Woodchurch etc

GRBlundell at a... GRBlundell at a...
Sat Feb 26 17:26:45 GMT 2005

Before I get going on this, I will start by acknowledging that ultimately we 
may have to agree to disagree. But I think that there is a genuine point to 
be made about what 'bell historians' should be doing with their time - and 
while I am more of an interested observer than a 'bell historian', I haven't 
seen anyone else make this point yet.

As far as I can see, this debate has raised 2 issues:

- the weight of the tenor at Woodchurch;
- the purpose of changing Woodchurch's 'recorded' weight.

To take these in turn, despite my comments in my previous email, the 
Woodchurch debate may have been historically valuable. John Hyden tells us that 
3-3-27 was sourced from a weight written on the bell as delivered. That strikes 
me as pretty good evidence that 3-3-27 _may_ be accurate. Please note that I do 
not say that it is clinching proof that it _is_ accurate. So the valuable 
historic point that this raises is that the Whitechapel tuning book may not be 
an unchallengeable source of evidence for the weight of a bell. As I 
understand it, the evidence remains strongly in favour of the Whitechapel book - but 
in the event of a dispute, there are grounds for some uncertainty.

Moving to whether it is important to change the recorded weight, Chris 
Dalton feels that I have missed the point. I'm sorry, but I think the fault is 
mine - I did not make my point clear enough, and Chris missed what I was trying 
to say. The question is not what the weight of a given bell is, but what we 
can do with this information.

My argument is that while correcting the known weight of a tenor may 
increase our knowledge, it does not automatically increase our _useful_ knowledge - 
knowledge that we can do something with. This is actually a quantifiable 
argument: if we discover that the tenor at Liverpool Cathedral actually weighs 2 
tons rather than 4 tons, this is significant as it impacts on our 
understanding of bellfounding, tuning, hanging and so on. But a change in a bell's 
reported weight of under 1% does none of these things. I would argue that as 
things stand, our understanding of Whitechapel's work in the early 1970s has only 
changed in one aspect from this discussion of the weight of Woodchurch tenor 
- we now have grounds to believe that the tuning book may not invariably be 
the best source of evidence for a bell's weight.

And this is the crux of my argument, which I did not make clear so Chris 
could not address it. History, ultimately, is not about facts. Rather, it is 
about how these facts relate to each other, and cast light on the past. If we do 
not try to draw facts together, and create a coherent narrative which they 
all can sit in, then we are not writing history, or carrying out historical 
research; instead, we are following a pursuit very closely related to train 
spotting, of collecting facts just for the fun of it.

Let me make it clear, particularly as my last simile is somewhat dismissive, 
that the collection of facts is not unimportant. It's a noble and necessary 
task to provide the material for historians to work on. But it isn't history, 
any more than digging copper ore out of the ground is bell casting. The 
facts (the ore) need to be considered and refined, with perhaps some (irrelevant 
facts, stones dug up by mistake) being rejected before the final product (the 
history, the bell) emerges.

There is real work to be done in bell history. For example, we still have 
little more than an outline theory of when and where change ringing emerged, and 
how it spread across England. My understanding is that the evidence to 
support the East Anglian idea is thin. (I would be delighted to have my ignorance 
exposed if I'm wrong on this.) I firmly believe that there is historical 
research to be done on the basis of surviving and recorded artefacts and records 
that can allow us to form an evidence based theory of were the exercise comes 
from - but none of the evidence for this sort of project is likely to be 
changed one jot by correcting the weight of a tenor bell by an amount of less 
than 1%.



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