[Bell Historians] Re: Woodchurch etc

Richard Grimmett richard at g...
Sun Feb 27 18:00:17 GMT 2005

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Flaming Nora - are you under the influence of some massively mind
expanding drugs, or standing for the Labour Party at the next election?


-----Original Message-----
From: GRBlundell at a... [mailto:GRBlundell at a...] 
Sent: 26 February 2005 17:27
To: bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com
Subject: [Bell Historians] Re: Woodchurch etc

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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