[Bell Historians] Copy of a letter to the RW re Church bells.

Ken Webb kenwebb at r...
Sun Apr 4 16:42:52 BST 2004

Any comments?


Time to list the bad as well as the good?

I think we need to change the focus & look at the total stock of bells,
bellfittings & bellframes in churches.

The mandatory CofE church quinquennial states what is poor & needs attention
now or soon - I suggest paid experts need to produce quinquennials regarding
bells, bell fittings & bellframes. I suggest bells & frames are generally
ignored unless the ringers identify a problem - out of sight, out of mind?
The bell trade should be paid to examine & report on bells, fittings & frame
every 5 or 10 years - they are the full-time experts with wide experience of
the good & bad. The report should include details of the ringability of the
bells - so, where the bells are ringable, would include a member of the
belltrade personally ringing each of the bells with a typical band. A copy
of the report would go to the PCC, local ringers, the DAC, local ringing
association etc. The report would include an analysis of the tuning & tone
of the bells, the quality of the casting, the rarity of bells by the
founder, soundbow wear, clapper suspension safe etc. The report would
recommend work, including tuning, recasting & rehanging where the existing
installation was less than good. This report would be used to support
proposed work & grant applications. There would need to be consistency of
judgement & reporting.

Should we have an additional list of Church bells?
There must be thousands of bells which should be on another list? Either
recommended for RR (Recasting Recommended) or TR (Tuning Recommended)? Who
will prepare that list to improve the overall quality of bells in UK
Churches? I suspect 25,000 bells could be on this list? There is a duty on
us to improve what we hand on to future generations - rather than to keep
all bells as they were handed to us. I feel past generations produced a
large volume of poor bells - perhaps 80% of bells cast before 1926 are not
good instruments as originally supplied? Generally those bells should be
improved or replaced. Other old founders proved good sounding bells could be
cast, so the poorer bells are not as good as they should or could be. I
assume the same is true for Church organs & window glass?

Bell Listing - old & proposed:
The listing of old, good or rare bells should only result in more care over
the impact of any work on those bells - it should not stop all work. The key
to the revision to any listing is the size of the list & the reason for the
list. I cannot understand how the 3% increase in listed bells can be
proven - can the evidence be provided? I think most good bells are not at
risk of being recast or retuned - they are more likely to become cracked due
to clapper problems, how many Taylor bells cast since 1896 are likely to be
recast? I think some people would recast any Whitechapel bell cast before
1926? Most of this is a mix of fact & taste. All involved need to see the
existing & recommended list before new guidelines are agreed and adopted.
The list cannot keep a bell in use. The principal purpose of a bell is the
sound heard outside the church - so the sound needs to be good & the go
needs to be good to encourage recruits to ring the bells. If people don't
ring the bells, the whole purpose is lost. Good sounding bells are not meant
to be silent. Bells with both good sound & good go are most likely to be
rung often & well. I don't enjoy listening to some of the rings on CD's - I
would tune or recast those bells.

The list needs to be consistent across the UK - what a task! Before anyone
can decide whether the listing is a good idea & should be implemented, the
lists need to be prepared & discussed. The listing needs to use a code
letter for each reason for recommending listing that bell - C = Canons, I =
Inscription, F = Casting quality, T = Tuning, R = Rarity by founder, E =
early example by founder, O = In original condition etc. Should there be
different grades so that bells are not either listed or not listed? The
implementation of the guidelines can only come after the list is prepared &
agreed to be reasonable. Who will prepare the list so that the bells in
Hilmarton are compared to the bells in any other UK church on the same
scale? If individual bells are excellent, but not in tune as ring, do you
prevent tuning? Most people who write about bells say little about their
sound - but this is the most important feature good looking but poor
sounding bells are failures - is Chris Dalton the UK expert? How many DAC
bells advisors are so experienced?

Bellfoundry casting for UK Churches:
Re the Bellfounders being at risk. I doubt whether their foundries make any
profit - my understanding is that casting bells for UK churches is rare.
Would they like to provide the following details?
On how many days were bells cast for UK churches during 2003?
Number of bells they have cast for UK churches as part of a ringing peal -
per year 1994 to 2003?
Number of those bells which replaced a similar size bell from that church -
per year 1994 to 2003?
Number of additional bells for that church - per year 1994 to 2003?
Number cast from bells previously used at another church - per year 1994 to
I suspect most bells cast since 1994 were augmentations. I also suspect that
the average weight of bells cast for UK churches since 1993 is under 5cwt?
Is the issue with being able to recast a bell or being able to replace that
bell with a new bell?

My own experience:
I've rung for 33 years & rung in 600+ churches. I like bells which sound
good, go well & are not oddstruck. I'm tower captain for two rural 6 bell
towers in Wiltshire. Only 1 of the 12 bells was cast after 1826 & 2 are
listed. I led a project to remove the staples, tune the bells dating from
1685 to 1826 & improve the hangs at Bremhill in 2001. I'm leading a project
to rehang the bells in a new frame with all new fittings & to tune the bells
at Hilmarton in 2005 - 5 of the bells were cast between 1500 & 1738. The
Hilmarton project includes minimal tuning of the 4th cast in 1500 (as it is
sharp) because the good Rudhall 5th bell is flat & could be spoilt if
skirted. The 3rd cast in 1631, which sounds excellent, will not be tuned.
This is based on the recommendation of the 2 bellfoundries. The bells have a
reputation for being out of tune & heavy going (the individual bells are
heavy) - I trained a band in 1999 & suggest they are rung more now than ever
previously. We installed a gallery in 2003 - to make ringing visible &

Our intention has been to make a long lasting improvement to what we already
have - rather than recasting. I've dealt with the Keltek Trust (who supplied
a replacement bell for Hilmarton), the most recent 3 bells advisors to our
Salisbury Diocese, bellhangers & founders, had a EH visit by Graham Pledger
& a CCC visit by Mary Bliss & David Knight. Chris Dalton has visited both
towers & Bill Hibbert has analysed both rings of bells - details on his
site. I've found all these people to be very helpful. EH & CCC were very
positive & helpful. The CCC supported our proposal to carry out minimal
tuning to the 4th - to align the Nominals.

Regarding the use of bells, we bought an 8 cwt 1836 Mears bell for £908 with
the intention of tuning it. The existing rare 1652 bell by Thomas & William
Purdue is the poorest casting I've ever seen - one side is good, the other
terrible. The bell is not listed, our intention is to keep it at clock level
& allow people to see & touch it. For £908 we have saved this bell from
being recast - but, if we had not acquired another bell, it is most likely
that we would tune this bell rather than recast it. Good tuning of suitable
bells can give excellent results. If this makes rings of bells available at
scrap metal prices to churches without rings - this is good. Listing should
not prevent a church having new bells. I think the total number of bells &
rings in the UK is increasing & that this should not be prevented by the
revised listing process when agreed.

Ken Webb

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