The Bells

There are currently six bells in the tower at Berkswell. The bell ringing chamber is accessed through a curtain on the right hand side of the organ. The bells themselves hang on the second floor of the clock tower. They can be accessed by a narrow stone spiral staircase.

The bells are rung every Sunday before either morning or evening service. Practice takes place every Friday evening at 8pm – newcomers always welcome.

More about the Bells

Prior to 1898 there were only three bells at St John Baptist, these being the current second, fourth and fifth bells. The massive oak posts and frames with mortice joints on which these three old bells were hung are still visible in the Tower. The cast steel frame which currently holds all the bells was installed in 1933.

The second bell is inscribed with the date of 1584 and is believed to be one of only three remaining bells by the bell founder Geoffrey Giles of Coventry, who cast bells between 1583 and 1585. It is inscribed "Galfridus Giles me fseit Anno DM 1584" - made by Galfridus Giles in 1584. Of the three bells by Giles the second bell at Berkswell is the only one that is rung regularly for change ringing. The other two are at Weston under Weatherly, Warwickshire and are badly cracked and hence not able to be rung.

The fifth bell has the name of the bell founder, “Edward Newcombe” and the inscription "Nomen Magdelene Geret Melodie". Newcombe came from Leicester and was born around 1545 and died in 1629. He was a bell founder between 1570 and 1616. The nearest we can date this bell is circa 1600.

The fourth bell is believed to have been cast by Johannes de Stafford, who was a bell founder in Leicester between 1338 and 1354. As the introduction to this brief history has indicated, this bell may have been cast during this period or slightly later. (1) Doves Guide for Church Bell Ringers dates this bell as circa 1380. The inscription reads "Ave Maria Gra Plena - Blessed Mary full of grace.

These early bells were cast with hanging loops, known as ‘canons’ on the ‘crown’ of the bell and these were used to secure the bell to the headstock using wrought iron straps. The bells were suspended from a wooden frame on plain bearings. The bells were most likely chimed as full wheels and not fitted to church bells until the middle of the 16th century. This is the time when ringers required better control of the bells in order to ring them in the systematically changing patterns that became the early form of change ringing as we know it today.

Three New Bells

In 1898, John Feeney, then proprietor of the Birmingham Daily Post, (known more recently as The Birmingham Post and Mail), and who lived at The Moat in Berkswell, paid for three new bells to be cast and installed.

These became the treble bell, the 3rd bell; and the tenor bell and were cast and fitted into a new metal frame by bell founders, John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. The bells were fitted with full wheels and stays enabling them to be rung as we do today for change ringing.

The bells are made from bell metal that is 78% copper and 22% tin and fitted with hasting’s stays. These differ from traditional stays and sliders but serve the same purpose of preventing the bell from rotating through a full circle and allow us to stand the bell in an upright position.

For change ringing the bells are rung from the upright position through an arc until they are upright again, creating a handstroke and a backstroke.

As part of this work the three original bells were removed, had their canons removed and the fourth and fifth were tuned. All three original bells were 8th turned so that the clapper struck the sound bow inside the bell in a different position in order to reduce the wear.

The three new bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Coventry at a service on Tuesday 20th December 1898.

In 1933 all the bells were rehung on ball bearings. Prior to this they would have been fitted with plain bearings where the headstock would pivot in a brass or gunmetal ‘plummer’ block, (bearing housing).

The bells are rung from behind the organ on the ground floor using ropes that are approximately 55 feet (16.76 metres) in length.

The inscriptions and dimensions of the bells are as follows:

Bell Number Inscription/Founder Date Weight* Diameter Tone
1 Treble “Christina Elizabeth Feeney wife of John Feeney 1898” / John Taylor & Co, Loughborough 1898 5-3-15
298.92 kg 30.25”
768.4 mm 1169.0Hz(D-8c)
2 “Galfridus Giles me fesit Anno DM 1584” (made by Galfridus Giles in the year 1584)/ Geoffrey Giles, Coventry 1584 5-1-27
278.96 kg 30.25”
768.4 mm 1050.0Hz(C+6c)
3 John Feeney The Moat Berkswell 1898” / John Taylor & Co, Loughborough 1898 7-1-07
371.49 kg 34.00”
863.6 mm 938.0Hz(Bb+11c)
4 “Ave Maria Gra Plena” (Blessed Mary full of Grace) / Johannes de Stafford, Leicester c1380 7-2-06
383.74 kg 36.00”
914.4 mm 876.0Hz(A-8c)
5 “Nomen Magdelene Geret Melodie” / Edward Newcombe c1600 9-3-09
499.41 kg 38.50”
977.9 mm 787.5Hz(G+8c)
6 Tenor “To the memory of John Frederick Feeney. Died in Edgbaston 1869” / John Taylor & Co, Loughborough 1898 16-2-07
841.41 kg 45.00”
1143 mm 700.0Hz(F+4c)

Source: Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers 2013
*The weight of a bell is traditionally shown in the imperial system of weights and measures and the notation of 5-1-27 refers to hundredweights (112lbs); quarters (28lbs); and pounds (lbs). There are 20 hundredweight (cwt) in an imperial ton. An imperial ton is equivalent to 1.01605 metric tonnes.
The weight of a ring of bells is referred to as the weight of the heaviest bell, normally the tenor bell. The bells at Berkswell are referred to as a 16 hundredweight (cwt) ring of 6.

References:
1 Tilley and Walters “The Church Bells of Warwickshire” Birmingham 1910
2 Dove’s Guide for Church Bell Ringers webpage 2013

Also in the Bell Chamber is a Sanctus Bell. This is a small bell which was rung by a priest when the bread and wine were consecrated into body and blood of Christ. This ceremony was performed in the chancel which was obscured from the view ofthe lay folk in the nave by the wooden chancel screen, hence the ringing of the bell enabled the congregation to know when this holy sacrament was performed. To this day Roman Catholic churches ring a hand bell at this point in the communion service. This bell hung right in the top of the roof and was operated from the bottom of the tower by a string.

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