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  Bell and Tower Restoration Project

The bells were rehung in 2004. A glass screen was installed in the gallery arch in 2016. Cooling was installed in 2020.

Background to the project 

Launch and timetable 

Improving the sound 

Tower internal acoustics 

External sound

Ringing & dedication 

Conservation & re-use 

The archway screen 

Air conditioning 


Did you know? : The first time a local band rang rang a peal at both Wokingham towers on the same day was in 2008.

Background to the project

View of the towerTwo things drove the desire for change: the condition of the bells and the environmental 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 the '70s and '80s foundered. Installation of a more powerful organ in 1988, and improved heating in1991, both made things worse. Overheating was also a problem in the summer, with no means of ventilation but a large west window allowing in lots of afternoon sun. The possibility of making portions of the window open was explored but proved impractical without harming the stained glass. The regular chore of winding the clock led to a proposal for automatic winding that didn't proceed either (though a donation led to its installation in 2005). The bells were never easy to ring. Most were odd struck, the timber headstocks moved with the weather, and the most of the ropes were 'drawn' (not vertical). The bells sounded uninspiring as well.

A paper to the ringers' AGM in January1999 swept up this history of dissatisfaction and in August they sought PCC approval to rehang the bells and improve the environment. The PCC 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.

Launch and timetable

Project launchBells and ringing featured prominently at the launch of Celebrating Community in May 2000, with the public and local VIPs and dignitaries invited. We mounted a small exhibition with material about the project supplemented by general displays about ringing borrowed from the Central Council. Visitors were invited to see ringing in action and then being shown the bells. Those present were given a leaflet with key information  to take away.

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.

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.

Installing the screen was originally intended to be done at the same time, but in 2003 it was split into a second phase to allow longer for the heritage issues to be resolved without holding up rehanging the bells. In the event it took years rather than months to get a workable scheme through the approval process. See more detail... The screen installation  was during the summer of 2016.

The air conditioning took several more years to get approved, and was installed  in the autumn of 2020, see details .

Thus the project that began in 1999 and was officially launched in 2000 finally came to an end.

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 tones', whose frequencies have no fixed relationship between them. That's unlike an organ pipe or a guitar string where the frequencies of different harmonics are in simple integer ratios. The bell shape has evolved so that the main tones are roughly in line with each other, 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 from 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 with each other. 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 more accurate tuning is clear in this before and after comparison of frequencies.

The replaced bells have all been found new homes, as part of restored or new rings of bells in other churches.

Tower internal 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.

Retuning 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 clean up 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.

External sound – the sound lantern that never was

As part of a community focused project there was a desire to make the bells audible over more of the parish. One side effect of the historic reduction of excessive sound for the church's immediate neighbours was an overall reduction of the sound level. Coupled with traffic noise and the obscuration of buildings that meant the bells could not be heard over much of the parish. Ideally the tower would have been built with a large 'sound lantern' on the top to project the sound while shielding the area immediately round the church, rather than having openings on the side that direct the sound directly at those nearby.

The possibility of adding a sound lantern was investigated but not considered practical. See explanation and full details .

Ringing and dedication

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. Listen to the words of dedication and the bells being rung . 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 reuse

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. reuse 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 .

Ringing room environment

The second part of the project was to improve the environment in the ringing room, to make it more conducive for the ringers to focus on their performance rather than their discomforts. There were several interacting factors and their relative importance shifted during the course of the project:

After exploring potential ways to reduce the temperature difference between the gallery and the conclusion was that the only effective way to sole the first problem was a physical screen, which was also the only way to solve the second problem. Doing that on its own would make the third problem worse, so the plan was to tackle all three at the same time, by installing cooling along with the screen. In the end that didn't happen and there was an uncomfortable four year gap between installation of the screen and the cooling.

The archway screen

GalleryThermal and acoustic separation from the nave was essential to control the environmental in the ringing room . This was provided by a clear glass screen in the large archway between it and the nave. The archway is visible in the upper centre of the picture, with the west window on the far side of the ringing room behind it.

The screen now isolates the ringers from both the church heating and from loud music in church, notably during pre-service rehearsals.

It took a long while to establish a practical design that would provide the required benefits and satisfy conservation concerns and constraints without compromising the use of the tower for ringing training and performance. See more detail of the process and successive designs.  The work was carried out by Allder Glass , with woodwork subcontracted to New Mill Joinery. See the story of the installation. 

Air conditioning

The excessive heat in the summer could only be solved by active cooling, especially since there are no opening windows. The solution was to install a two part air conditioning unit (one to extract the heat from the ringing room and the other to eject it on the roof). The units are standard but installation needed to respect the fabric and appearance of the tower. Approval was delayed until after the screen was installed in order to gather more data to demonstrate the need, but it was eventually approved and installed in 2020. The installation was by Coolserv . See more information and 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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