Originally a peal referred to a set sequence of changes of any length. This meaning is still in use today in Call Change Ringing. The most famous and frequently rung call change peal, associated with the Devon Association of ringers, is named 60 on 3rds.
Raising in peal refers to the process where a band of ringers increase the swing of a set of tower bells from rest to a full circle ringing position while keeping them ringing in the same order. The opposite process is lowering in peal, where the swing of the bells is gradually checked until they are at rest, again keeping the bells ringing in order throughout.
Following the discovery of Grandsire Doubles, the term peal or “full peal” was applied to the ringing of sequences including each permutation of the set of bells exactly once. On five bells (Doubles), there are 120 permutations taking about four minutes to ring on tower bells. These figures rapidly increase as more bells are added.
The term extent is now preferred to peal in this context, excepting performances on seven bells where the terms peal and extent are synonymous.
The extent on eight bells comprises 40,320 changes, and would be referred to today as a long length peal. Despite this, it has been successfully rung as a continuous performance both on tower and on hand bells, 17 hours in duration on tower bells.
Method Ringing peals today usually consist of between 5000-5280 changes, or permutations. On seven or more bells they must be rung without repetition of any of the changes. Most peals are composed and rung in compliance with the decisions of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, allowing them to be recorded in that organisation’s peal records. Many peals are also recorded on peal boards attached to the walls of the ringing rooms in the towers where they took place, and in the peal books of local change-ringing associations.
Peals can take anywhere from one and a half to over four hours to ring, depending on the weight of the bells, and whether handbells or tower bells are being rung. They are considered to be both a physical and a mental challenge, in that concentration has to be maintained for a long period of time, and each individual ringer has to ring their bell without a break.
Composition of peals is a specialist and highly complicated area of change ringing, as it involves having to constantly ensure throughout the process that no changes are repeated, while aiming to achieve the correct length.
Another area of peal ringing is that of long length peals. These involve ringing for far longer than an ordinary peal, up to 17 hours. The difficulties of ringing ordinary peals are magnified in these performances, as are the difficulties of composing them. One challenge to ringers is to ring 'the extent', which on eight bells is 40320 changes. The last time this was rung on tower bells, it took 17 hours.
In addition to ordinary peals, ringers often ring quarter-peals, which are a quarter of the length of a full peal, making them far easier to ring. Most quarter-peals take around 45 minutes to complete.