The difference between the smaller bells of rings and chimes
by David J Bryant

In the British Isles the development of change ringing in the seventeenth century led to the installation of larger and larger numbers of bells, from the initial rings containing five or six bells up to rings with twelve and, in recent years, fourteen and sixteen bells.

When producing early rings of eight, ten and twelve bells, the founders discovered that it was necessary to make the front two, four or six bells respectively larger and heavier than a bell of that note would normally be in order to make them powerful enough when heard amongst the larger bells, and to equalise the timing of their swing with that of the rest of the ring. The larger the rings got, the more of a problem the trebles became, as essentially it was difficult, although not impossible, to cast bells on such a thick and heavy scale without distorting their harmonic structures and making them sound unpleasant. As a result of this difficulty many founders, particularly in the early and mid-Victorian era, seem to have disregarded musical considerations and habitually cast trebles of ten and twelve which sounded truly appalling.

In this country sets of larger numbers of bells were almost invariably hung for full-circle ringing and therefore the smaller bells of higher-number sets always had to be cast thick and heavy for their notes. Sets of higher numbers of bells hung for chiming were relatively rare, and those that were cast (they increased in popularity in the mid-Victorian era) were generally cast to the same weight profile as a ring because that was what the founders were accustomed to doing.

Much experimenting with bell profiles went on in the later Victorian era, with the result that Taylor's developed the now ubiquitous true-harmonic method of tuning in 1896. Early chimes produced using this method were still cast to the same weight profiles as rings, but the shape of the bells was altered slightly, with chiming bells being longer in the waist than ringing bells.

On the continent, where the development of the carillon had paralleled that of change ringing, it had not been necessary to artificially increase the weight of the front bells of sets, as they were not rung full circle and the problems of timing and audibility therefore didn't arise. The few rings cast by continental founders and hung for change ringing in the British Isles, such as that at St Augustine, Kilburn, London and the old ring at St Peter Port, Guernsey, are characterised by having front bells which are too small and light, and which although ideal for chiming are not really suitable for full-circle ringing.

At some point in the early twentieth century Taylor's caught on to the idea of casting chimes with lighter front ends than they would employ when casting a ring, presumably by looking at the work of continental founders with a view to developing their own carillon business. The latest Taylor chime known to the author which has the front bells cast to ringing weights is at Altham, Lancashire, and is dated 1924. However, the 1920 Taylor chime at Highfield, Sheffield, had a light, 'chiming-scale' front end, so it would appear that there may have been some overlap before the chiming scale, as characterised by light front ends, was uniformly adopted as a matter of course. When 'chiming scale' actually first appeared is difficult to pinpoint, but it would seem to be at some point in the first one or two decades of the twentieth century: more research is needed to pinpoint an exact date. Casting lighter front ends would of course eliminate the musical problems associated with casting front bells very heavy for their notes, as it is necessary to do with ringing bells. Technical considerations aside, there was also an obvious business advantage in casting chimes with light front ends as by doing so Taylor's reduced their costs and could undercut competitors' quotes. At this time their main competitor was Gillett and Johnston of Croydon, who were not slow to catch on to what Taylor's were doing and to do the same! Nowadays, casting chimes with light front ends is usual practice by both of the surviving English bellfoundries.

It is important to note that if it is desired to hang a set of bells cast to chiming profiles for full-circle ringing it may be necessary to replace some of the front bells. If the number of bells is six or fewer, it may be possible to use the bells as they are, but if there are eight, ten or twelve bells it will be necessary to replace some of the front bells. Exactly how many will depend on just how light the front end was (chiming scales, like ringing scales, do vary in their weight range). However, if a chime of twelve was to be hung for ringing it is quite likely that the front six bells would need to be replaced.

To conclude the article, two examples illustrating the points outlined above are provided. The first example consists of technical details of the unique instrument at Manchester Town Hall, which combines a ring of 12 (plus sharp 2nd) and an automatic 23-bell carillon in one. The second example is a comparison of the chime at All Hallows-by-the-Tower in the City of London, and the ring at Buckfast Abbey in Devon.

Example 1: The ring / carillon at Manchester Town Hall

Bell number (in carillon)

Bell number (in ring)

Weight

Note

1

n/a

1-2-19

B

2

n/a

1-3-25

A#

3

n/a

2-1-27

A

4

n/a

3-0-2

G#

5

n/a

3-2-8

G

6

1

5-1-13

F#

7

2#

5-1-26

F

8

2

5-3-22

E

9

3

6-0-20

D#

10

n/a

5-1-4

D

11

4

7-1-20

C#

12

n/a

6-1-1

C

13

5

7-3-3

B

14

6

8-2-11

A#

15

n/a

9-0-20

A

16

7

10-2-5

G#

17

n/a

12-2-0

G

18

8

13-2-19

F#

19

n/a

16-2-4

F

20

9

18-0-13

E

21

10

22-3-20

D#

22

11

29-3-2

C#

23

12

42-2-25

B

The Bells were all cast by Taylorís in 1936.

As can be clearly seen by looking at the above table, the front end chiming scale bells are significantly smaller and lighter than the ringing bells which are interspersed amongst them.

Example 2: A Comparison between the chime at All Hallows, London, and the ring at Buckfast Abbey, Devon

Bell

Weight (Buckfast)

Weight (All Hallows)

Note

1

5-2-16

1-3-17

G

2#

5-3-8

2-0-22

F#

2

6-0-16

2-1-18

F

3

9-0-19

2-1-24

E

4

6-2-27

3-3-14

D

5

7-0-11

4-3-24

C

6

7-2-2

5-3-25

B

6b

8-1-15

6-3-23

Bb

7

9-3-25

8-0-2

A

8

12-3-3

11-1-18

G

9

17-0-18

16-0-20

F

10

20-2-21

19-0-4

E

11

28-1-4

27-2-19

D

12

41-1-3

41-3-0

C

Both sets of bells were cast by Taylorís, the Buckfast ring in 1935 and the All Hallows chime in 1947. The latter set also includes four additional accidental (semitone) bells, a sharp 4th, sharp 5th, sharp 8th and sharp 9th, but these are excluded from the above table as they are not relevant to this comparison.

With the exception of the tenor, all of the bells in the chime are lighter than the corresponding bell in the ring, but in the case of the flat 6th and the bells larger than it this is only one or two hundredweights, and reflects differing weights scales much as would be seen in a comparison between rings. The front six of the chime (plus the sharp 2nd), however, are considerably lighter than their ringing counterparts, and this clearly shows the difference between ringing and chiming scales, with the difference becoming more pronounced towards the front end, as would be expected.