Bells have been used for centuries in different countries, cultures and religions, to communicate, to worship, to celebrate and to make music. In ancient Greece and Rome, in China and in Egypt bells were used in many religious ceremonies and to announce different times of the day. Many of the handbell teams existing in the UK today started in the church tower.
In the 17th century the art of change ringing, as practised by tower bell ringers, was started. It has been suggested that the ringers, unwilling to practise on winter evenings in the cold and draughty belfries, used small hand held bells for their practices, in the more comfortable surroundings of houses and local hostelries. Tune ringing on handbells was a natural progression for some bellringers to make.
Most handbells are cast in bronze, an alloy made of approximately 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, with individual weights ranging from a few ounces to more than 15 pounds. Larger handbells are now also cast in aluminium.
The handchime (or chime) is a tubular instrument with a clapper on the side. These can range from very small instruments playing the highest notes - to those many feet in length (or height as they usually played on a rack) for the bass notes.