Exeter, Devon
Cathedral of St Peter
Created: 1922

Peal Records

Sound Clip:
Stedman Cinques
©Michael P A Wilby
Bell Date Founder Dia. Weight  
Treble 1922 Taylor 29" 6-2-16  
2nd. 1922 Taylor 30.25" 6-3-2  
3rd. 1915 Taylor 31.25" 7-1-3  
4th. 1616 John Birdall 34.75" 8-3-10  
5th. 1658 John Pennington 36" 8-2-0  
6th. 1676 Thomas Purdue 39.25" 10-1-2  
7th. 1902 Taylor 44.5" 18-0-4  
8th. 1693 Thomas Purdue 47.25" 19-0-19  
9th. 1676 Thomas Purdue 54" 28-0-4  
10th. 1729 William Evans 57.63" 33-2-11  
11th. 1676 Thomas Purdue 63.13" 40-3-19  
Tenor 1902 Taylor 72" 72-2-2 in Bb -23  

flat 6th. 1630 Thomas Pennington 40.5" 11-1-8  
Extra Treble 1979 Taylor 27" 6-0-26  

Framework and Fittings

The treble and 2nd have flange tops, and the other Taylor bells are flat-topped castings. The old bells, except for the 9th, were cast with canons but these have since been removed, presumably by Taylor's in 1902. The 9th was accidentally cast without canons because the metal ran short, and the founder had to sign a bond guaranteeing to recast the bell if it failed within 20 years. The bells hang on one level in a Taylor cast iron 'H' frame, installed for 13 bells in 1902. A further pit was added and the treble and 2nd pits moved slightly when the extra treble was installed in 1980.

The fittings consist of cast iron headstocks with ball bearings, traditional wheels, Hastings Stays and runner bars. The fittings of the front three are by Taylor's and contemporary with the bells; those of 3-8 (including the flat 6th) also by Taylor's and dating from 1902, except for the gudgeons and bearings which were replaced by Whitechapel in 1990. The fittings of bells 9,10,11 also date from 1902, except for the ball bearings which were fitted by Taylor's circa 1960. The tenor's fittings are by Taylor's and date from 1902 with the exception of the headstock and bearings, which were provided by Whitechapel in 1990, replacing the 1902 Taylor headstock which was of riveted steel plate construction. The bells (except for the extra treble), are also fitted with Ellacombe hammers. The three smaller bells still have their original wrought iron clappers of conventional design. The other bells were originally fitted with forked top or 'fishtail' wrought iron clappers, which were deliberately made with thin shafts in an attempt to made the bells clapper better. These clappers were prone to breakage, and have now all been replaced with SG cast iron units at various times, that to the tenor being made with a forked top to suit the existing crown staple.

The clock bell "Peter", cast by Thomas Purdue in 1676, weighing 80cwt in A, hangs alone in the North tower. It retains its canons and hangs in its original oak frame at the top of the tower. It was originally hung to swing (as is proven by the gudgeons which remain in the headstock), but is now hung dead.

Bell Names
Treble Thomas I
2nd Thomas II
3rd Earle
4th Birdall
5th Pennington
6th Purdue
7th Fox
8th Doom
9th Cobthorne
10th Oldham
11th Stafford
Tenor Grandisson

Flat 6th

Extra Treble Jubilee

The bells are mostly named after either their founder or their donor. The exceptions are the extra treble, which was installed to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, hence its name; the flat 6th, the reason for the name of which is something of a mystery; and the 8th, the name of which is thought to refer to the fact that it was probably used as an execution bell. "Peter" is of course named after the patron saint of the Cathedral.

Brief History

There were seven bells at the time of the Cathedral's foundation, and from the time of the building of the two towers the bells were divided roughly equally between them. Towards the end of the thirteenth Century Roger de Ropeford and his family were appointed by the Chapter as hereditary bellfounders to the Cathedral, but no bells are definitely known to have been cast by them. The fabric Rolls record that in 1372 one bell was cast and another recast by Thomas Karoun, who may have been from Gloucester. The new bell is thought to have been the predecessor of the present 8th and the recast bell the predecessor of the present 3rd.

