The Bells of St Cleer
The History of the Bells of St Cleer Parish Church
After a bimble around the lovely church Geoff led us up to the bell tower and introduced us to the six bells.
Copied from the Parish Church Booklet, with kind thanks. There must have been bells at St Cleer since the tower was built, but the only proof of this in ancient times is a quotation from the Church Inventory of 1551 – “Seynt Cleer – its four belles hangynge yn theire toure” written in E.H.W. Dunkin “Church Bells of Cornwall” 1878. More recently there are the Churchwardens’ annual accounts from 1709 to the middle of the 19th century with some interesting details.
There must still have been only four bells in 1721, as the first mention of a bell was in that year when 500lbs of mettle was purchased at a cost of twenty five pounds. Judging by the weight of metal this must have been a new bell, possibly the predecessor of the present 2nd bell. There were also a lot of ancillary items that tend to confirm this view. Twenty pounds was needed for “running the bells” – forty pounds for hardwood – seventeen pence for a Bellstock, while fifty two pence was needed for casting the brasses for four bells.
Up for a closer look
In 1731 the names of Christopher Pennington and Ambrose Gooding appear for the first time as Bellfounders. They worked at Stoke, Stoke Climsland. The bill this time was for metal was only a third of that referred to above, not enough for a new bell. Perhaps this was for a recasting, but there is no reference as to which bell, and connected work was only five pounds.
Vestry meetings were held annually to appoint Churchwardens. The minutes of the year 1735 record a meeting called to approve the casting of a new Treble bell. This motion was passed on the 5th of December 1735, being signed by twenty one rate payers, including John Connock of Treworgey.
The entry about this bell in 1735/36 is confusing as it refers to “the bells being nine pounds – six hundred and eighty two and a half pounds at six pence per pound” – this weight was far more than needed for a treble bell. In that year there were entries for exchange of brasses, whips for the bells, carpentry for when the bell was hung, and the costs of the Churchwardens when the bell was taken to be weighed in Liskeard. In 1750 the Churchwardens bargained with the bellfounder for casting the third bell and charged forty pence for this: Ambrose Gooding charged fourteen pounds and eighty five pence for casting the bell and brasses and “additional metal”. This must have been the recasting of this bell. Up to this date we do not not know if the bells were hung for full circle ringing; it is quite possible that they were not used.
An old yoke used as a support beam.
In 1789, there was a major operation. According to E.H.W. Dunkin, all six bells were brought down and recast. The bill from Penningtons, John and Christopher, was seventy five pounds and seventy five pence – of which it was agreed that twenty pounds should be carried over till the next year. There were also bills for timber and labour, four pounds and forty five pence and one pound and thirty one pence, which presumably was for the bell frame to enable them to be rung full circle; similar, but probably not quite the same, as the present manner. Although all the bells were stamped IP:CP 1789, there could be some doubt about the fifth bell, clearly a rogue! It was first mentioned in 1781 when a new clapper was needed. The accounts show this bell was recast in 1793/94 for a total cost of thirteen pounds and eighty five pence. Was the fifth bell, cast in 1789,recast again in 1793? However, even this latter recasting was unsatisfactory as it had to be taken down and recast again in 1805 – the Pennington bill was over twenty five pounds. In 1817, the founders were paid a pound towards “keeping the fifth bell” for seven years! This did not work, as in 1818 the bell again had to be recast, the bill for twenty five pounds and seventy pence being paid over two years. to end this saga, the present fifth bell was recast in 1845 by C. & G. Mears Foundry of London. There was no mention of this in the accounts of that year, although Messrs. Mears kindly sent copies of their accounts for the year 1845 showing that the work was done through a Mr. Westcott, ironmonger of Plymouth. The cost of the recasting was fifty six pounds and eighty five pence and a pound for a new clapper. However, as they made an allowance of eight pounds and twenty nine pence on the old bell, the total cost of nineteen pounds and fifty six pence plus sixty two pence charges seems very modest – perhaps within the scope of a generous donor? An amusing sideline to the great operation of 1789 is that the “Keeper of the Bells” was not paid his annual salary as “the bells were down”! This is as far as the Churchwardens’ accounts take the story.
