Striking the right note

Two new treble bells at All Saints'

All Saints' Church, NottinghamOn Tuesday 21st September 2004, the two new treble bells at All Saints’ were tried out for the first time. They fitted in beautifully completely the ring of ten bells and bringing an end to nearly fifty years of restoration work.

The original bells, cast in 1864 by Taylors Bellfounders of Loughborough, were installed as a ring of eight almost as an afterthought. An order had been placed for six bells and the huge oak frame had to be modified when it was put together in the tower to accommodate the two extra bells of eight. This decision, although completing the octave and allowing for much greater opportunities in terms of what could be rung, was to store up trouble for the future.

It is said that the well heeled parishioners who lived around the church at the turn of the twentieth century did not like to be woken by the bells on a Sunday morning. They were very rarely rung, particularly in the inter-war period and consequently the fittings deteriorated. In 1960, the recently formed University Society of Change Ringers was looking for its own home, having rung with the band at St Peter’s for the previous two years. With the support of local ringers, repairs were made to the bells at All Saints’ which enabled them to be rung once more. The bells were still very difficult to ring however, which lead the university band to move to Beeston in 1962. They returned in 1972 and began the long process of restoration.

Work was done to replace the bearings and other fittings of the bells, but it was the poorly modified oak bellframe that moved so much during ringing it was pulling itself apart. A quote from Taylors Bellfounders of Loughborough in 1978 estimated its replacement at £16,000! As a group of students, the band could not see how they could raise that amount of money and so further repairs were made to keep the bells going. But as the millennium approached, it was clear the bells would become unringable within a short period and so in 1996 the decision was taken to start fundraising. A much more acceptable quote of approximately £11,000 was obtained from Hayward Mills Associates but it still seemed a frighteningly large number.

Amazingly, the fundraising went very well. Hayward Mills had suggested that the new steel bellframe have space for ten, given the large size of the tower. However, the old eight bells had never been tuned (Revd. Simpson invented the current system of tuning bells after ours were cast and large enough lathes did not become available until the end of the 19th century). If we were to ever envisage adding two new bells, the old ones would need tuning. So it was, that in 1999 a new ten bell frame was installed and whilst they were out, the old eight were tuned at a total cost of £14,445. Once this was complete, the University Society decided to simply keep going and see how far we could get towards buying two more bells to complete the ten (a further £11,000).

By 2004, 140 years after the old eight bells were cast, we were in a position to order the two new treble bells. On 12th August, members of the congregation from both All Saints’ and St Peter’s went to Loughborough to see them cast, a fantastic experience. The two new bells weigh approximately 6cwt each (about 300kg).

Why ten you might ask? Well, English change-ringing bells are tuned to a major scale. The lowest note is the heaviest or tenor bell (16cwt or 827kg is the heaviest at All Saints’). The six lightest bells in a ring of ten are also a true major scale. In our case, this means we can have a little ring of six bells in the key of B, where the heaviest is only 7½ cwt (or 387kg) as opposed the heavy ring of six in the key of E with a 16cwt tenor. This is easier for beginners to learn on. The new bells were dedicated in the 140th Patronal Festival on 31st October 2004.

Andrew Cairns

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 2nd December 2004