There was a thriving bell foundry in medieval Exeter by 1400 and many of the products of this foundry can still be seen in the West Country today. The clock bell "Peter" was recast (in Exeter) at the order of Bishop Courtenay in 1484, and it is almost certain that the founder was Robert Russell, who was Mayor of Exeter in 1485. Although this bell does not survive, many by Russell do and are distinguished by having stamps of coins between their canons. That Russell's "Peter" was a recast is proven by an entry in the Fabric Rolls from 150 years earlier, which mention a bell of this name. Also mentioned are bells names 'Mary', 'Trinity' and 'Grandisson'. The tradition that "Peter" was brought from Llandaff Cathedral in exchange for four small bells is known to be untrue, and is likely to have been caused by a scrap bell used in the recasting having been purchased or exchanged from there.

The first complete list of the Cathedral's bells dates from 1552, and is found in an inventory made by the Commissioners for Church Good in 1552. This inventory details the "Peter" bell, and four smaller bells (three of which were broken soon afterwards, and subsequently scrapped) in the North tower and eight in the South tower, named 'The Eight', 'The Major', 'Mary', 'Domme', 'Magdalene', 'Trinity', 'B. Stafford's Bell', and 'Bishop Graundson's Bell'. Estimated weights are given, but the Commissioners are known to be inaccurate on such matters. However, although the bells in the South tower formed a diatonic octave in the key of Bb, this was in the medieval Mixolydian Mode rather than the now ubiquitous Major Mode. The difference between the two is that in a Mixolydian octave the 2nd bell is a semitone flatter than it would be in a major octave. Ringers would call a Mixolydian octave the front eight of a Major twelve.

In 1616 John Birdall, the last owner of the Medieval Exeter foundry, was commissioned to 'make Tuneable and perfect' the ring in the South tower. What he did was to add an additional treble bell (the present fourth), which created a Mixolydian ring of nine in the key of Bb. It is known that the Chapter were not happy with their Mixolydian ring of nine, and the main purpose of this augmentation was presumably to enable a Major ring of six in the key of Eb (the front six of the nine bells) to be rung. In the same year, Birdall was commissioned to recast "Peter", which had become cracked on Guy Fawkes' Night, 5th November 1611.

Between 1625 and 1630 Thomas Pennington recast the tenor, seventh and third bells, and in 1658 his brother John recast the second (this bell surviving as the present fifth). However, eight years later the bells were in a sad state of disrepair with the sixth, eighth, tenor and "Peter" all cracked.

In 1676 Thomas Purdue of Closworth recast the cracked bells and added a new bell sounding the note a semitone sharp of the 3rd of nine, the casting of the bells reputedly having taken place in the Chancellor's garden. This work produced a Major ring of nine with a flat 3rd. It is interesting to note that one of the 1676 bells, the present 9th, was cast without canons - an accident caused by the metal running short. Purdue hung the bell by drilling four holes through its crown and bolting it to its headstock, but had to sign a bond guaranteeing to recast the bell if it failed within 20 years. It is an established fact that the bells were not hung for 'full circle' ringing until 1678; prior to this date they were hung 'dead rope', which meant that they could only be controlled at alternate swings.

In 1693 Thomas Purdue, by now working in partnership with his grandson and successor Thomas Knight, returned to recast the fifth, which had been unsuccessfully recast by Thomas Pennington III of Exeter. By 1729 more work was required as the fourth, seventh and tenor were all cracked. William Evans of Chepstow was asked to recast the cracked bells and make the ring into a true 'Major' ring of ten. His first plan was to recast the flat 3rd (presumably into a treble), and the 3rd (why is not clear). However, the Chapter rejected this and ordered him to recast the one small bell remaining in the North tower into a treble to make a ring of ten. This he did, in addition to recasting the three cracked bells. It took Evans two attempts to recast the seventh, but he succeeded at the second attempt and this bell is the only one of his bells to survive (as the tenth) in the present ring. The ring thus created consisted of a ring of ten in Bb Major plus a flat 4th. The flat 4th served no real purpose, and it is a matter for conjecture why the Chapter insisted on its retention. However, it proved to be of use when the ring was ultimately augmented to twelve, as we shall see.

