Society of Royal Cumberland Youths

Promoting excellence in ringing around the world

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St James, Clerkenwell

A brief history of the bells

When the church of St James, Clerkenwell was rebuilt, between 1788 and 1791, Thomas Mears supplied a ring of eight bells, reusing the metal of the previous ring of six. The first peal on these bells, of Plain Bob Major, was rung by SRCY on 26 September 1791, although the rebuilt church was not consecrated until 1792. A further 88 peals were rung before the bells were again recast by Gillett and Johnston in 1928, the new tenor weighing 24-2-21. The new ring of bells was opened by the Middlesex Association in March 1929.

St James, Clerkenwell
St James, Clerkenwell

The work seems to have been carried out without diocesan approval as the Vicar and churchwardens had to attend a Consistory Court hearing in 1929 to explain why they had allowed the old bells to be removed from the tower and broken up without authority. Their defence, that recasting the bells was the only way to improve their sound, might be considered rather weak nowadays, but fortunately a retrospective faculty was granted.

Whatever the shortcomings of the old ring of bells, there is no doubt about the qualityof their replacements; the bells are considered by many to be the finest sounding in London. They are rung on the second Sunday of every month after the morning service from 12.15pm approx. and from time to time for weddings and special services and by occasional visiting bands.

In the 1850s the Society's headquarters were at Clerkenwell at the Three Kings pub which like the church dates from 1791 and is still in business. The Society took over responsibility for the bell installation in 1988.