Towcester, Northants
St Lawrence
Photo: MPA Wilby
Created: 1990

Peal Records

Sound Clip:
Erin Cinques
©Michael P A Wilby
Bell Date Founder Dia. Weight  
Treble 1989 Taylor 24.5" 4-1-22  
2nd. 1989 Taylor 25.5" 4-2-22  
3rd. 1989 Taylor 25.875" 4-2-18  
4th. 1989 Taylor 27.5" 4-3-8  
5th. 1897 Taylor 29.125" 6-0-24  
6th. 1897 Taylor 29.875" 6-2-8  
7th. 1897 Taylor 32.625" 7-3-10  
8th. 1897 Taylor 35" 8-2-26  
9th. 1897 Taylor 38.25" 10-3-18  
10th. 1897 Taylor 40.25" 12-2-6  
11th. 1897 Taylor 44.625" 17-0-18  
Tenor 1897 Taylor 50.5" 23-1-16 in E -30  
(648Hz)


Inscriptions

Treble
"Ring boyes and keep awake for Mr Wm Henchman's sake"
Cast 1725 Recast 1935 Recast 1989
The Gift of the St Lawrence Society of Ringers
"We rang sir and kept awake and into twelve the bells did make"

2nd
In memory of Vera Doreen Robinson nee Orland 1923-1989.
The Gift of her dear friend John Watson of Canada, her daughters Lesley & Elaine and sisters Kay & Joan.

3rd
Given to the Glory of God and remembering the Oldham family
who served this Church and town 1873-1964.

4th
The Gift of James, Valerie, Jonathan & Robert Clatworthy.
Eight bells were transferred from Todmorden and augmented to twelve in 1989.

5th
"To God the Father

6th
God the Son

7th
And God the Spirit

8th
Three in One

9th
Be honour, praise

10th
And Glory Given

11th
By All in Earth

Tenor
And All in Heaven"
This peal of eleven bells was presented to Todmorden Parish Church by Miss Hannah Howarth
of Brocklyn House in memory of her brothers & sisters deceased in the year of our Lord
being the sixtieth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria 1897

Framework and Fittings

The bells hang in a Taylor designed H-frame, constructed and installed entirely with local labour. The framesides (all by Taylors) are of three different dates: two are from the old Christ Church Todmorden frame (1897), four are contemporary with the Towcester installation (1990), and the remaining eleven came from the redundant St John-the-Divine, Leicester frame (1902), whose bells went to Peterborough Cathedral in 1986. The layout is Taylor's traditional plan, with the 9th and Tenor in the middle, and the two trebles swinging parallel to them.

The fittings are a mixed set. The four new trebles hang on completely new fittings. The wheels of the back eight are the original Todmorden set, the headstocks of the back seven are also contemporary with the bells; the headstock of the 5th (of 12) needed to be replaced to fit in the new frame, and is contemporary with the Towcester installation. All bells have traditional stays and sliders, and are hung on ball-bearings. The sliders are from the Rudhall Twelve at St Martin-in-the-Fields!

A dumb-bell, comprising the fittings of the former Towcester treble hangs in a narrow pit beside the 6th, and is connected to a Bagley simulator.

Above the twelve hangs a chime of nine bells, fitted with internal solenoid clappers, on which the clock strikes the Westminster Quarters, and an electronic carillon machine plays tunes three times daily. The bells comprise the former 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th of the previous six, augmented by 5 smaller bells to give a diatonic 8 plus flat-6th. The largest bell (the former 5th) retains its full-circle ringing fittings and hangs in a portion of the previous wooden frame (all by John Over of Rugby 1805), and is to be motorised to ring the curfew; the remainder hang in a two-tier chiming frame with deadstocks.

 

Brief History

The town of Towcester is one of the oldest settlements in Northampton, having been an important Roman fortified town along the Watling Street. The church of St Lawrence is built of the local dark-brown ironstone and dates mainly from the 14th Century; the tower was the last addition, being completed in 1485.

From early times there have been bells in Towcester's substantial tower, though there is no description of the four bells that hung in the tower prior to 1626 when James Keene of Woodstock installed a new ring of five, with a tenor of about 17cwt in E. Northamptonshire was a very early centre of change-ringing, as witnessed by the many rings of five it posesses from such times. Towcester became a six in 1725, and then progress halted. The bells were rehung in situ at the top of the tower by John Over of Rugby in 1805, reusing materials from a previous frame, and the tenor was recast by William Taylor (then of Oxford) in 1830. As an intersting aside, it seems that Mr Taylor came back with more than he had bargained from the Towcester contract, for he married a local girl from the neighbouring village of Abthorpe at about the same time!