The bells remained as Evans left them until 1902, when a full overhaul was carried out by Taylor's of Loughborough, who rehung the eleven bells in a cast iron 'H' frame for thirteen bells. They also provided all new fittings consisting of cast iron headstocks, plain bearings, traditional wheels, Hastings stays and runner bars to the ten smaller bells and similar fittings to the tenor, except that this bell was provided with a headstock of riveted steel plate construction, the reason for this reputedly being that at the time Taylor's didn't have a large enough pattern to make one of cast iron. The bells were all provided with forked top or 'fishtail' clappers, which were made with thin shafts in an attempt to make the bells clapper better. These clappers were prone to breakage, and have at various times all been replaced with SG cast iron units, that to the tenor being made with a forked top to suit the existing crown staple. As part of the 1902 restoration, Taylor's also recast the 5th and tenor (despite some opposition to the idea), and tuned the remainder. The tenor was cast half a ton heavier than was really required at the request of the Cathedral authorities, who wanted to ensure that the new bell had enough power to cover the fine 11th properly, which the previous 62 cwt tenor had not done. Interestingly, the other bell recast at this time (the 5th) was scaled to match the new tenor, rather than the remainder of the ring.

In 1915 Taylor's recast the treble of ten, which had become cracked. This was one of the relatively few bells to be cast during the war years, and its inscription makes reference to this fact. The fittings from the old bell were all reused on the new. In 1922/3 Taylor's returned to fill the two vacant pits, thus augmenting the ring to twelve. The two new trebles were provided with similar fittings to the other bells, except for having ball bearings instead of plain types, and wrought iron clappers of conventional design (which survive) instead of fishtail types.. The semitone bell, now the flat 6th, became of use at this point as by substituting it for the 6th a lighter Major ring of eight (comprising bells 2-5, 6b, 7-9) could be rung.

The bells received no further attention until circa 1960, when Taylor's rehung the back four on ball bearings. In 1979/80 Taylor's cast and installed a further bell, an extra treble, to create a light ring of ten. They moved the pits of the treble and 2nd slightly and inserted a new 'H' frame pit for the new bell, which was provided with fittings similar to those of the two trebles of twelve.

In 1990 further work was carried out, this time by Whitechapel, when the tenor was rehung on a new cast iron headstock (which weighs 15 cwt!). The bearings fitted to the old headstock had partially collapsed, and larger ones were fitted to the new to prevent a recurrence of this problem. The existing Hastings stay mechanism was reused on the new headstock At the same time the bearings of the treble, 2nd, 9th, 10th and 11th were overhauled and bells 3-8 and the flat 6th were rehung with new gudgeons and ball bearings. Following the completion of the work a service of dedication was held in the bellchamber, with the Dean presiding from the platform overlooking the tenor.

Since then the bells have had no major attention. They are an extremely fine sounding ring of twelve but some of them, particularly the tenor, are still quite challenging to ring. The tenor is often rung 'double handed', and ringing it to a peal without a strapper is still regarded as a considerable achievement.

Thanks to Mr Andrew Nicholson, Steeple Keeper, who provided details of much of the 20th century work to the bells.
Rev. JGM Scott, The Bells of Exeter Cathedral (undated)
RW 91/167
Bells page on the Cathedral Website (http://www.exeter-cathedral.org.uk/Admin/Bells.html)

(C) Taylors; from Tony Clayton's collection The Tenor, "Grandisson". The headstock has since been replaced.