John Powell Powell and Stedman Triples

The Waterloo Tower

Stedman Triples is a bellringing method particularly associated with Quex.

The following is the text of an article published in 'The Ringing World'.

In 1828 John Powell Powell of Quex Park in Kent, builder of the Waterloo Tower (1819) published privately a book of compositions of Stedman Triples.

On the first page is an illustration of the Waterloo Tower (shown above). On the following page the dedication reads

"Dedicated with permission to the College and Cumberland Youths and the Different Companies of Change Ringers throughout England and Elsewhere"

Two versions of the publication were produced. The smaller measures c. 24cm x c.37cm, the larger is 31.5cm x 46.5cm. The larger version is more ornately decorated with borders round every page. Both versions contain the same number of pages.

Four pages of introductory "observations" precede the compositions of which there are six groups and forty six touches in all. In the 'Observations' John Powell Powell states that

'Professors in the Scientific Art of Change Ringing have, for many years, been endeavouring to compose a whole Peal of Stedman's Tripples, which might be considered the most perfect, by having the fewest number of bobs and singles.'

He says that he has used as a basis of several of his compositions Shipway's principle, indeed he says that one of the compositions, the 3rd of the 1st set, is Shipway's own. (William Shipway was employed by John Powell Powell as a tutor for his band of ringers. He conducted the peals rung by 'The Quex Institution of Change Ringing' between 1820 and 1825 by which time one of the members, John Beer, began to conduct and Shipway left Quex.) John Powell Powell refers several times to 'Passports', devices such as putting a plain six between 2 Bobs, which he has used at intervals in his compositions.

John Powell Powell refers to "my noted half peal", the 5th of the 1st set and it may be this composition which was his most successful. It is probably the half peal which so impressed the ringers of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich that they presented John Powell Powell with a silver gilt medal cut to show twelve bells and beautifully engraved with their appreciation of the composer. In a Norwich church there is a stone tablet commemorating what is probably the same composition rung on handbells on April 11, 1831 by the Mancroft Ringers.

Later in the Observations John Powell Powell refers to Mr Tebbs's (of Leeds) peal and says he will continue experimenting using the ideas to be found in it. He also mentions having seen "a very curous peal composed at Birmingham" - this is probably the work of Thomas Day.

Unfortunately no notebooks or other records of John Powell Powell's work on Stedman have survived so the publication itself is the only evidence we have of his work

John Powell Powell concludes his Observations by saying that despite six or seven years study and "a vast deal of difficulty and perplexity" he has failed in his objective and he believes that the Peal of Stedman's Tripples is totally unattainable on Shipway's principle. However he offers the few touches which he has successfully composed and finishes with the following postscript

"Whatever notice the different Companies and Societies of Ringers may be inclined to take of these Productions, I particularly request my name, place of abode, or County may not be in any Public Print, but addressed as to an Amateur."

A slip inserted in the binding of the volumes asks that the publications should not change hands "except as a gift". Further stating "The Author's Reason for not fixing a Price to this Publication, is, that he would consider it a degradation; and that the merit or demerit should be ascertained as coming from the hands of an Amateur only, and to be considered as a Gift."

The book does not seem to have found its way into any of the larger libraries. The British Museum does not have a copy, nor the Cambridge University Library or the Bodleian. This is probably because it was circulated privately and was never in the public domain.

During the summer of 1828 as was his usual practice John Powell Powell spent several months aboard his 95 ton yacht the 'Briton'. He kept a diary and the following dates are of interest


Wednesday, 9th July, 1828

In the Menai River " ... sent a letter at the same time to Mr Henry Cooper one of the Ringers of Birmingham."


Wednesday, 16th July, 1828

At Liverpool "At 5 sent Mr Stent on shore to make enquiries about Mr Tebbs & the Change Ringer(s) & to ascertain into whose hands the Publication I sent to Liverpool some months back went. At 9 Mr Stent returned, found that the Publication had fallen into proper hands: Mr Thistlewood of St Peters, Liverpool."


Thursday, 17th July, 1828

"At 1/2 past 10 Mr Tollitt and another belonging to St Peters Band came off, brought with them their Book of Peals rung in Liverpool with fancy drawings to each.

In the course of the evening heard them ring a touch upon St Nicholas, 12 bells, tenor 42 cwt. At 6 sent the Mate on shore with 3 for the Ringers & other commissions."


Wednesday, 6th August, 1828

Bad weather had kept them for several days in the Harbour at Tenby. The Harbour Master was made a present of a copy of the publication on change ringing during a visit to the yacht. There is no indication that he was a ringer and one wonders what he made of it.


