Christ Church has a fine peal of ten bells, rung before the morning and evening services each Sunday, and for weddings and other special occasions. We also ring occasionally at other churches and soon form widespread friendships with people of all ages and occupations. Ringers are drawn from all ages (well, nearly all) and walks of life and ringing is a satisfying lifelong activity. The pleasure of ringing is not just the sound of the bells, it is the rhythm and teamwork involved, as well as exercise for the mind and the body! We practise in the tower on Wednesday evenings between 7.30 and 9.00pm. Anyone interested will be made very welcome. Enquiries may be made to Mrs Betty Sutcliffe, (020 8368 1974).
Why Ten Bells?
Christ Church has ten bells in its bell tower, as well as the ancient Sanctus bell, which dates from 1616. Fewer than two hundred bell towers in England have ten bells. Of the 5,300 English bell towers capable of “change ringing”, most are in Anglican Churches and more than half have just six bells.
So, why is Christ Church in this elite minority? In fact, from 1879 to 1920, Christ Church seems to have been satisfied with only eight bells. We must guess at why they added two more in 1920. Possible explanations include the possibility that the greater volume afforded by more bells would be more likely to attract parishioners to church; or, having more bells means that more ringers can be accommodated.
In fact, the best explanation is more technical. For a typical English church bell, hung with wheel and rope, there is naturally a gap of about two seconds between the “dongs” but a heavy bell takes a bit more than two seconds and a lighter bell a little less time than two seconds. It takes rather skilful ringing to offset this discrepancy and avoid the sound emerging from the bell tower seeming confused. However, if you add two bells weighing about 5 cwt and 6 cwt to the front and take two bells weighing about 17 cwt and 24 cwt off the back, then the weight of the ring of eight is far more balanced. The difference between the tenor and treble has become only about 8 cwt, which enables much easier striking accuracy. The net effect is a much more pleasing sound and requires less skill. So, our predecessors were probably striving for a better effect almost regardless of skill!
How bells are hung?
Contrary to appearances, the subject of this picture is not Ruth – one of our bellringers – but the bell and its hanging mechanism! But she gives us an idea of scale.
It is our Sanctus bell, the green sally of which you pass on your right as you enter the Church. It is far and away our oldest bell, being given by Lady Joan Brooke in 1616 for the Weld Chapel. Between 1865, when our Church was built, and 1874 when our six biggest bells were installed, it was the only bell in our tower.
Note how it is hung and compare it with how the big Tenor bell next to it is arranged. The fundamental principles and basic geometry have not changed, but the method used to fix the bell to the headstock is quite different.
Bells used to be hung on their “cannons”, that is the rings at the top of the bell. These were cast in when the molten bell metal was poured into the mould. Rods were passed through them and hooks attached to the timber headstock as you can see. Whilst this is almost certainly not the original headstock, it is none the less very old and typical of an early 17th Century item. The wheel probably dates from 1874.
Now compare the Sanctus bell with the modern Tenor bell, in whose pit Betty is standing. (By the way, as far as bells are concerned, 1874 is very modern!) Here the bell has been cast with a flat top, and then accurately machined, and fixed with steel bolts to the headstock, which is now made of cast iron. Our Tenor bell was also fitted with modern bearings in the mid 1950’s.
The piece of ash bolted to the headstock is the backstay. It is a very important part of the mechanism as it is this which stops the bell going over full circle, and restricts its movement to about 375 degrees.