriately, and ringing each according to which bell is making 2nds at the lead-head or 5ths at the half-lead, a 720 can be obtained. This could be thought of as quarter-lead spliced in five methods, or half-lead spliced in 20.

    In all of these there is a hunt-bell that repeats its work throughout the composition. The difference with Dixon's is that the work of the treble varies according to the position of the other bells. This is what makes it difficult to reconcile with the current CC decisions.

    Maxey Church There have been attempts to extend the idea, but unless the rules are carefully chosen it can prove difficult to get something to work. Particularly on lower numbers, when an extent is required, it is desirable that the rows either side of a given row are unique: this should allow the extent to be split up into mutually true blocks, and so prevent any falseness problems. Some possibilities are:

  • At any even stage, x at handstroke, and places in 1z being made each backstroke, with z chosen according to the bell leading. For example, on eight bells, if 12 is made when the treble leads, 14 made when bells two, four or six lead and 16 made when seven leads, the plain-course is a true 5580 changes. Alternatively, places can be made according to the bell lying. In Reverse Dixon's, 56 is made when the treble lies, and 36 is made when three of five lie.

  • Add places at handstroke according to the position of the treble (e.g. Dixon's Grandsire Minor - 14 is made whenever two and four lead, and 36 the handstroke after the treble leads. An extent can be produced, but the plain course is not symmetric, and is in fact false).

  • (Double) At stage 4n+2, if places are made right then rows at hand and back have the same nature, followed by two of opposite nature: apply different rules at alternate backstrokes.

  • At stage 4n+3, rows are alternately in and out of course: choose the place made at handstroke according to the bell leading at backstroke, and the place made at backstroke according to the bell lying at handstroke.

  • At stage 4n+2, the treble does a treble-bob hunt (blows in the same place have opposite nature), and places are made according to which position the treble is in. Between dodges, a place is made according to which bell is leading. For example, on six bells, an extent is produced if at alternate backstrokes:

    A: Places are made in 34 unless treble is in 34, when places are made in 12.

    B: If treble is in 456 then places made in 14 if 5 or 6 is leading. If treble is in 123 places made in 36 if 6 is behind. Otherwise places made in 16.

    This would be a challenge to ring for any band!

    Because of the number different types of call required, and their frequency, it gets progressively more difficult to characterize these as Original, or any other method.