[Bell Historians] Old North Church, Boston
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Sat Jun 16 03:32:59 BST 2012
Noted below is the section on Old North from "Life Before NAG" by the late J. Michael Simpson,
formerly of Grantham, Lincs., and Victoria, B.C.
Unfortunately the photographs and line drawings did not reproduce.
Reference is made to a subscription but no other UK donor. Inscriptions on the bells at the
end of the chapter does not add much information either.
When I first saw these bells in September/October 1969, the old ropes were in shreds and the
sprinkler piping went through the wheels. Thank goodness for Dr. Davies and his helpers.
Christ Church (Old North Church)
J. Michael Simpson
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April in ’Seventy-five.
nstalled in this tower in 1744 and first rung the following year, these are the earliest known bells in North America to be hung for full circle change ringing. They were cast in England by the Rudhalls of Gloucester, and an article in the Bell News of August 11,1906 by Dr. Arthur Nichols, quoting a letter from Rudhall at the time of ordering the bells, suggests that “...[the peal] will compare favourably with that of All Saints, Fulham, St. Martin’s [sic] in the Fields, and St. Brides, London; and St. Peter at Arches, Lincoln [now St. Giles]; or of Painswick parish church, all cast at the Rudhall foundry, about the same date and possibly in the same moulds.” The original intention was for one of Rudhall’s employees to travel to Boston with the bells in order to supervise the hanging, but at the last minute the plan fell through. The reason for this is explained in a letter to a Mr. Gunter in Boston, who was the import agent acting for the church, written by Abel Rudhall on March 9, 1745 after he had personally supervised the loading of the bells onto the ship Two Friends in the port of Bristol. The letter, which also enclosed receipts and acknowledged payment in full, reads:
I am very sorry for the disappointment in not being able to prevail upon John Baker to go with ye bells (whom ever since they were ordered I depended upon). For Baker’s own part he would willingly take the voyage, but ye moment the news came to his wife that the bells were sent for down to Bristol, she immediately swooned away to that degree that the people about her after great difficulty would scarce bring life into her, which affected her husband very much, & with her persuasions after has prevailed upon him not to go (though entirely against his own inclinations); for she says, if he does go “twill be the death of her; and so upon his not going I have sent a moddal of ye frame for your carpenter to work by, & have likewise sent a written direction for putting the Head-Stocks and wheeles on ye bells. There is a person in Philadelphia that is capable and has been concerned in England with Bell-hanging who, if you can agree with, will do business perhaps as well as Baker; if you be pleased to write to him you may direct to Henry Clarke and the Coach and Horses, opposite ye State House, to whom if he comes, shd be greatly obliged to you, Sir, if youd be so good as let him have ye Catalogues of bells which I have sent; or otherwise if he does not come, beg if you have any opportunity of sending them without any expense, that you would be so kind as to do it. I can think of nothing more for directions concerning ye bells and materials than what I have already wrote down. I have sent you a good Peal of Bells, & hope you will get ringers to have them well rung. I return you a great many thanks for ye favour you have done me, and heartily wish you success with ye bells, and I am, Sir,
Your most obliged
& Obedient Servant,
There must have been considerable excitement in Boston in anticipation of the arrival of the bells, as the inscription on the third bell suggests. The campaign to raise the necessary money commenced in 1743 and was completed the following year. However, when the bells finally landed on the dockside in Boston, it was found that the cost of freight and, most of all, insurance had increased considerably. This was undoubtedly due to the “War of Austrian Succession,” otherwise known as “King George’s War,” involving the British and the French. Raising funds to cover these costs proved to be not so easy. Finally “petitions” to raise the money were prepared and, by very good fortune, were issued on July 24, 1745, the very day the news reached Boston that the British troops, under the command of General Pepperell, had captured the French fort at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. The cause was aided immeasurably.
A document, establishing a band here, was drawn up in 1750. The original document still hangs in the ringing chamber - facsimiles are available in the church gift shop. One of the original band was that famous patriot Paul Revere whose signature appears on this document. For a number of years he was the tower captain. It is reasonable to assume that he was an active ringer here while participating in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, and also when he rode through the night to warn the people in Concord and Lexington of the advancing British troops. More or less certainly he would have participated in ringing the bells as a call-to-arms for the local population to rise in revolution. Other names on the 1750 document are: John Dyer, Josiah Flagg, Bartholomew Ballard, Jonathon Lait, Joseph Snelling and Jonathon Brown Jnr. There is no record of other ringing during this period, except it is known that the bells were rung to welcome the Marquis of Lafayette who visited Boston in 1824, after having been rewarded by Congress for his efforts in supporting the Colonists during the War of Independence. It is not known either what method of ringing was practised during this period. Twenty years later the bells were removed from the tower to enable major repairs to be carried out on both the tower and steeple.
