Society of Royal Cumberland Youths

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Christ Church Spitalfields

A brief history of the bells

The church was completed in 1729 and a committee formed by the vestry in 1730 to install a peal of bells.

The great bell was hung in the tower in May 1731, this bell cost £162 10s. A gift of £600 towards the bells was given in 1734 and this resulted in the installation of a very heavy ring of 8 bells with a tenor of approximately 44cwt, probably the third heaviest ring of bells in the central London area at the time, St Mary-le-Bow and Southwark were heavier (St Paul’s Cathedral bells were not installed until 1878).

The fact that in 1746 the 4th and "The Great Bell" were recast by Thomas Lester at Whitechapel, probably goes to show that bellfounding was not at its peak in those days!

Bells of that weight could not have been hung on one level in the tower, they would have been hung in a massive timber frame, probably of oak, the modern peal that we have today, hung in a steel and iron frame with a tenor less than half the weight only just fits in.

What we can see from early peal records is that they did "go" fairly well as the peals rung on them generally had only one "man" on the tenor, other "big" rings of the day often had two or even three ringers on the tenor bell.

Early peals

We know that the bells were hung in 1735 because on February 23rd the "Eastern Scholars" rang a peal of Oxford Treble Bob Major.

We really have no idea what the bells sounded like although contemporary reports describe them as "hardly inferior in power and sweetness to any in the kingdom".

The Eastern Scholars peal was followed by one by the College Youths in 1736 and then in 1752 by a peal by the Cumberland Youths, this peal being the 9th rung by our Society. That peal was conducted by the first Master of the Cumberland’s, George Partrick.

The bells were augmented to ten in either 1786 or 1787, hence the name of the pub just over the road. The first peal on the ten being rung by the Cumberland Youths on 25th June 1787 in 3 hours and 57 minutes.

In 1802 the bells were augmented to 12 with the addition of two trebles, at this time there were only a few rings of twelve and perhaps this gives some indication of the skill of the ringers at Spitalfields at that time.

The longest peal rung at Spitalfields on the old 12 was rung by the Cumberland Youths in 1804, 7104 Oxford Treble Bob Maximus in 5 hours and 40 minutes with James Marlton on the tenor. That peal was conducted by George Gross, a very accomplished ringer of his day.

Fire damage

Christ Church, Spitalfields
Christ Church, Spitalfields

There were only six peals rung on the twelve bells because on 17th February 1836 a disastrous fire destroyed the bells and framework. A newspaper reported "the bells are either shivered to pieces in their fall or fused by the conflagration".

The sale of the bell metal produced £690 2s and £899 was paid to Thomas Mears of Whitechapel for a new ring of eight bells one of the bells of this ring was cast in 1836 and the other 7 in 1837.

This ring had a tenor of 33.5 cwt, considerably less then the previous ring as the tower had been damaged in the fire.

The first peal on these bells was rung by the Cumberlands in December 1845 and there is a large peal board in the tower recording this event. These bells continued to be rung until the 1920’s when they fell into disrepair. The last peal on them having been rung in 1921.

In 1914 they were described as "undoubtedly one of the finest peals in the kingdom".

Clapham Connection

In 1970, members of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths were looking into the possibility of restoring the ring when it became known that the superb 1919 (cast in May of that year) peal of bells from St Stephen’s Clapham Park were available as the church building at Clapham Park was being demolished.

Just 18 peals were rung on these bells while they were at Clapham Park.

The bells were removed the day before demolition of the tower commenced!

They were hung in a new frame constructed by John Taylor, Bellfounders of Loughborough and the first peal on these bells was rung on 23rd September 1972, and over 400 have now been rung on these bells at Spitalfields including the 17,280 London Surprise Major that was rung in 11 Hours and 35 minutes on 23rd April 2005.

On the wall facing you as you enter the room the details of the 8 bells, cast in 1919 for St Stephen’s Church, Clapham Common. Their weights are:

Treble 5-0-5 cwt 5th 7-3-24 cwt
2nd 4-3-3 cwt 6th 8-3-12 cwt
3rd 5-1-11 cwt 7th 13-2-8 cwt
4th 6-0-17 cwt Tenor 17-1-10 cwt in E
The total weight of the bells is 3 tons 9 cwt. 6lbs

The bells were weighed at Taylor’s Bell Foundry during the transfer from Clapham Park and the confirmed weights are now:

Treble 5-0-1 cwt 5th 7-3-16 cwt
2nd 4-2-26 cwt 6th 8-3-6 cwt
3rd 5-1-5 cwt 7th 13-1-24 cwt
4th 6-0-14 cwt Tenor 17-1-6 cwt in E
The total weight of the bells is 3 tons 8 cwt. 70lbs

No tuning was done at Taylor’s so the differences can be put down to more accurate weighing!

Many thanks to Alan Regin for suppling the information.