Stedman is a well-known change-ringing method for odd numbers of bells. It's a principle, which means that all the bells do the same work. Many people will say "Stedman is a principle, not a method!" (I myself have said this) but in fact principles are simply a category of method.
Structure of the blue line
Stedman (on any number of bells greater than 3) is usually thought of as having three large chunks of work. These are the quick work, the slow work, and the backwork. The quick work and slow work are both on the front, specifically the first three places. Frontwork alternates with backwork, so the complete cycle in the plain course is quick work → backwork → slow work → backwork.
Stedman backwork consists of double dodging up in each pair of places higher than three (4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11), lying at the back, and double dodging down in the same pairs of places as on the way up. Stedman quick work is the easiest explained: it's simply plain hunting once through on the front three.
Stedman slow work is its most characteristic feature. It consists of whole turns (lead, point seconds, lead), half turns (point lead), and lots of making thirds.
Structure of the method as a whole
Understanding how Stedman is structured as a whole will help ringers recover from mistakes and maybe even make the slow work seem more sensible. Stedman is based on plain hunt on three. There are two ways to plain hunt on three—if you think of it as braiding, these correspond to crossing the left strand over the middle first, or crossing the right strand over the middle first. Normal plain hunt swaps 1 and 2 first. This is also referred to as "right hunting". "Wrong hunting" involves swapping 2 and 3 first, causing each bell to lead "wrong", i.e. for a backstroke and a handstroke. Either way, it takes six rows to return to the starting point, and this is the extent on three (all the permutations of three).
In right hunting on three, each bell leads "right" and lies "wrong" at the back (makes wrong thirds). In wrong hunting, it's the other way around—bells lead "wrong" and make "right" thirds.
By following one cycle of wrong hunting immediately with a cycle of right hunting, the characteristic pieces of Stedman slow work emerge—one bell leads wrong, points in 2nd place, then leads right (the 2 drawn in red below), and another bell does only a point lead at the end of the wrong hunting (the 1 drawn in blue).
Stedman consists of alternating right and wrong hunting on the front three. Every six blows, the front three bells switch from right hunting to wrong hunting or vice versa. Since plain hunt on three (right or wrong) takes six rows, the basic unit of Stedman is called a "six". When the bells on the front are right hunting it's a quick six and when they're wrong hunting it's a slow six.
Now, if I simply repeated the above diagram a couple times, alternating right and wrong hunting as I've explained, it wouldn't quite be Stedman yet. There are three further adjustments to make. Let's start by adding more bells (you can ring Stedman on only three bells, but it's more exciting with more!). The diagram below begins with a slow six on seven bells—while the front three bells hunt wrong, the others double dodge in 4–5 and 6–7.
The second adjustment is the transition between sixes. This is not part of the hunting on three and is the same whether moving from a slow six to a quick six or vice versa.
The row-to-row change between sixes is very simple: the bell at the back lies there and all the other pairs of bells trade places.
From a larger method structure perspective, as well as an individual ringer's perspective, one bell leaves the front to begin double dodging, the bells that have been double dodging advance to the next dodging position, except for the bell that was in 4–5 down which now goes to the front. If a bell came out slow, the bell going in will be quick, and vice versa.
Looking at the path of the 2, we can see that it has rung the complete slow work, which takes five sixes. The slow work was presented earlier as dividing into two whole turns and two half turns, but it can also be divided into five chunks based on when the switch between right and wrong hunting happens. These chunks are sometimes labelled with days of the week to make them easier to talk about.
Some helpful things to note:
Since the first whole turn begins in a slow six, it starts with leading wrong. The last whole turn is the opposite: it begins in a quick six with leading right and ends with leading wrong.
The two point leads are contained within one six, which is the center and symmetry point of the slow work, just as Wednesday is the center of the week! Since each six begins with a handstroke, the first point lead is a handstroke point and the second one is a backstroke point.
The bells two "days" or sixes ahead of and behind you are your friends. When you are ringing Monday, the bell ringing Wednesday will point for your first whole turn, and then your first point lead in Wednesday will be their last whole turn, in Friday. Your second point lead, at the end of Wednesday will fit into the first whole turn of the bell that's just come in slow, and they will point for you in your last whole turn.
The last adjustment that needs to be made to all the above diagrams is starting in the correct place. I've delayed this until now because Stedman confusingly doesn't begin at the beginning of a six! Instead, it treats rounds as the fourth row of a quick six. The front three bells are right hunting, but only for two blows before the switch to wrong hunting.
Let's consider what that means for each bell in turn.
- 1: Rounds functions as the treble leading in the quick work. The first thing the treble will do is go out quick to start all the double dodging.
- 2: The 2 is completing the "Thursday" section of the slow work, starting the last whole turn.
- 3: The 3 is completing the "Tuesday" section of the slow work, making wrong thirds before doing the point leads of Wednesday.
- 4: The 4 (and any higher even-numbered bells) has one more dodge down to do before going in. Since the 4 is in 4–5 down during a quick six, it will go in slow. The 6 would be in 6–7 down during the initial quick six, then 4–5 down for a slow six, then go in quick. The even bells continue to alternate in how they first go onto the front: 8 slow, 10 quick, 12 ___.
- 5: The 5 (and any higher odd-numbered bells) has one more dodge up, then will advance to the next dodging position. The odd bells that begin with dodging follow the same pattern as the even bells in alternating how they first go in (the 5 goes in quick, on any number of bells as long as it's a plain course!).
Interacting with Other Bells
Within a six of Stedman, each bell only really interacts with one other bell (if they're dodging) or two other bells (if they're on the front). It's more useful to know who you'll dodge with and who you'll be on the front with than just the order you pass bells in, since you only really "pass" bells between sixes.