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I wouldn’t normally expect to be involved in a flower festival, but the theme ‘Renovation and Restoration’ for the recent event added a new dimension. To represent bellringing Jane Mellor and her team put together a stunning display of flowers interwoven with a bell wheel, bellropes and small bells, and to accompany it she asked for information that would reflect the theme in relation to bells and ringing.
An obvious starting point was the 2004 bell restoration project (documented on the tower website and elsewhere) but that was just one chapter in the centuries long story of our bells.
Most recently was the installation of a glass screen and air conditioning in the tower to improve the acoustic and thermal environment in the ringing room, and before that the renovation of the tower exterior and installation of an auto-winder for the clock. In the 1980s we installed sound control to enable longer later practices without annoying our neighbours. In the 1950s the bells were rehung on ball bearings and rope guides were added. The Edwardians augmented the bells from six to eight and hung them in the current frame, the Georgians installed the clock, and our oldest bells date from a new ring of six installed during the reign of Queen Anne.
As well as our local story I looked at the wider context. The craft of bellringing as we know it has been around for over 400 years, and a medieval bell hanger would immediately recognise the bells and fittings in our tower, but almost every element has been improved over the centuries. Frames and headstocks are made wood but now are iron. Bells are precision tuned whereas once they weren’t. Pulleys, ropes, clappers and bearings have all been improved by the use of modern materials and engineering.
Almost all of those those enhancements can be found in the story of our bells here at All Saints. That provided a lot of information to complement the floral arrangement.
There’s more about the history of the bells and ringing at All Saints on the tower website at: allsaintswokinghambells.org.uk/
John Harrison (October 2023)
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