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The primary purpose of the bells is to be heard - the voice of the church speaking to the community. It is because of this important role that the bell restoration project forms an important part of the 'Celebrating Community'. But what do we mean by 'heard' - how loud, by whom and where?
The simple answers would be: 'loud enough to notice but not so loud as to be unpleasant', 'by everyone' and 'anywhere in the parish'. Unfortunately the laws of physics are not on our side, and it is impossible to achieve them all without some compromise.
When the tower was built, no one envisaged modern conditions. The tower has very large openings right next to where the bells are hung. If they were open, as they were originally, the sound would be pretty deafening next to the church, but it would carry well across the open fields to the peasants in the outlying farms and cottages.
Over the centuries, development has spread across Wokingham. There are houses within a stone's throw of the tower. Their occupants would not tolerate such a sound level. Many years ago, our predecessors largely bricked up the openings on the North, West and South sides of the tower, yet still in the '70s we received irate complaints from some local residents. Keen to be a good neighbour, in 1982, we installed openable shutters on all four sides. The opening area was similar to what was above the earlier bricking up on the three sides. With the shutters closed, the bells are very quiet, and we can have extra practices at almost any time without causing annoyance. With them open, the sound level is similar to what it was before on three sides, but of course rather less on the side that had not been so fully bricked up, overlooking the churchyard.
In modern times, our bells have never been very audible on the town side, either before or after installing the sound control, and for the last 20 years that has applied all round. St Paul's bells are the only ones audible over much of the parish, despite being further away. The bell restoration work will improve the tone of the bells, but that is of little value to those who can not hear them, so as part of Celebrating Community, we asked ourselves whether that is good enough, and whether we could make All Saints bells more audible in more of the parish, without of course deafening the neighbours.
In fact there is a way to do it. If a new tower were designed today, it would have no openings in the traditional place. They would be on the roof, in what is called a sound lantern. It has large openings that project the sound upwards and outwards so it will travel, but is positioned so that the area close to the church is in a 'sound shadow' and so receives much less sound.
Can you hear All Saints bells? We would like to know. But make sure they are our bells. If you hear bells on Tuesday evening, then you are listening to St Paul's.
John Harrison (Tower Foreman) Mike Allison (PCC) ( September 2002 )
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