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  Bell and Tower Restoration Project

The bells were rehung in 2004.

Background to the project 

Timetable 

Improving the sound 

Tower acoustics 

The result 

Conservation and re-use 

Where next - Phase 2 

The sound lantern that never was 

Pictures 


Did you know? : The number of ringers at All Saints peaked at 33 members in 1985.


Background to the project

View of the towerTwo things drove the desire for change: the condition of the bells and the condition of the ringing room. The bells are rung from a gallery, open to the nave, and some 12 feet up, installed in 1880. The ringers feel part of the church by seeing and being seen, but by the 1970s, this proximity was causing problems. The sound of the organ made ringing difficult, before services and after weddings. Also, being well above pew height, when the congregation is warm the ringers are too warm. Schemes to fit a glass screen in the archway in te '70s and '80s foundered. Installation of a more powerful organ in 1988, and improved heating in1991, both made things worse. The twice weekly chore of winding the clock led to a proposal for automatic winding that didn't proceed either. The bells were never easy to ring. Most were odd struck, the timber headstocks moved with the weather, and the rope runs weren't ideal. The bells sounded uninspiring.

Project launchThis history of dissatisfaction was swept up in a paper to the ringers' AGM in January1999. In August they sought PCC approval to rehang the bells and solve the environmental problems. The PCC also had a far larger task to replace the life-expired 1960s hall, and they rolled both projects into ‘Celebrating Community’, an umbrella that also included developing the churchyard as a community resource, and a programme of community ministry. Ringers' fund raising began ahead of the main appeal, and at the launch of Celebrating Community in May 2000, bells and ringing featured prominently, with the public and VIPs invited to see the ringing, and then being shown the bells. The much bigger (£1.2M) community hall overtook the tower project, and ‘The Cornerstone’ was opened in May 2004, just before the bells came out.
 


The timetable

In June 2004, the bells were removed from the tower. Most of it went like clockwork, though the centre section of the frame (which had to be removed to make an opening big enough to lower the bells through) did not want to come out. It yielded to some enthusiastic use of sledge hammers though! The bells were left in the porch over the weekend, so the congregation could see them before they were taken away. See pictures of bells coming out.

During the summer, pockets were cut in the masonry below the bell frame to take an additional strengthening beam underneath the existing supports, that was then cast in place. See pictures of new beam . While the bells were out, the ringers took the opportunity to touch up the paint on the frame, and clean out accumulated dirt.

In July, the four replacement bells were cast  at Whitechapel, witnessed by a party from All Saints.

The new and retuned bells were delivered in October, and on view in the church. They were cleaner now, so we encouraged members of the congregation to move among them for a better look. This was much appreciated and generated a lot of interest. The rehanging  and fitting out  went smoothly.


Improving the sound

The old bells did not sound very good. They were not quite in tune with each other, or with themselves. A bell vibrates in several different ways at once, producing many 'partial' frequencies, with no fixed relationship between them, unlike an organ pipe or a guitar string relationship between these. The bell shape has evolved so that the main tones are roughly in line, but until the science was understood, there was a lot of luck in the quality of bell sounds. In a modern bell, five partials are accurately tuned by careful removal of metal at different parts of the bell .

Bell partialsThe Tenor (bell 8) is listed, and so only light tuning was allowed - just enough to bring its partials into line. The other bells then had to be tuned to match the Tenor. Four bells (1, 2, 3, 6) were too far out to do this properly, so they were replaced with new bells. The replaced bells have all been found new homes, as part of restored or new rings of bells in other churches. See a before and after comparison of frequencies.


Tower acoustics

Good ringing requires the ringers to listen acutely, to ensure that each bell strikes at exactly the right time. So ideally the sound of the bells in the ringing room should be neither too quiet nor too loud. Above all, it should be clear and distinct, with the strike of each bell audible above the background hum and reverberation of the bells. Our bells have always been loud enough in the ringing room, but not as clear as we would like, so we wanted to improve things as part of the restoration. We took advice from the Central Council Tower & Belfries Committee  and elsewhere. Reducing the reverberation requires sound absorbent material, but to get the right result we must be prepared to experiment, because it is not an exact science.

Re-tuning the bells gave them a richer, fuller sound, which though good in itself, made the reverberation problem worse, so it was a good thing we had planned to tackle it. We decided to start with a low-tech approach that would be easiest to implement, and entail minimal impact on the tower structure. Between the bells and the ringers, the sound passes through the clock room , which acts as a reverberant tube. Hanging soft material on its hard walls offered a simple way to reduce reverberation. We appealed to the congregation for old carpets and were overwhelmed with offers, none of which we turned down, so we soon had piles of it in the clock room awaiting use.

We hung strips of carpet on each wall. We 'stitched' it onto wooden battens hanging from hooks on the ceiling, and where pieces were too short, we stitched them together. The results is a multi-coloured ‘tapestry’ , but it provided a dramatic improvement to the acoustics, with which we were well satisfied.

We had lots of carpet left over, and we gave some to St Paul's, who had a similar problem after their bells were rehung.

That could have been the end of the story, but a year or so later, we had a massive cleanup prior to being inspected for a tower maintenance award. So we threw out the piles of unused carpet lying around the clock room. After it had gone, we realised that it too was making a contribution, because the bells got a bit louder than we preferred :-) As we were warned: it is not an exact science.


The result

The bells first rang for service on Remembrance Sunday 2004, and the return of the sound of bells to Wokingham was much appreciated. The first quarter peal on the new bells was rung six days later for the funeral of Duncan King, a loyal and active member of the congregation. The rededication service , by the Bishop of Reading, was in January. There was a large congregation, swelled by local VIPs, clergy from other local churches, the bell hangers, and ringers from far and wide. During the socialising afterwards, All Saints ringers all wore prominent badges, to encourage non ringers to ask them questions.

The bells now go well, with improved handling and a much richer and fuller sound, thanks to Whites of Appleton  who rehung them, and Whitechapel Bellfoundry who tuned them, and cast the replacement bells.


Conservation and re-use

We did not want to scrap things that could be reused. The four replaced bells were perfectly sound, even though they could not be tuned to fit in properly with the ring of bells at All Saints. Historically, such bells would have been broken up and melted down as scrap, but we did not want to do that. Second hand bells are becoming an increasingly important resource to help parishes that are not wealthy to acquire a ring of bells, or to augment a small ring to a larger one. By careful selection of the bells, the problems of tuning can be overcome. Re-use of bells also benefits the both donor, because the price of a second hand bell is more than its scrap value. The Keltek Trust acts as a broker, helping to find suitable donors and recipients for second hand bells.

The four replaced Wokingham bells have gone to the following churches:

We also made bell mementos from the old headstocks .


Where next - Phase 2

GalleryPhase 2 will solve the environmental problems in the ringing room by putting a clear glass screen in the large archway that separates it from the nave. The archway is visible in the upper centre of the picture. The west window is on the far side of the ringing room . This will isolate the ringers from both the heat generated in the church, and the sound generated by the organ (and make it easier for the choir to practise before services, during ringing). The work was delayed while wider investigations into the church heating were undertaken. The design is currently being developed in a way that will provide the required benefits without compromising the existing historic fabric of the church. Until the work is completed, it still gets unpleasantly hot in the ringing chamber.


Pictures

To see pictures of each stage of the restoration project, click on the links below. You can also move between the sets of pictures using the 'Forward' and 'Backward' links at the bottom of each page.


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