To date I have located twenty copies of the publication, some have had the illustration of the tower removed and these pages may have found their way to other places. For instance, one copy is framed and hanging in the Waterloo Tower. The copies I have located are -

Nine copies in the Library at Quex House

One copy (large version) in the KCACR Library (purchased by the Quex Ringers several years ago, it has no evidence of provenance)

One copy in the Guildford Diocesan Guild Library (donated by the late AH Pulling)

One copy in the Cambridge University Guild Library

Two copies in the Library of the Ancient Society of College Youths (one possibly belonged either to JR Haworth or Matthew A Wood, Masters of the Society in the nineteenth century)

One copy belonging to Cyril Wratten (provenance unknown)

One copy in the Central Council Library (previously belonging to the Rev. HT Ellacombe)

Two copies (one the large version) belonging to ringers from Birchington, both having been handed down by at least two generations

One copy belonging to The Rev. Barry Fry

One copy belonging to George Pipe

I have no idea how many copies were produced at the time of publication but it seems that John Powell Powell distributed the publication widely and some others may have survived. If any ringer possesses one or knows of the whereabouts of any further copies I would be most interested to hear from them in order to gather a complete list of all surviving copies and their provenance. Likewise any instances of the whereabouts of the illustration of the tower,

As to what John Powell Powell was trying to do in his compositions I am not qualified to say. I have asked everyone I know and anyone I have met who seemed knowledgeable about Stedman for their opinion. Those I have received have invariably been in the category of "historically interesting but technically useless" but I felt that this was always with the benefit of hindsight and what I wanted was to find someone who could understand what it was that John Powell Powell was trying to do back in 1828. Happily, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and the change ringers mailing list, I have found Eddie Martin in Maryland, USA. I sent him a photocopy of the publication and he has provided the following analysis.

Hazel Basford


Eddie Martin's Analysis

When John Powell Powell. first started his investigations into Stedman Triples composition, only two true 5040s are known to have been in existence. They were so complex that each had been conducted by the composer from his own manuscript (John Noonan 1799 and Henry Cooper 1819). Both of them also contained long strings of consecutive calls and there was a strong feeling that Stedman Triples promised better.

William Shipway published his vast work in 1816 and included the then longest true touch (2520) "on the proper plan" with lots of plain sixes and very few consecutive calls. He also included Noonan's 5040, although he thought it would never be rung again, and was an example of "the other sort" of composition. Shipway's "principle" or criterion was adopted by John Powell Powell over the period of six or seven years in which he compiled his folio of touches.

It has always seemed to me to have been rather unfair of first Jasper W Snowdon and then J Armiger Trollope to dismiss John Powell Powell's work by saying that he seems to have been composing by experimentation rather than by using any scientific principle. Mr Powell was a real pioneer and would have needed to experiment to determine if any scientific principle was there to be used! The procedure he adopted was to set up a Table to prove 5-part compositions. i.e. he chose treble and seven to come home each part end and to occupy the same positions in each part with the other bells rotating in the sequence 2-3-4-5-6-2. He would have initially been designing a skeleton part to represent all others which would considerably reduce the amount of checking that he would have to do, but would also have introduced him to several quirks of transposition that he termed PASSPORTS. His early touches followed a procedure that one might adopt in programming a computer, he tried to get as many plain sixes as he could before a repeat showed up on his 5-part Table. When this happened he would simply bob to avoid the repeat. and if this also repeated then he would back up and bob a previously plain six. He was not shy to use common singles or even several types of call and eventually after discovering other PASSPORTS, his folio included some 25 touches that were between 2520 and 3480 changes in length. These were the longest yet produced "on the proper plan".

It had been known that the 5040 can be set out in 840 mutually exclusive bobbed blocks and that (as in Noonan's peal) you could link these together by omitting some bobs and substituting singles for others. It had also been realised that some of these bobbed sixes could be varied and arranged into courses (as in Cooper's peal) but it was not known that you cannot set out the 5040 in plain sixes and John Powell Powell was probably pushing the limit available in 5-part composition. At any rate he concluded that after trying everything that came to his mind he did not think it was possible to get a true 5040 "on the proper plan". The only "scientific principle" that seems to be left to consider was to construct compound blocks of plain and bobbed sixes.

