THE CHURCH BELLS AT ST.ALBAN’S, WICKERSLEY
We usually associate the ringing of church bells with Sunday Services and weddings in Church. A glance into the past will show us that in addition to these uses bells have been rung for a variety of reasons, including the celebration of November the Fifth, heralding the arrival of a stagecoach, to mark the beginning of harvesting and again at its completion, on the occasions of victory in battles and their anniversaries, the opening and closing of the weekly market etc. The Church bells, then occupied a very important place in the everyday life of a community both religious and secular. It is not known for certain when bells were first used, but historians seem to agree that China was the birthplace of the bell around 4000 B.C. The bells of this era were small and they remained so for many centuries as their use spread to other parts of the world.
Bells made of bronze (an alloy of about three parts copper and one part tin), weighing several hundredweights and hung in church towers started to appear in the 8th Century. In England, small parish churches had up to three bells, and large churches and monasteries had up to eight. By a gradual process of evolution the shape of the bell changed so that by the middle of the l3th Century bells were made in the shape we are familiar with today.
In company with the village pond, the village green and the cricket game played thereon, bells and bellringing are often claimed as typically English. This may seem strange in view of the long history and wide use of bells outside England, but what is peculiar to our country is the unique way of ringing called change-ringing. Even today, apart from a few churches abroad which have adopted the English method, the rest of the World rings its bells in a haphazard sort of way. Change-ringing, which involves changing the places in the ringing order of the bells without disturbing the even flow of ringing, requires sensitive bell control and mental agility as well as the often overrated physical aspect of bellringing. It burst into popularity in the 17th Century when sets of changes called methods were first written and performed. Methods involving thousands of changes and taking hours to complete, when performed successfully are commendable achievements and have been recorded along with the names of the ringers in the team on boards or engraved in stone in the belltower.
The belltower of St. Alban’s doesn’t carry any record of great rings as its three bells allow for only six changes to be made without repeat and the duration of these is measured in seconds rather than hours. Worthy of more than passing mention though, is one of the bells residing in our tower. This is the Tenor or largest of the three and dates back to the 15th Century, carrying on it the name of John Elcock, who was Rector of St. Alban’s from 1438 to 1491.
The Treble or smallest bell has a date of 1799 and the remaining bell called Number Two has 1781. The bells were supported on a frame of stout oak prior to 1952 when an overhaul became necessary. John Taylor & Co., Bellfounders of Loughborough built a new steel frame and recast the Treble and Number Two bells as these were cracked. It seems that the Tenor got away with a retune.
Today, the situation remains much as Taylors left it. The bells have been maintained by the ringers at St. Alban’s and Taylors still are going strong although, thankfully, our only need of them has been for a supply of bellropes and occasional good advice. The steel frame needs repainting from time to time, and this is undertaken when necessary by the bellringing team.