However, from the witness of the bells themselves, the third bell was recast in 1877 by Gillet & Co. of Croydon and marked VR Jubilee 1877. The second was recast by Harry Stokes, a bell hanger from Woodbury, Exeter. The next recorded transaction was 1948/49, with a faculty of the 9th of April 1948, when the bells were rehung with new fittings, brasses and clappers.The bells were quarter turned and tuned. This was carried out by John Taylor of Loughborough at a cost of eight hundred and twelve pounds. The bells were rededicated on the 27th of February 1949. In 1967 the bells were serviced by a Mr. Arthur Fidler, then working for the above firm.
In 1972 a ringing gallery was built, raising the ringing position from ground level to a level eight feet up the tower. This made ringing easier and, being closed, is warmer.
Geoff has been ringing here for twenty years and is incredibly knowledgeable.
In 1986, the same Mr. Arthur Fidler from 1967, now a freelance Bellhanger, was invited to inspect, report and give estimates. This he did, but no money was available at the time. The major part of his estimates consisted of cleaning, clearing, wood treatment, de-rusting etc. In 1988, both effort and money was available. Member of the Tower undertook the “major part” as described above, while Mr.Fidler himself carried out the technical aspects. The total cost was one thousand, six hundred and twenty eight pounds, a great saving on the 1986 estimates of three thousand, four hundred and seventy four pounds.
Treble D 4.3.10 IP:CP 1789
2nd C 4.0.23 IP:CP 1789 Recast by Gillett & Johnson, Croydon. 1900
3rd Bb 5.1.10 Recast by Gillett and Co., Croydon V.R. Jubilee 1887
4th A 5.3.4 IP:CP 1789 Peace and Good Neighbourhood
5th G 8.0.0 C. & G. Mears Foundry, London 1845
Tenor F 10.0.12 IP:CP 1789 John Jope M.A.
Learning bell ringing is all about technique - much more than it is about strength or mathematical ability. English bell ringing is called full-circle ringing, as the bell's mechanism on a wheel allows it to rotate 360 degrees. First the bells are rung 'up', with the angle of swing gradually increased until the bell is swinging full circle and it can be balanced mouth upwards on the stay - known as being 'set'. For the bell ringers, they must pull the bell at each 'stroke' to make it rotate again for another full circle swing. Each time the bell ringer pulls the rope the bell swings and sounds. In Change Ringing, it is possible for the bell ringers to adjust the time at which they pull their rope to control the speed of striking to produce the pattern of changes.
Geoff went down to prepare the bell for ringing, this gave me time to climb up on the frame to take this picture of the bell perfectly still and upside-down. Geoff had said that standing on the frame above the bells was the weirdest sensation and apt to make anyone feel seasick. I never have been, but, it was the strangest feeling as the bell swung back and forth getting higher and higher toward the top. The noise of just this one bell was colossal, heaven knows what it must be like with all of them on the go, no wonder Quasimodo was quite deaf. How Geoff knew exactly when the bell had ‘rung up’ was a complete mystery to us, very impressive though.
We left the now quiet bell tower and made our way down to our first ringing lesson.
An interesting store room on the way down. At the bottom Sabby closed the antique wooden door and gave a lovely smile for the camera.
We climbed up into the ringing gallery and closed the trap door. Bear went first. Geoff got him to control the end of the rope, Bear got his rhythm by letting go of the rope, touching the wall behind him then returning to catch the returning rope.
Next was learning how to control the end of the rope at the same time using the Sally – fluffy bit – to control the swing of the bell, not as easy as it sounds.
Sabby did the same when it was her turn.
We watched the expert bring the bell down, as the swing got smaller it rang quicker, then Geoff hung the rope end and raised the hook neatly out of reach.
On the wall was a certificate dated the 24th of October 1980 stating that Saint Cleer is Affiliated to the RSCM. I loved the edicts - Correct notes, Singing in tune, Quality of tone, especially Attack, blend and balance.
We loved the bell ringers prayer, read the caution and know someone who wears his uniform with pride.
We looked at a ringing plan, the ring and ramble newsletter, the rule book and the church from up here.
Back downstairs we stopped to admire the Ringers Articles.
ALL IN ALL SUCH A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
FASCINATING AND FUN