Cooper's peal had been in courses based on the idea of calling a single every time 7 was in 6-7 up, then having a string of calls that contained an odd number of singles, whenever 7 was on the front. This seemed to be a good idea in that whenever 7 was off the front there was no repetition, however when she was on the front there was potential for considerable and singles had to be peppered all over to avoid these. Joseph Tebbs of Leeds was the first to construct what I might term to be a "true" course structure in that he discovered a way of marshalling the 5040 into 60 courses where one bell comes home every course end, every course is called the same, and no row is repeated. His true course actually ran to a touch of five courses and to get the 5040 he tied in a sixth course between two special calls usually called 'Doubles' in which in the middle of a six the bells in 4-5-6-7 lie and shunt the changes of one course to those of another. Thus the 5040 consisted of 30 pairs of courses that could be linked using these doubles. Tebbs's six-course block ran to the half peal, and he joined the two halves with two more 'Doubles'. The plan was brilliant, but unfortunately the true course contained only 3 plain sixes and a string of 8 consecutive bobs (thus the 5040 had a total of 180 plain, 660 bobs and 22 Doubles). John Powell Powell tried to improve upon this with several variations and did manage to reduce a couple of calls all of which he included in his folio dated January 1st, 1828. For want of a significantly better composition, Tebbs' original was not rung until December 18th of that same year!

John Powell Powell's folio was distributed free to numerous companies of ringers and I think would have been of value to any budding composer because it clearly demonstrated that if any future existed for peals of Stedman Triples, other than multi-call compositions, then it was probably in the construction of 'true' course structures. John Powell Powell had been in correspondence with Cooper who presumably sent him a copy of what Cooper termed his second composition. At any rate in his Observations, John Powell Powell noted "There is a very curious Peal I have seen, composed at Birmingham which has the 7th Bell at home at each Course End, and really is an extraordinary and ingenious production altogether".

Circa 1830-32 (with the co-operation of John Powell Powell who probably paid for it) William Shipway published a Broadsheet containing 12 peals of Stedman Triples. These included Tebbs' original, and the variation by John Powell Powell that reduced its total number of calls by two, Cooper's of 1819, and a second 5040 attributed to him. This new one used a true course structure with Tebbs' format for the 5040 and was thus a ten part in two equal halves, the 7th coming home each course end and the 6th each part end. Shipway praised this by saying that it "has been the principal groundwork from which the further improvements emanated". (He refers to a trivial variation by J Clark and one by John Powell Powell in which the calling is merely transposed to give different part bells.) The sixth peal was an original by John Powell Powell which used his own newly discovered true course structure and Tebb's format for the actual 5040. Shipway points out that this peal "is accomplished by 60 calls less than the three preceding" (i.e. fewer calls than Coopers No 2 and its trivial variations).

In the fragment of Shipway's Broadsheet which I have seen (note: this is the lower half of the broadsheet containing the last four peals, believed to be the only fragment in existence. It is at Quex House - HB.), there are actually three peal compositions by Shipway which are variations on the same theme, using John Powell Powell's course. The first two are transposed so that treble comes home every course end, and probably tend to obscure the similarities, but the third has 7 come home and it's easier to compare this with Mr Powell's original. It is in two halves :

First half



145236 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

523146 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

314526 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

452316 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

536421 s1 3 8 s10

341562 s1 3 8 s10

Call this five times but with a Holt's single at 7 in the last course of part five:




541326 s1 3 7H 8 s10


Second half:



132546 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

524631 s1 3 4 5 6 7 8 s10

643125 s1 3 4 5 6 7 8 s10

312645 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

264315 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

431265 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

Call this five times but with a Holt's single at 7 in the last course of part five: eg



231456 s1 3 4 5 7H 8 s10

It's perhaps a weak argument but I just have the feeling that John Powell Powell was aware of this possibility but chose to keep his composition as simple as possible. On the Broadsheet, Shipway says his own composition "is an original production, excluding Holt's singles, except the turning one, and thereby reducing the calls to twenty less than Mr Powell's" which suggests that it was in fact Shipway's idea to use extras and omits; however, he continues: "the other two peals may be termed imitations of that gentleman's, only excluding the Holt's single." I'm a little puzzled as to why he should claim the one to be original but the other two imitations of John Powell Powell's work. The only discernable difference between all three is that the first two have Treble as observation, the third has the 7th - the same idea is in all three but the placing of the two Holt's singles is different in each. The only explanation that I can think of is that he was perhaps trying to balance John Powell Powell's modesty by telling us that it was Shipway's idea to use the extras & omits to exclude 20 of the original 22 Holt's singles but, nevertheless, Mr Powell had been aware of this and had in fact made it possible, by designing the course which allowed for these extras & omits to work at all

