Church bell-ringing is an ancient English past-time that plays an important part of the community and religious life. Nationally, there are about 44,000 bell-ringers who regularly ring for Sunday Services and special occasions but most towers are short of ringers. Anyone and everyone can become a ringer, no matter what their age is or what their abilities are.
The present method of change-ringing that we know of today originated in the 17th Century. The bells are now hung on full wheels allowing them to swing 360 degrees and produce the sound. This means that several hundred-weight bells can be easily controlled with a just a rope
All church bells are cast from an alloy of copper and tin. This allows the bell to produce a tuned sound whilst being able to withstand the smack of a clapper. Most towers have six or eight bells, but can have 3 to 16 bells.
The highest sounding bell is called the 'treble' and the lowest sounding bell is called the ‘tenor’.
The weight of each bell differs from tower-to-tower. The 3 heaviest bells in Britain today are as follows:
Liverpool = 82 cwt - 0 qrt - 11 lbs
Exeter = 72 cwt - 2 qrt - 2 lbs
London, St Paul = 61 cwt - 2 qrt - 12
How to ring a bell
Initially, the mouth of the bell faces downwards, this bell is now down. A ringer versed in the art of ringing up/down will pull on the rope which will swing the bell higher and higher. When the mouth of the bell swings round so far that the mouth points upwards, it can be brought to rest and stood against the stay. This bell is now up.
With each pull the bell swings one way then the other. These two pulls, referred to as strokes have names - handstroke when the sally is pulled and the rope goes up; and backstroke when the rope is pulled and the sally comes down. At the end of each rotation, the bell will strike once.
A method is a series of changes, rung in an order that has been standardised and named. Each ringer knows the work to do, without guidance. This may be different for a learner.
Many methods follow the rule where the treble hunts up and down throughout the course but there are some that don’t follow that rule:
A peal is a regime of changes where an extent of a method is rung.
The peal is usually about 5,040 for 6 bells, no less than 5,040 for 7 bells and a minimum of 5,000 for 8 bells.
Who are Bell-Ringers?
Bell-Ringers come from all walks of life and are a core part of the religious worship service. There is no particular age that you can ring a bell and join the Bell-Ringing community, it is based upon your strength to control the bells and your abilities.
The tower captain will be there to assist you through your learning plus most other ringers will only be too happy to help you.
Harmonically tuned bells to this day are often referred to as Simpson Tuned after the Reverend Canon Simpson in recognition of his early work on this subject. After years of experimentation, the first harmonically tuned peal of bells produced in England left Loughborough Foundry in 1986.
Today, harmonic tuning covers far more than just the three octave notes, minor third and fifth (known as the five-tone principle) as originally envisaged by Canon Simpson over 100 years ago.
Bell foundries pride themselves of the accuracy of their tuning and offer a choice of harmonic structures that can be applied both to the new bells that they provide and to the old bells which come in for tuning.
The John Taylor Bell Foundry Museum is the only Museum dedicated to bells and bell founding history in the UK. There are three galleries displaying artefacts dating back to the 1300's, all related to bells and the Taylor's long involvement in the industry.
There is also a viewing platform above the main workshop floor where visitors can experience life in a working foundry at close quarters. Guided tours of the works take place throughout the week and occasionally weekends.
Originally devised for change ringing in small diatonic sets, musical Handbells developed, the instrument we know today during the 19th century as the art of handbell tune ringing developed principally in the North of England.
Handbell manufacture at Whitechapel dates from the early 18th century, with output now accounting for approximately one quarter of the foundry's total production. Whitechapel handbells are in regular use on all five continents with range produced covering six and a half octaves.
In 2008, Taylor's Eayre and Smith Ltd installed a carillon of 35 bells in the south west tower of York Minster. Some of the bells were part of the Nelson Chime and 24 new bells were cast and added to the chime to create the first ever carillon installed in an English Cathedral. The clavier and state-of-the-art practise clavier were hand crafted at Taylor's Eayre and Smith.
There are now 56 Taylor's bells in the towers at York Minster; the six bells of the queen mother chime; the fourteen bells in the ringing peal; the 35 bells in the carillon and the Bourdon Bell, Great Peter. York Minster is the only tower in the UK to contain a ringing peal, a carillon and a bourdon bell.
Traditionally, clappers were made from genuine wrought iron. As the manufacture of this material declined in the 1950's, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry pioneered the use of alloy steels in the early 1960's and ductile cast iron in 1972 as suitable alternatives.
These alternative materials, however, have never completely replaced the use of wrought iron and the skills of hand forging and fire welding are still used to repair and refurbish existing clappers at the foundry today.
Woodworking + Wheels
Taylor's Eayre and Smith have their own dedicated joiners shop in the main works where all wheels, stays, sliders and pulley boxes are made. The figure on the left shows some pulley boxes and wheels which have been dipped on preservative and some wheels that are waiting to be dipped.
Bell moulds have two parts, the core (inside) and case (outside). Both of these are made up of sand, water, uric acid (in the form of horse manure), coke and bricks. A stickle issued to produce the correct shape for both the inside and outside of the bell.
The Moulds are placed in the oven for about a week to ensure they are thoroughly dry before any molten metal touches them. The oven is a large room at the back of the foundry that is kept at a constant temperature of 125 degrees centigrade.
When they are dry, the moulds are clamped together ready for the metal to be poured in and a new bell to be cast.
Although foundry techniques vary in detail between Taylor's, Eayre and Smith Ltd and Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd, the fundamental process of creating an accurate and finely finished mould into which pure bell metal poured is common to both establishments and remains at the heart of both business.
Molten bell metal is poured from a ladle to cast a bell.
The Art of Ringing