Nothing more was done to the bells until the beginning of the 20th Century. The first peal had been rung here in 1912, and soon afterwards it was apparent that the frame and fittings were reaching the end of their useful life. It was Gillett and Johnston who were brought in to inspect the bells. They had recently completed two jobs in the area (the sixes at Pattishall and Cold Higham), and the Rector of Cold Higham (who was also the local branch Chairman) would appear to have acted as an agent for them: Gilletts promptly condemmed the frame and fittings - and added that the bells should not be rung as the tower was unsafe! Whether or not this was a ploy to force the Parish into action is open to speculation. It certainly did not work: the bells were silenced for nearly 10 years and when interest was revived in 1935, it was Mears & Stainbank who were invited to inspect the installation. They simply carried out some remedial work, recast the treble, replaced the tenor headstock, rehung the bells on ball-bearings, and retuned the bells; the tenor turned the scales at 14-0-10 in E. They also gave the tower a clean bill of health, but noted that the frame ideally needed replacing within a few years.

It was not to be until 1989 that this was reality. Following a period of silence, a new band had formed in the early 1980s, and quickly progressing through method ringing, it became clear that not only did the bells require major attention, but that augmentation was desirable. The existing bells, though not unpleasant, could hardly be described as a fine toned ring, nor were befitting of the tower: internally the tower measures 17'6" square, and is solid from the ground upwards. A better solution ought to be found.

During the late 1980s, several large rings of bells became redundant. After a period of fruitless searching, the news came that the fine vintage Taylor eight from Christ Church, Todmorden, high up in the Pennines, would become available. The Victorian Christ Church was to close and the parish was to return to the smaller and older St Mary's church in the town centre. An elaborate scheme was devised which entailed the bells being bought from Todmorden in exchange for a new light ring of six to be installed in St Mary's. Local ringers made this ring up to eight; the Towcester ringers undertook to remove the bells and build and install a new frame for the new eight from the H-frame at Christ Church. This phase of the scheme came to fruition in the autumn of 1989; the Towcester installation work began immediately afterwards, and the new Towcester frame was built over the Christmas of 1989 and installed in the early part of 1990.

The augmentation to twelve was almost an accident. A ring of ten was planned, to be housed in a twelve-bell frame. However, the ring from Christ Church came with extra chiming bells, one of which would be the second of a ten. Two donors were already in place, thus eleven bells would be returned. Another donor came forward and the twelve were set to be complete. Attention then turned to the extra chiming bell. It had been cast to Taylor's "B Gauges", which are long-waisted chiming profiles. Though the bell was tonally fine, the different geometry would cause a difference in handling characteristics that would alays make the bell more difficult to ring as part of the instrument. Fortunately another donor came forward to pay for the recasting of this bell, thus four trebles were cast.

The twelve were created in close conjunction with the founders. The internal accoustics were carefully planned - all flooring is made from loose-fitted NON-tounge-and-grooved timber, and the bells have been hung lower in the tower to provide a large accoustic "box" in which they can resonate. The new trebles were cast to match the 1897 Taylor back eight, and many will agree that they form one of the finest instruments in terms of clarity of sound, ease of ringing and all-round tone.

For a small town, the band may be viewed as something of a miracle. Ever since the installation, and to this day, the Towcester band has taught and developed a Surprise Maximus band that now achieves methods such as Bristol and Ariel Surprise Maximus with ringers who live within the town, many of whom learned to handle a bell at Towcester. The message should be one of encouragement: by setting out a stall to teach people to ring on twelve from the outset, many perceived difficulties with twelve-bell ringing are bypassed. Indeed, if a town with 5,000 inhabitants can sustain such a band, this should instill confidence in other towers in larger towns to build twelve-bell bands.


Sources:
 
MPAW

Photographs
Photo: MPA Wilby The Treble. Note the very square shoulders; the trebles were cast specifically to match the profiles of the 1897 back eight.
Photo: MPA Wilby The 9th. The "stirrup" topped clapper beside the bell.
Photo: MPA Wilby The Tenor. Note the square shoulders, typical of the period. The back eight were the 6th "True Harmonic" ring to be produced by Taylors.
Photo: MPA Wilby A view across the bellframe.
Photo: MPA Wilby The first peal on the new twelve.