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March 2023
from the Athelney Benefice magazine

The new bells have been hung ...


... but (before you get too excited) not yet in North Curry, only 200 miles away in the Loughborough foundry.


[photo here]


The foundry’s photo shows the new frame, with all eight bells in place, assembled in the workshop.  Space, as you can see, is tight.  This is the opportunity to check that one bell does not impede another as they are turned.  If there is a problem, it is best solved a ground level, not when the frame and bells have been winched up into the tower at North Curry.


The bells hang from cast-iron headstocks, painted in the red that marks out bells throughout the world which have been cast by Taylors of Loughborough.  The wheels which carry the bell ropes are made mainly of American ash, with mahogany for the flanges that keep the ropes in place.  Their large circumference provides the leverage to turn the massive weight of the bell: the largest bell in the new North Curry peal (the tenor) tips the scales at three quarters of a ton – and that is over 10% lighter than the previous tenor.


Dr William Hibbert, an expert in the tuning of bells, has analysed the newly cast bells for us.  They have been cast to a particular shape – the ‘Gillett & Johnston profile’ – which is considered to create an especially sweet tone.  As no records of bell designs survive from Gillett & Johnston’s bellfoundry, the Loughborough foundry had to take laser measurements of existing Gillett & Johnston bells and create entirely new moulds for the North Curry bells. 


The sound of a church bell is not a simple thing: it contains multiple frequencies of vibration.  Within each bell certain frequencies must be in tune, and the bells must then be in tune with one another as a peal.  They are tuned on a vertical lathe by gently scraping away metal, normally from the inside.


The bells and frame, fully assembled for testing in the Loughborough foundry [Photo: Loughborough Bell Foundry]

Dr Hibbert compared the North Curry bells to 20 peals cast by Gillett & Johnston between 1911 and 1937.  He concluded that our bells successfully reproduce the Gillett & Johnston profile, and they have been ‘well tuned’.


All this leaves the big question: how soon will we have the bells not only in the church but also in working order?  ‘By Easter’ was the quiet hope, but that is unlikely; the more loudly voiced hope is ‘around the end of April’, when we will be joined by the Bishop of Bath and Wells in a service of celebration and dedication on the final Sunday of the month – but even that is dependent on progress with construction work in the tower.  The real aim is ‘in time to join the nationwide ringing of bells to celebrate the Coronation’.  So don’t hold your breath yet – but feel free to do so from the beginning of May.

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