[Bell Historians] Preservation lists

Michael Wilby michael_wilby at y...
Thu Feb 21 11:24:15 GMT 2002

Broadly I agree with you Bill. It is a difficult balance to strike between keeping significant (but poor) instruments, and improving (either through tuning, partial or complete recasting/replacing). If, say, St Bride's bells were still around today there would be a very strong argument to leave the bells untouched - not only from the point of view of the general antiquity of the instrument, but also the fact that they were the bells (and sound) on which peal ringing really started. However those who rang on them don't have anything particularly nice to say about the actual sound "somewhere between [the old] St Martin's-in-the-Fields and [the old] Shoreditch" is how they were described by Norman Summerhayes; Jim Prior told me that he never bothered going to ring there because they were considered to be awful! I leave you to draw your conclusions...
The old St Martin-in-the-Fields bells have tuned up extremely well - while they are still recognisable as the the ring they were, the sound is really quite rich and mellow; they are a nice old ring which are a pleasure to hear. It is my understanding that when the bells were rehung by M&S in the 1920s the church was running out of money and cancelled the tuning work. Unfortunately the tenor was already on the lathe. Tuning ceased part way through (I think the front 11 hadn't been touched), and a huge clapper stuffed in the bell - hence the sound we all know.
Chelmsford should be preserved, and actually they are not all that bad - there are plenty worse "mixed bag" 12s around, and I do think that the other complete 12s should be included on George's list. Must add this to the Rings of 12 too...

oakcroft13 <bill at h...> wrote: Michael Wilby:

> Well, I suppose it would be a shame to lose Chelmsford
> for reasons of posterity, but I am extremely glad that
> I don't have to ring them week on week...

In conservation, balance is the key. There is great archealogical 
interest in older installations (and by that, I mean anything before 
1950!) but I would never advocate preservation of an 'unringable' 
installation because of its history. Bells and their fittings are 
cared for and preserved because they are rung. To try to preserve an 
unringable museum-piece in my view leads to eventual decay and 

The physical recording of historical installations is well covered - 
measurements, photographs, preservation of interesting sections of 
frames etc. are all normal custom and practice. What is not well done 
is preservation of the audible heritage.

As an example, I was very fond of the sound of the St Martin-in-the-
fields Rudhall 12; striking, rather than beautiful, I'm glad I did't 
have to ring there every week. It would be impossible to argue 
against their retuning when this became possible. But were there a 
set of good recordings of the individual bells prior to tuning I 
think we could gain interesting insights into Rudhall's design 
principles for higher numbers that are now denied us.

Chelmsford are on my list of bells I must record before it is too 
late . . .

Bill H

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