A four-year-old-boy, Arthur Howard Nichols, whose name will recur frequently in these chapters, was taken by his father to see the bells, which were stored in the churchyard, an event which probably sparked the youngster’s interest in bells. When the bells were returned to the tower, it seems that some of the equipment necessary to ring them full circle was not replaced. This was probably because there was nobody around at that time who was familiar with change ringing. Every Sunday the bells were just chimed by the sexton, John Jewel. When Arthur Nichols was 12 years old he persuaded the sexton to teach him how to play these chimes. He soon built up quite a repertoire including not just hymns, but also such popular tunes as “Oh dear, what can the matter be?” Soon he replaced the sexton at this task every Sunday. Throughout his school and university years he was paid the sum of $50 per annum for performing these duties.
Later, in 1862, when Nichols visited the tower he reported that he saw eight well worn circles on the wooden floor of the ringing room. These would appear to indicate that the bells had, in the past, been rung full circle for a considerable period of time.
After graduating from Harvard in 1863, Dr. Nichols went to Europe for a year to further his education in the medical field. Before returning to America he went over to England. One day, while in Trafalgar Square in London, he heard the bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and was able to visit the ringing chamber and inspect the bells. He was enthralled by what he saw and heard, and it must have been this visit that stimulated his interest in change ringing, though it lay dormant for almost 30 years.
In 1893 it was announced that Christ Church would once again undergo major repairs and Nichols requested and received permission to inspect the bells. As a result of his visit to St. Martin-in-the-Fields 30 years previously, he realized that these bells, on which he used to play tunes, had originally been designed and hung for change ringing. He set about the job of having them rehung, under his own supervision and also, to a large degree, at his own expense, which he claimed cost him approximately $1000.00. The work was put in the hands of H. Pigeon & Sons, Mast and Spar Makers and Fitch & Joy, Shipsmiths. It is unfortunate that upon completion, the job was less than completely satisfactory.
Dr. Nichols recruited a band of expatriated Englishmen, who were all ringers before leaving England, and formed them into the “Old Colony Guild of Bellringers.” The log of this Guild is still in existence among his papers. It shows that the Guild was incorporated at a meeting held on March 3, 1894. Those present at the meeting were: Dr. A.H. Nichols, Colonel Henry Walker, Henry Hill, George L. Gowland, T.G. Taylor, and William Shipp. Dr. Nichols was elected president, Henry Hill, Secretary and George Gowland as Leader. At a meeting on the following May 3, this title was changed to Conductor. They were to take charge of all peals in Boston and vicinity and generally patterned their charter after the Ancient Society of College Youths. Harry Ashton was put in charge of the tower with William Shipp and Thomas Dean as fellow instructors. The objects of the Guild, not too dissimilar to those of the present day North American Guild of Change Ringers, were:
1. The promotion and cultivation of change ringing as a branch of church service and a feature of public celebrations.
2. To stimulate and foster public interest in musical bells and peals; and to provide for the proper care and ringing of tower bells.
3. To provide at reasonable cost instruction in the art of Scientific Change Ringing.
No person was eligible for election to the Guild unless they could ring either the treble or the third to Grandsire Triples. A band representing this Guild rang the bells when they were reopened on Patriots’ Day, April 19, 1894, which drew a large and appreciative crowd. The 1894 annual meeting was not held, due to lack of notice, probably because Dr. Nichols and family were away. On November 22 a year later 19 members were present, with Henry Ashton, the Conductor, in the chair. The Old Colony Guild soon dropped out of sight. It was never dissolved but the minute book ceased to be maintained that year, nor is there any further reference to it in Nichols’ own notes.
