Bells and Bellringing at St Mary’s, Speldhurst

Current ringing at St Mary’s

Ringing has been suspended for most of the time since lockdown in March 2020. We did ring (socially distanced and masked) for services in September and October 2020 before the November lockdown, but that has been the only ringing since March 2020.

Pre lockdown, we rang prior to the 10 am service each Sunday and for weddings and a few other occasions. We expect something similar to resume after COVID restrictions are lifted, depending on the pattern of services the church adopts. Our practice night is Tuesdays 7.45 to 9.15 pm.

We currently have about 18 ringers, a few of whom are not able to ring on Sundays because of commitments (to other churches or to duties at St Mary’s). Pre COVID we usually had enough ringers to ring all eight bells on a Sunday morning.

Would you be interested in learning to ring?

We will welcome people of any age who are potentially able to learn to ring. For young people, this is generally from the age of around 11. There’s no maximum age limit – anyone who is fit enough to climb the tower stairs is probably fit enough to learn to ring.

We will not be able to teach anyone to ring until COVID becomes a very minor risk as the trainer needs to stand very close to the person learning, but anyone can register an interest in learning to ring and we will provide the tuition when circumstances permit. We have many experienced ringers in our team which provides a good environment for new ringers to develop their ringing skills.

Contact Eric Roughley our tower captain (telephone 863222) or Anthony Leeves our tower secretary (telephone 531104) if you are interested.

Details of the bells currently hanging in the tower

There are eight bells hung for full circle change ringing. These are the eight bells hung for full circle ringing:

Bell Weight Note Diameter Dated Founder
1 4 ½ cwt F# 26.63” 1887 Mears & Stainbank
2 4 ½ cwt E# 27.38” 1887 Mears & Stainbank
3 5 cwt D# 29.50” 1849 Charles & George Mears
4 6 ¼ cwt C# 31.50” 1849 Charles & George Mears
5 6 ½ cwt B 33.50 1849 Charles & George Mears
6 6 ¾ cwt A# 34.00” 1849 Charles & George Mears
7 10cwt 1qr 18 lb G# 38.00 1933 Gillett & Johnston
8 13 ¼ cwt F# 42.00” 1849 Charles & George Mears

When the bells were rehung in the 1970s and 1980s, the cannons were removed from bells 1 to 6 and bell 8 (bell 7 was cast without cannons). This has reduced the weight of each of those bells so that their exact current weights are not known. Cannons are loops which used to be cast into bells and by which the bells were suspended from the headstock.

When the wooden headstocks were replaced with metal headstocks, the cannons were removed and holes were drilled though the top of the bells which were then fixed to the new metal headstocks by bolts (via a block of wood so that metal to metal contact is avoided).

The eight bells are hung in a timber frame. Bells 1,2,5,6,7,8 are hung in the 1849 part of the frame. Bells 3 and 4 are hung in the additional frame built by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry when the two new bells were cast in 1887.

There is also a service bell which was cast by Mears & Stainbank in 1920 and weighs 4 cwt 1qr 10 lb. Its G# note suggests that it would be a suitable bell to use as a new No 2 bell if the bells were ever augmented to a ring of 10, but, when Alan Berry of John Taylor & Co Bellfounders visited in the 1980s, his tuning fork suggested otherwise. This bell does not swing. It is sounded by pulling a rope fixed to a specially designed clapper.

Some history of the bells and ringing

In The History of Speldhurst (Rev. D. D. Mackinnon – 1902 – ed. D. James 1930) mention is made of a bequest made in 1522 “to the Bell of Speldhurst”suggesting that there was one bell in the tower at that time.

From the beginning of the 17th century there is mention of the great bell, the ‘youngest’ bell and the little bell indicating that there were at least 3 bells by then, and payment of sixpence to Bellringers is recorded as early as 1666.

The 1729 church accounts show an entry for 6 bell ropes so by then there were 6 bells. The metal of these 6 bells was melted in the 1791 fire when the church was struck by lightning.

The church was rebuilt in 1805, but it was not until 1812 that a single bell, recast by Messrs. Mears at the Whitechapel bell Foundry from the metal that was salvaged from the fire, was hung in the tower.

In 1847 it was decided to cast a further five bells, to be paid for by voluntary subscriptions, and this work was also entrusted to Messrs. Mears. The largest of these bells (the tenor) bears the inscription “The time is short – Watch and pray always”. The 1812 bell was tuned to become the No. 5 bell of the ring of six (the No. 7 bell of the present ring of eight). Brought to Tonbridge on a Wednesday and fetched to Speldhurst on the Thursday, the bells were chimed on Friday 21st August 1849 in honour of the birthday of the Duchess of Kent who was staying at Tunbridge Wells – this was achieved by placing the bells on their heads on the ground and striking them by hand with the clappers. After the bells had been hung, there was a whole day of ringing (with intervals). The cost including the hanging had been £360.

The 1805 church was pulled down in 1870 and replaced with a larger one, but the six bells could not be reinstalled until the tower was completed in 1878. Two further bells were cast by Mears & Stainbank in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year (1887) to complete the present ring of 8 bells. The lighter of these new bells (the present treble) was the gift of the Powell family of Crowborough and is inscribed “In memory of Susanna and Eleanor Powell, died 1885”. The other new bell (the present No. 2 bell) was the gift of the parishioners and is inscribed “I celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, 1837 – 1887”.

New quarter hour chimes were also added in 1887, the gift of Mr. & Mrs. C. W. Powell in memory of Mr. C. Powell. They are identical to those at Magdelen College, Oxford.

There was a very competent band of ringers from the 1880s to well into the 20th century and several peals were rung either by the local band alone or supplemented by ringers from nearby churches. Many of the ringers were also members of the church choir as evidenced in the Parish Magazine of 1896 when the Rector, in answer to complaints from some members of the congregation that the services started late, explained that time had to be allowed for the bellringers to come down from the tower and take their places in the choir. The Parish magazines of that time tell of their outings – some by train to London, including ringing at St Paul’s Cathedral and St Michael’s, Cornhill.

In 1914 the bells were rehung with new gudgeons and bearings. Long vertical bolts were fitted through the frame braces to strengthen the 7th and tenor bell pits. In 1931 or 1932 the 6 larger bells were quarter turned, and the 7th and tenor were rehung on ball bearings by Mears & Stainbank. In 1933 the 7th bell was recast by Gillet & Johnstone and the heaviest six bells were retuned