What appears to me to have happened is that immediately after publishing his book, John Powell Powell realised that the future of Stedman Triples composition did NOT lie with peals "on the proper plan" but with constructed compound blocks or courses and he went back to his 5-part Tables and discovered one for himself

According to my own delvings into composition, I believe that it's true to say that every true course structure will have a couple of places where if 4 bells make places, the row produced is the actual row produced at that spot in an identically constructed course. This means that using these (usually called 'doubles or 'Holt's singles') a 5040 based on 60 true course structures can be put together very easily by simply linking courses together in pairs. If (as in the case of the one discovered by John Powell Powell) the course structure is NOT a round block, then one doesn't need to use doubles' to link EVERY course. The one by John Powell Powell runs to a 5 course touch and he tied in a sixth course to produce a six course block. This ran five times for the half peal; the other half peal was constructed in exactly the same way and the two halves were joined by two extra Holt's singles

What was unique about John Powell Powell's course structure was that for the first time someone had discovered a course structure which allowed for an alternative means of linking true courses together. Very few course structures allow this but in some, it is possible to omit a pair of bobs in one course and be shunted to the rows contained at that spot in another course. This is not a direct shunt (as in the use of Holt's singles) because in omitting the first bob of the pair you invariably run foul of the changes occuring at some six already contained in yet another course, but, sometimes, it is possible to avoid this repetition by calling an extra pair of bobs at that spot. Everything then balances out with no repetition, i.e. there will be sets of four courses that have a relationship between them such that if a pair of bobs is omitted at say A in one, then not only will a pair of bobs have to be omitted at A in another, but also there are two other courses where a pair of extra bobs must be called at B.

The basic course discovered by John Powell Powell was called s1, 3,4,5, 8, s10; the courses with omitted bobs were called :s1, 3, 8, s10 and the courses with extra bobs were called s1, 3,4,5,6,7,8, s10. I believe that John Powell Powell was aware of these particular 'PASSPORTS' but chose not to use them because initially at that time composers were looking for a true 5040 that was easy to call and didn't have too many consecutive calls. Instead, he chose to use Holt's singles made by the bells in 4-5-6-7 making places in the middle of a slow six between bobs at 3 & 4. In modern terms, his 5040 might be set out as :



642531 s1 3+H 4 5 8 s10

156342 s1 3+H 4 5 8 s10

634152 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

415632 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

563412 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

341562 s1 3 4 5 8 s10

This has to be called ten times, but with an extra Holt's single at the third six in the fourth course of parts five and ten.

The peals published on the broadsheet were all rung during the next few years. However, at about this time, William Hudson had also discovered a true course (bobs called at 3,4,5,6 in every course) and like almost everyone else had used Tebbs' format to produce the 5040. Lates & Thurstan would have known of the Powell-Shipway device of using extras and omits to join true courses and both set to work to see if Hudson's course was capable of a similar treatment. (Hudson himself had NOT been aware of any.) In the decade that followed, both men discovered that bobs at 3-4 could be omitted and balanced with extras called at 7-8, but Thurstan was the first to discover that calls at 5-6 could also be omitted and balanced against extras at 12-13. In 1839, he produced the 5040 with each quarter called as in his famous Masterpiece but joined together by 4 special singles. (His Masterpiece was rung in 1846.) It has been written that he owed a great deal to Lates, but I think a careful study of history reveals that Lates owed very much more to Thurstan and they both owed a great deal to Shipway and Powell's PASSPORTS. Snowdon & Trollope are both in error when they say that the 1842 peal by Lates/Thurstan was "the first peal ever rung with two Holt's Singles only" (another name for the doubles used in the Shipway-Powell composition rung some ten years earlier was in fact Holt's Singles!).

As a PostScript: Cooper's No 2 was actually a trivial transposition of a composition by Thomas Day. Apparently in 1827 Day had discovered the course but chose to have 6 observation instead of 7. He used Tebbs's format for the 5040 and Cooper is said to have asked him for a copy of the peal. Cooper then transposed it so that 7 became the Observation bell and it is this version that appeared on the Broadsheet as being Cooper's original work! Day's original composition was rung to a peal in 1830 by the St. Martin's ringers, Birmingham. Joseph Powell (apparently no relation) called it from the original Observation (the 6th) and Henry Cooper rang the 7th . When Day eventually read the comments on the Broadsheet accrediting Cooper with the original work, he was so dismayed that he "never again took up composition in this method" but both Shipway & Powell presumably had been unaware of Cooper's deception.