I dare say your school didn’t have a hand bell either, mine certainly didn’t, or at least if they did it was only for emergency use. All the schools I went to had those alarm bell style ones that a fixed high on a wall, and electronically cause the clapper to hit against a circular ringer. Having said that these old fashioned hand bells haven’t disappeared completely yet. There’s a small primary school near where I live that still uses one to get the kids in to class in the morning.
Anyway, it’s as true today as it was when I was at school that the sound of the school bell could bring joy or strike fear into your heart, depending on what that particular instance of it ringing represented. If it was to mark the end of the day or lunchtime it was pretty much guaranteed to bring joy, but if it signalled the beginning of Rugby in sub-zero conditions or double French with the schools least favourite teacher, it was probably the latter.
Of course the ringing of the school bell could also signify other events, such as a fire drill, which was particularly welcome when it happened in the middle of the afore-mentioned double French lesson. Fire drills were always a lot of fun, with somebody being guaranteed to shout “we’re all going to die” or “I’m taking my stuff, I don’t want it to burn”. All the kids would stream out of their classes to congregate on the school field, larking about in the process and causing all the teachers telling you “don’t run” and “be sensible”.
The strangest phenomenon regarding the school bell is the divide between the reality of it ringing and what happens in TV shows set in schools. On TV the school bell rings and all the kids immediately ignore the teacher, who is normally mid sentence at the time, packing up their things and filing out of the class room. Try that in my school and you were normally told by the teacher that “the lesson ends when I say so, not when the bell rings”. Whilst not strictly true, as it obviously did indicate the end of the lesson, what the teacher actually meant was let me give you your homework before you all disappear. Spoil sport…