The Church Bells

In 1717 the firm of Thomas Gardiner of Sudbury cast and hung a peal of five bells in the church tower. The bells bore the inscription Thos Gardiner Sudbury Fecit (made) 1717.

Bells from above
Bells from above

However in 1935 it was deemed that the tower structure could no longer sustain the stresses and strains of heavy bells swinging on their axles, so the bells were re-hung in permanent headstocks and set to be chimed. This has the benefit that one person can now sound the bells against five people having to man the five ropes (and in towers where the tenor is very heavy it takes two people to control the ring!) By ‘chiming’ the bells, hymn tunes and carols etc are able to be sounded in addition to standard ‘peals’. Bell peals are many and varied eg. Grandsire (pronounced Grandser) Doubles, Steadman Caters, Bastow Little, Double Oxford and many others.

Tower mezzanine floor showing ropes for striking bells (centre-left)
Tower mezzanine floor showing ropes for striking bells (centre-left)

In 1967 the largest (tenor) bell of the set was re-cast by Messrs. Mears & Stainbank of Whitechapel, London, and rehung in a new headstock. In 1987 the Whitechapel Bell Foundry undertook to re-cast the treble bell of the old set and cast a new treble bell to make a ring of six bells. At the same time the original oak frame of 1717 was restored and the five smallest bells rehung on new headstocks.

The bells are tuned to the scale of B flat major and their weights, dimensions and dates are:-

Tenor 5cwt 3qtr 27lb 33½ in. diam. Bflat 1717 recast 1967
Fifth 5¼cwt 30in. C 1717
Fourth 4¼cwt 28in. D 1717
Third 3¾cwt 27in. Eflat 1717
Second 3cwt 1qtr 24lb 25in. F 1717 recast 1987
Treble 3cwt 0qtr 15lb 23in. G 1987 New

Visitors in the bell chamber on Tower Open Day June 2016
Visitors in the bell chamber on Tower Open Day June 2016

The bells may be heard most Sundays before Service and on Wednesday mornings before the 10 o’clock service, but sometimes because of other duties the bells have to remain silent. When requested, however, at weddings the Bride is ‘Rung in’ and Bride and Groom are ‘Rung Out’ after the ceremony. Also, when requested at funerals, the Tenor bell may be tolled as the funeral party enter the church.

John Talbot
October, 2009