Oldest Bells and Fittings

D Cawley dave at d...
Tue May 21 12:30:47 BST 2002

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I think Chris Pickford is correct in saying effectively that a more objecti=
ve approach may need to be taken in assigning bells to their founders.

A significant example of this is to be found in the treble and tenor of the=
three at Snargate, Kent. Stahlschmidt on the evidence of the inscriptions=
said it has "two bells of this period [not later than 1300; possibly much =
earlier]. The 3rd is the older of the two; it is inscribed in exceedingly =
rudely-shaped lettering, very roughly stamped......the letters of which are=
very widely spaced. The other bells, no.1, has the inscription also widel=
y spaced, but much betterspaced lettering.". I think that this is one of=
those towers which he didn't personally visit - the shape of the tenor is =
not dissimilar to the bells traditionally assigned to W le Belyetere who pu=
rchased a house in Canterbury in 1325. The other bell - with the better =
lettering - is a much more archaic shape; the late Ranald Clouston placed i=
t c.1250 "and no later". Quite the reverse of what Stahlschmidt said but b=
ased on objective examination.

Until 1971 these three bells were hung for ringing (and indeed I rang on th=
em); in that year they were rehung but with levers instead of wheels, but t=
here is mention that wheels may be fitted again, and the frame strengthened=
. If threes count, then Snargate must have had two of the oldest bells in =
a ring, though not quite in the way that Stahlschmidt made out.

There are also bells bearing the mark and lettering ascribed to William le =
Belyetere of Canterbury c 1325 at Canterbury St Dunstan (5th of 6, hung for=
ringing), Canterbury St Peter, tenor of 4 (hung for ringing as tenor of 3 =
till 1968; now hung dead), Bridge, tenor of three (unringable), Patrixbourn=
e, tenor of three (unringable) and Postling, two largest of three (now hung=
dead). In addition the former tenor of three from Kingston is on exhibiti=
on at the Canterbury Heritage Centre at the Poor Priests' Hospital. Quite a=
surviving output for so early a reputed date.

As to how old fittings really are, it's like walking on eggshells. Someti=
mes you may find fittings - for example some of those recently removed from=
the tower at St Mary, Staines - which are the best part of 200 years old b=
ut have continued to give good service through proper care and maintenance.=
I think that the Staines installation (new tower top, new frame, 8 new se=
ts of fittings, tenor of 1734 six recast and two trebles added) was one of =
the earliest complete working 8-bell installations I knew despite re-rimmed=
wheels, new gudgeons, bearings, clapper tops and pulley sheaves in 1922. =
At present the bells are at White's, receiving new fittings. The frame is=
being kept in use. Out of use there is the complete 1673 8-bell instal=
lation at Horham, Suffolk, with all the fittings in place - the bells now h=
anging in a new frame below.=20=20=20

Bell sizes are hard enough to quantify; antiquity even more so.

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