[Bell Historians] Corbridge

khsbelring@aol.com [bellhistorians] bellhistorians at yahoogroups.com
Fri Feb 20 20:39:37 GMT 2015



It would appear that I have stimulatedinterest in Corbridge by explaining the current position which I now think,for the state of accuracy, I should  expand a bit. 

Prior to the recent installation of a solidpermanent wood floor the bells could have been rung by removing the largeplanks used to cross the frame to gain access to the tower roof for the purposeof flag raising. Now the wood floor is in place that is not possible as five ofthe bells can no longer swing. 

So the bells themselves were ringablebut to have rung them may very well have caused long term damage to the tower. TechnicallyCorbridge  should have more correctlybeen given a tower unsafe designation. Now they are definitely physically unringable. 

Prior to 1888 there were three bells inthe tower the largest cast by Aaron Peever of Kirk Oswald in 1629. These bellshad long lain silent and at a public meeting in January of 1887 it was decidedto install new bells in honour of the jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria inJune of 1887. Mr. F.M. Laing of Farnley Grange and Mr. T. Sheldon of Summervilleeach agreed to pay for one bell, the remaining cost being defrayed by presentand former parishioners.


So it was that six new bells were cast in 1887.


1          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J. no. 1084                     251/2”            4-0-02

2          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J.no. 1087                     261/2”             4-0-14

3          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J.no. 1088                     28”                  4-1-09

4          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J.no. 1083                     291/2”             5-1-00

5          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J.no. 1090                     311/2”             5-2-09

6          Gillett & Co.Croydon                      G.& J.no. 1083                     34”                  6-2-23


In 1888 they were hung and first rungby ringers from St. Stephens, Low Elswick at the dedication service as reportedin the Bell News and Ringers Record of June 2nd 1888.

During the 1800s all of the bellfoundries tried to outdo each other and this was accomplished in the main byputting the largest bells possible in the smallest space and hanging them rightat the top of a tower so that the sound would carry further with no regard to the structure. From memory of 1972,I recollect that when standing on the upper frame sills you can rub your headon the roof.

In my opinion the two main things thateventually stopped the full circle ringing at Corbridge were –

Firstly there was indeed towermovement, first mentioned as late as 1908 by Canon Lonsdale, and discussed atvarious points up to the early 1920s when full circle ringing was finally suspended.

        Secondly there was constant enmity between the ringers and the  P.C.C. mainly documented as totaldisagreement with who was responsible for maintenance of the bells (specifically purchase of new ropes and greasing of the bells ) This constantalmost warfare between the two groups probably made the decision to stop fullcircle ringing much easier as it got rid of two problems at the same time.

          Wenow jump forward to 25th March 1972. On that day a number of wellknown ringers and bell “consultants” met and rang the bells. They were easy enough to ring with no mechanicalproblems and the ringing was of a high quality and much appreciated. However. Wishing to explain thisin an acceptable way we ringers talk about peal speeds as a judge of time spentringing at individual towers. Thus a peal at Newcastle Cathedral with itsthirty seven hundredweight tenor should take between 3 hours. 30 mins  and 3 hours 45 mins. The natural ringing speed atCorbridge is about 2 hours 45 minutes.

When rung at 2-45 speed there is no argument that the tower does indeed go intoperiodic spasm.

When rung at 3 hour speed all of the spasmodic movement disappears.

          A main part of theproblem is that the bells are so high in the tower and that they all swing East/ West.  No bell hanger would hang thebells in this fashion today. The frame would be designed so that the bells didnot all swing in one direction and they would be put slightly lower in thetower.

The wobbleometer was in use and the tried and tested threepenny piecestood upright on top of the tower did not fall over. It was noticeable thatthere was movement as our brains seem to pick up movement very easily when weexpect there not to be any.


What has happened since 1972. ?

          One of theunfortunate things about the whole situation is that in the 1970s there were nobell restoration funds available. Had that 1972 inspection been done morerecently funds would have been available to partly defray the cost of restoration.In the meantime I am aware that at least one incumbent had an aversion to bellsso that for many years nothing could or would have been done. 

          By request of theRev. Constantine in 1991 Dr. S.B. Bell ( the then Diocesan bell advisor ) did acursory inspection prior to the clock weight train being electrified. In thisinspection he wrote -


“I would therefore recommend thatthe bells and fittings are kept in good order with the necessary preservatives,until a time when it might be possible to position them lower in the tower sothat they can be rung full circle in the traditional English style”. 

To be fair to the P.C.C. they have doneeverything by the book. There was no will to embark on any bell restoration andin spite of what you may think about the wealth of Corbridge inhabitantsallegedly there was not much likely hood of securing the funds.

These days the issues of safety are notneglected by the bell hangers and modern schemes would incorporate them andalthough what is now a solid floor allowing no scope for ringing it would bereversible if someone with the funds came along and managed to stir upsufficient interest. The bells would need to be hung lower down in a differentframe layout. To sum it all up there remains a small glimmer of hope that sometimein the future the bells could be rung full circle again.


Howard E. J. Smith – Diocesan bell advisor.

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