BELLRINGERS have launched an appeal for new blood to help them mark important events in style.

The bellringers of St Nicholas Church in Old Marston, Oxford, are at their lowest membership since 1998.

But they want to make sure they can ring-in next year’s London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June in full force.

Bellringer Anthony Hughes, 70, is vice-captain of the group, and said bells had always been rung to mark major events.

He said: “There will be a surge in bellringing around the Jubilee. It would be great to be full strength for it.”

The 13th-century church boasts six bells dating from 1823, the heaviest weighing more than 500lbs.

It can take up to six months to train people to ring the bells.

Mr Hughes said: “I think the reason we have had fewer (people) is because church-associated functions have shrunk.

“And not many youngsters have been coming forward because there is so much going on around Oxford and we have to compete.

“Our bellringers are all middle-aged or older and we want some youngsters to bring in new blood. When bellringing, you meet some very nice people and you go to some very interesting places.”

Mr Hughes has been ringing church bells since 1977.

He said: “I decided to have a go and I found it intellectually very interesting.”

There are currently between eight and 16 people who attend practices at St Nicholas on a Friday, but not all are able to ring on Sundays.

Paul Lucas, a bellringer from St Andrew’s in Old Headington, said: “I practise at St Nicholas but ring at my own tower on Sundays. We have the same problem across the country.”

Dr John Pusey, captain of the St Giles tower, said: “It has certainly got harder to attract new ringers and the ones we get tend to be older nowadays.”