The bellringing spans the period between the end of Vexations and the start of the Oxford Baroque, so as they finish their ringing the festival moves straight into ‘Oh World, Goodnight’.
The first bell installed in St Dunstan’s is likely to have been around 1230, when the Tower was built. Whether there was initially more than one bell, and when additional bells were added, is unknown. Although all the bells are inscribed with dates of when they were cast, we can’t say whether these early bells were additional or simply replacements. What we do know is that in 1724 an additional bell was added to make a peal of 6 bells. It wasn’t until 1913 that 2 more bells were added to give us the 8 bells that we have today.
In order for us to make a nice sound, the bells have different pitches (notes) which depend primarily on the size of the bell but also on the thickness of the metal. Our bells range in weight from the 287kg (5cwt 2qtrs 17lbs for those that still prefer ‘proper’ weights) of the Treble (or No. 1 bell) to 1,002kg (19cwt 2qtrs 26lbs) of the Tenor (No. 8 bell). For those of a musical persuasion the Tenor bell is in Eb.
More interesting facts about the bells:
- The oldest original bell is the No. 5 which was cast in 1602
- The No. 8 was originally cast in 1630 but was re-cast in 1956
- In 1724 the No. 3 was cast, and the No. 4 re-cast, by an itinerant bell-founder and in all likelihood this would have been in the churchyard – quite amazing!
- The 6 & 7 basically weigh the same, the difference is an insignificant 2kg (4lb) – but one is pitched at G and the other at F. This has been achieved by extremely carefully grounding out of the inside of the No. 6 so that the metal is very slightly thinner and therefore produces a higher pitch.
Bell ringing has been described as ‘an art’, ‘a science’, and even ‘a sport’ (it certainly provides a bit of physical, as well as mental, exercise). All you really need though is a desire to maintain an ancient tradition, perseverance as it takes quite a few months to master, and commitment to practice on a Tuesday evening and for service ringing. And it isn’t dangerous, provided you do what you’re told! I’m glad to say that ringers no longer believe that the sound of a bell can disperse thunder, and weather-proofed Bell Towers and the introduction of the lightning rod mean we don’t hold on to wet bell ropes during thunder storms risking electrocution (yes, it did happen, particularly in the Middle Ages!).
We’re lucky enough to have the best view of the church, but we’re happy to share it. If you are interested in finding out more contact Graham Holland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
FREE ENTRY – No tickets are issued