In the January 1895 edition of the New England Magazine an article by Ralph Adams Cram extols the virtues of change ringing and British made change-ringing bells when compared to chiming and chiming bells from North American foundries. Towards the end of this article he mentions the rehanging of the bells in 1894, a portion of which follows:
As the work progressed many curious things developed. The bells were found to be a virgin peal, i.e. untouched by the file or chisel to correct the tone; an actual ball-bearing axle was discovered in the “ground trucks,” made years before the modern ball-bearing was patented. It was found that since the time that the bells were hung  not one material improvement had been effected in the mechanism of suspension and ringing, - that in every respect the hangings were superior to any modern  patented contrivances.
Having got change ringing started again in America, Dr. Nichols took his wife and family off on a European tour which culminated in England in September 1894. While there he visited many towers and took copious notes on such matters as the price of ropes (one half guinea), and also on bells themselves (five guineas per hundredweight). This trip marked the beginning of his campaign to reintroduce change ringing to North America, and it also gave him the opportunity to practise and develop his own ringing.
On his return home he found that, due to discord and misunderstanding, ringing at Christ Church had been discontinued. He was able to revive the band under his own leadership, though he was not able to fill the conductor’s shoes. Regular practices were held twice a week in 1895, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
By the year 1900, what had been a predominantly English neighbourhood surrounding Old North Church was slowly being transformed into an Italian community. These new citizens certainly would not be familiar with change ringing and, ere long, were successful in having ringing restricted to special occasions only. Dr. Nichols, however, by this time had other matters on his mind.
In 1912, Nichols engaged the services of Daniel Gibbons, a bell hanger employed by Mears and Stainbank, who was over on the west side of the Atlantic in connection with hanging the bells at the Perkins Institute and Hingham, to inspect the bells at Old North. He found that they had deteriorated very badly in the 20 years since they had last been rehung. In the time between the hanging and the dedication at the Perkins Institute, he was able to quarter turn, rehang, and fit new steel headstocks to the bells. He also replaced all of the wheels. These appeared to have been replaced once before, probably in 1824, when they were rung for the visit of Lafayette, and had been made of soft wood that had warped badly.
This work, which had been made possible by the generosity of the descendants of Paul Revere, was completed in the spring of 1913. Soon after a small band of ringers commenced practising. The bells were officially reopened, once again, on Patriots’ Day, in 1913. At that time the Bishop of the Diocese entrusted ringing here to Dr. Nichols for a period of six months. The first peal attempt, Grandsire Triples, was made on July 4, 1913. The ringers were; P.J. Allfrey 1, Frank Burgar (Conductor) 2, William Bashford 3, George Moore 4, James F. Laker 5, Gordon Mackman 6, S.J. Perkins 7, Richard Newton 8. Those listening outside heard excellent ringing for the first three hours and three minutes, when suddenly the bells came unexpectedly into rounds and stood. Two bells had crossed over without any audible clashing, and the conductor had to call the bells round with only about ten minutes left to ring.
Two days after this event a new ringer, Ernest E. Randall, arrived from England. Within four hours of disembarking he was in the tower and ringing the third to an excellent quarter of Grandsire Triples with the same band, except for James Laker, as were in the peal attempt. This quarter was both composed and conducted by Frank Burgar.
Around this time, the influx of new ringers spawned the birth of the Boston Association of Change Ringers, with Dr. Nichols as President and Secretary and Mr. P.J. Alfrey as Master. The new association soon became known as “The Boston Guild.” The first outing of the new society was on May 23, 1913 with ringing both here and at the Perkins Institute.
The Ringing World of October 13, 1913 carries one of the regular, and usually very positive, articles by Dr. Nichols on ringing in Boston. In it he reported on the plans of the newly formed Boston Guild of Ringers. These included an exhibition of ringing, at Christ Church, for the American Bankers Association, for which they were paid £10. On October 13 they planned another peal attempt, which, it seems, was unsuccessful, as no further reference to it can be found.
The six months were up in November and it appears that permission to continue ringing was denied by the Bishop. This led to a very tense situation, which was not helped by the occasion of the wedding of President Wilson’s daughter to Francis B. Sayre, which was held in the East Room of the White House. Nichols wished to ring for the wedding, but the Bishop disagreed, saying it was a private affair. Nichols did not give up easily and he approached the Mayor of the City of Boston, who, it seems, had no hesitation in agreeing that the bells should be rung. This inspired Nichols to write in his notes with uncharacteristic bitterness:
Bishop Lawrence excels as a moneymaker, as a forceful speaker, and indefatigable worker. But his religion is of the cold storage vintage. With those of humbler ranks he lacks sympathy, and I have noted with surprise how his opinions may be based upon absurdly weak data. In certain respects, therefore, Mayor Fitzgerald is distinctly his superior. I can only hope that because he has now received from the Mayor a sharp dig in his side he will not pass it over to me. Considering him a treacherous friend my relations with him now cease.
