[Bell Historians] Adjustable gudgeons

Carl S Zimmerman csz_stl at s...
Tue Feb 15 15:33:13 GMT 2005

At 07:44 +0000 2005/02/15, David Bryant wrote:
> > BTW, I've long wondered - what is a stock that's not a headstock?
>A deadstock.

Ah - a headstock that doesn't move. That makes sense, but also 
suggests more questions:

- Is a deadstock always the same shape as a (non-tucked-up) 
headstock would be?

- Does this term also encompass the part of the frame of a chime or 
carillon from which a single bell is suspended? (That's typically 
how large and medium bells are hung in steel-framed instruments, 
though not in old American timber-framed chimes.)

On further reflection, I think that "yoke" is not precisely 
equivalent to "headstock". The latter term derives, I think, from 
the piece of timber to which an old English change-ringing bell was 
fastened. (Compare "stocks", the timber frame into which 
colonial-era miscreants were fastened for a day of public derision.) 
Before welded steel headstocks enabled greater flexibility of design, 
modification of the period of swing of a bell was more difficult than 
it now is. A small amount of tuck-up could be accomplished by 
notching the center of the headstock; the gudgeons could be fastened 
at various positions on or under the ends of the headstock; or the 
headstock could be made taller as a counterweight. (The extreme form 
of the last-mentioned is found in Spanish bells hung flywheel-style.) 
Of course these methods could be used in combination if necessary, 
but the adjustment was typically small, because change-ringing 
compensates for the varying periods of swing by ringing to (or near) 
the inverted balance point.

In contrast, all of the American bellfounders of the 19th c. hung 
their large swinging bells for what the English bellfounders would 
call "slow swinging", i.e., "well tucked up". This means that the 
cast iron moving support to which the bell is directly fastened has 
the shape of an ox yoke, hence the name. (A few very early American 
bells do survive on timber headstocks which look rather like English 
work of the period.)

The opposite extreme of bell-hanging is founding in Germany. (Is it 
only a coincidence that Germany is also on the opposite side of 
England from America, geographically speaking?) There the 
non-tucked-up headstock is preferred for fast free swinging, which 
produces a distinctly different "music" from that of an equivalent 
set of free-swinging bells hung American-style.

Thus I conclude that "yoke" is closest in meaning to "well-tucked-up 
headstock", rather than to the unqualified "headstock". (I also 
conclude that we Americans ought to make use of "headstock" more 

As always, I welcome corrections to these views from those more 
experienced with bell hanging than I am.


P.S. In an exception to the rule, the Hooper/Blake bellfoundry of 
Boston, Mass., used yokes which were specifically designed to have 
counterweights attached to the top after the bell was hung, to change 
the rate of swing. I have seen several of these which have a chunk 
of stone, a large brick or a short length of scrap steel wired to the 
top of the yoke. For an example, see the photos at 
http://www.pinewoodlutheran.com/about/. Not all such counterweights 
are this neatly done!

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