The bell tower

The bells hang in the roof and spire at the west end of the church. The walls of the bell tower (photo right) date back to 1115 and its main entrance to 1121. There is no ringing chamber, we ring the bells from the ground floor.

The bells

The six bells hang in a cramped space in the top of the short tower, mounted on wheels in a cast iron frame. The bell ropes run on pulleys to pull the wheel full circle. These bells were installed over a period of 500 years, from about 1450 to 1970.

1450 Bell
 

The bell tower holds one of the oldest bells still ringing in Surrey, cast around 1450, during the Wars of the Roses (photo left). Of the three bells hanging in the church in the reign of Henry VIII, it was the only one to survive the dissolution of the monasteries.

 

The 17th century tenor

The next bell (photo right) was added in the reign of James I, in 1621 (the year after the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America in the Mayflower). It is the tenor - the biggest, at over seven hundredweight, and sounding the lowest note. It would have been rung to announce services and to mark civic occasions.17th century bell

 

 

19th and 20th century bells

The next bell (number 4) was cast in 1803, in the reign of George III. Numbers 2 and 3 were added in 1897, near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. The treble – the smallest and lightest, sounding the highest note – was added in 1970. It was cast at the Whitechapel bell foundry, makers of Big Ben and the USA’s Liberty Bell, which closed in 2017 after 450 years of bell making.

Change ringing

Change ringing developed as a secular sport taking place in bell towers. The bells ring by numbers, changing places at every stroke, following a regular pattern (a “method”). Change ringing The first book on change ringing was published in 1668. A manuscript dated 1658, in the Bodleian library, records the changes needed to ring Plain hunt, Grandsire and Plain Bob, all methods still rung at St Mary’s today.

For more infomation about bell ringing at St Mary's, email us at bells@stmarysmerton.org.uk.