In the end the bells were rung. It had been hoped the ringing could be relayed to the White House by telephone, but this plan fell through due to lack of time to set up the “necessary Apparatus.” A reporter from the Boston Globe, writing about the event, said that the method rung was “Grandfather Triples” and that in the hour for which they rang, they completed more than 5,000 changes!!
Despite all this rancour, Nichols continued to negotiate with the Bishop through the early months of 1914 in an attempt to reinstate ringing, but it was all to no avail. Again he asked for permission to ring on Independence Day in 1915, but once again he was turned down. This time his wrath was directed against Charles K. Bolton, senior warden at Christ Church and librarian at the Athenaeum in Boston. He wrote in his notes: “Bolton is the evil genius, though he is artful in hiding his hand. Unsophisticated in many respects, he has acquired the sharp artifices of the native Yankee.”
The last time he recorded ringing at Christ Church, to which he had been closely attached for most of his life, was to celebrate the end of the First World War in 1918. Dr. Arthur H. Nichols died, very suddenly, on January 9, 1923. An obituary notice appeared in The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine of March 1923. The following is a short extract from that article:
Those who were at school with him in the early fifties remember well that he was looked upon as “an original,” because he spent as many of his spare hours as he could among the bells in the belfry of the Old North Church (Paul Revere’s Church), in what was known in those days as the Old North End. It has been intimated that this love for the chimes and bells was inherited. Of him it was, with some exaggeration, said that he was vastly more interested to know that Paul Revere was a founder and ringer of bells than that he made his midnight ride to Lexington. He read eagerly all literature on bellringing and on the quality and tones of bells, and his brochure “The Bells of Harvard College” offers to Harvard men information upon a subject as novel as it is unknown to the ordinary Harvard man. He knew the tone of every bell in Boston and could name the church or edifice from which it came. He became an expert bellringer, and in an article published in the Boston Sunday Herald of January 21, 1923, he is spoken of in these words, “Boston has lost the Guardian of her Bells.”
THE BELLS OF OLD NORTH CHURCH
Cwt Qrs Lbs
Treble - 5 2 4 Abel Rudhall, of Gloucester, cast us all, Anno 1744.
Second - 5 2 6 Since generosity has opened our mouths, our tongues
shall ring aloud its praise.
Third - 6 1 3 The subscription for these bells was begun by John
Hannmock and Robert Temple, Church Wardens, Anno
1743; completed by Robert Jenkins and John Gould,
Church Wardens, Anno 1744.
Fourth - 7 1 3 William Shirley Esq., Governor of the Massachusetts Bay,
in New-England. Anno 1744.
Fifth - 7 1 21 God preserve the Church of England. 1744.
Sixth - 8 1 24 We are the first ring of bells cast for the British Empire in North America. A.R. 1744.
Seventh - 10 2 24 This Church was founded in the year 1723. Timothy Cutler,
DD, the first Rector, A.R. 1744.
Tenor - 13 3 5 This peal of eight bells is the gift of a number of generous
persons to Christ Church, in Boston, N.E. Anno 1744. A.R.
Christ Church bells were completely overhauled in 1983. The North American Guild of Change Ringers and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Guild, both inspired by Dr. Geoffrey Davies, were instrumental in promoting this work.
On Jun 15, 2012, Richard Smith <richard at T734lmztPip0lXqvE1QZdSi8mj0acgECRV6QdETOidrKLfK34DxqPw7wJgP1AiwPJiBfNNSN3-M9bIvXaW325g.yahoo.invalid> wrote:
Accorind to the church website, the sixth at Old North
Church, Boston, has the inscription "We are the first ring
of bells cast for the British Empire in North America".
The bells are a complete Rudhall eight, cast in 1744. Is
anything known about how Old North came to have the first
North American ring of bells?
Old North was built in 1723. Until that year, the governor
of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, of which Boston was
the capital, was Col. Samuel Shute. Shute was a Londoner
who was elected to the College Youths in 1685 and became
steward in 1690. Is it a coincidence that the first ring of
bells in North America was installed in a tower built only
21 years earlier in a capital of province whose governor was
a College Youth?
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