Handbell Ringing Worldwide

HRGB is a member of the International Handbell Committee (IHC) together with the national societies from America, Japan, Canada, Korea, Australasia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

An International Symposium is held every two years, hosted by a different country under the auspices of the IHC.  It is a great opportunity to network and form friendships with handbell musicians from around the world. 

The next Symposium will be held in Hamamatsu, Japan from 12th–17th August 2024

HRGB will be hosting the 22nd International Handbell Symposium in 2026.  

An interactive map showing handbell teams worldwide (particularly in countries with no central organising body).

Historians do not agree as to which was the first ringing band to perform before an American audience, or who was instrumental in bringing the first English handbell team to the USA but one most colorful story says that it was P. T. Barnum who introduced the Lancashire Bell Ringers.

From Barnum’s autobiography, “The Life of P. T. Barnum”:

“Having heard, while in London in 1844, of a company of ‘Campanalogians, or Lancashire Bell Ringers; perform in Ireland, I induced them to meet me in Liverpool, and there engaged them for an American tour. One of my stipulations was that they should suffer their moustaches to grow, assume a picturesque dress, and be known as the ‘Swiss Bell Ringers’. They at first objected, in the broad and almost unintelligible dialect of Lancashire, because, as they said, they spoke only the English language and could not pass muster on Swiss people; but the objection was withdrawn when I assured them that if they continued to speak in America, as they had just spoken to me, they might safely claim to be Swiss, or anything else and no one would be any the wiser.”

“Those seven men were really admirable performers, and by means of their numerous bells of various sizes, they produced the most delicious music. They attracted much attention in various parts of the United States, and in Cuba"

Barnum’s billing of this group as the “Swiss Bell Ringers” appears to be the source of the historical misnomer that handbells started in Switzerland and that bell choirs are Swiss in origin. During the height of the vaudeville era many professional handbell groups were active in North America. Such names as the Peak Family Bell Ringers, the Spauldings, the Sawyers, the Shipp Brothers, the Royal English Bell Ringers and other groups of “Swiss Bell Ringers” appeared on billboards across the land.

It was the increased demand for handbells for the vaudeville trade that brought American foundries into the business of producing them. From these early concert tours arose an interest in tune ringing and in the early part of the 20th century handbell teams (or choirs) were in evidence in both America and Australia.

The advent of the radio, cinema and TV, caused the demise of vaudeville and the “Swiss Bell Ringers” became history. It was not until Margaret Shurcliffe started the Christmas Eve tradition of ringing carols on Beacon Hill in 1926 that the first small spark of revival was lit. Her Beacon Hill Ringers were the first of a new generation of ringers which helped fire a new surge of interest in handbell ringing in the USA which has continued to burn brighter each succeeding year.

It was not until 1984 that the first International Symposium was convened in the USA with teams from America, Canada, Japan, Korea, Australia and the UK. By 1990, it was agreed that an International Handbell Committee constituted from the head of each Guild should meet at each Symposium to promote communication on handbell ringing across the countries. Since then Singapore and Hong Kong have joined the Committee.

Below: International conductors after the Liverpool Symposium: