t-h tuning - The Crossover

Andrew Wilby andrew at w...
Tue Mar 9 12:44:38 GMT 2004

I have received the following from Andrew Higson which may help settle the matter?

Shapes - There was a fair amount of experimentation with the shapes going on before and after harmonic tuning was cracked so it is impossible to say that there was a clear break between one and another. Even in the late 1880's the shapes and thicknesses of the larger bells were pretty close and I have harmonically tuned a number of these. It is, of course, possible to get almost any bell shaped object harmonically tuned if it is thick enough in the right places but the tone, as has been proved by others, may not be desirable. 

The early harmonic peals had shortened tenors and elongated trebles, which seems to me a sensible way to accommodate the requirements for bellringers although it did mean a number of different profiles for any one diameter of bell depending on its relative position in any given peal. 

It was not until the end of the 1920's that the current profile was standardised (after a 5-6 year cross over period) to accommodate the musical requirements of the carillon market. Ironic really when you consider how many ringing peals compared with carillons we make! Not that the current shape is bad, I hasten to add.

The first bells, as far as I can tell from the tuning books, that were tuned on the "new" tuning machine were Ewerby. These were done about March/April time in 1896. There were a few individual bells cast and tuned to augment existing sets after that, but Brewood was the first complete set cast after the tuning machine was commissioned. It is clear that they were aiming to get the bells harmonically tuned. They had three goes at the treble and a couple for the second and the seventh. Even so, some were still a way off the mark. These bells were cast in April and May 1886. 

Norton bells were cast on November 19th (sorry - it didn't say what day of the week that was) and were ringing by Christmas! They are a lot closer to the harmonic ideal, but the 3rd has a flat fundamental (prime, for those who can't cope with our naming system). 
Does that invalidate their claim to be the first harmonic peal? In my book, yes it does. Ironically, I would guess that the pressure was on from the church to get the bells ringing for Christmas and there simply wasn't enough time to recast the third.

So, therefore, the honour of being the first completely successful harmonically tuned peal goes to....................Tushingham (aka Macefen) which were cast between December '86 and February '87 and were completed on 5th March 1887. They were learning quickly about the vagaries of trying to cast the bells as close to the finished note as possible and a more pragmatic approach as to how much thicker to make the bell than the finished product was rapidly adopted. There are no prizes for maiden bells if they are flat of the rest - I know!

After that I have peals in the following order:

Dublin - cast between Jan 12 and April 29th 1887
Hartford - cast on Feb 22nd 1887
Thrapston - cast on Feb 27th 1887
Todmorden - cast between March 11th and June 2nd 1887
Heavitree - Cast July 1887

..............another 900 or so............. then

Kidderminster - cast between August and October 2003
Writtle and Frederick on their way.

There was also the chime at Kendal.....shame they are not ringing bells.

Andrew Higson


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