from the St Peter & St Paul magazine
Blame global warming
The plan at the Loughborough foundry was to cast all eight bells before Christmas. In the event, only six were cast. The holdup? After the exceptionally mild days in December came the exceptionally vicious freeze – and we all know now that exceptional weather is made more likely by global warming. In the cold there was a risk that ice crystals would form in the loam used to produce the moulds for the bells, and they would not dry properly. Think of a foundry and you think of molten metal and searing heat – but they are contained in the furnace, and then only for a couple of hours at a time. All the rest of the week, the temperature inside the foundry is no different from the temperature outside.
So: we can add a third element to the process of bell-casting. Modern computer-aided design and tuning complement the mediaeval skills of blending and moulding metal – and now the forces of nature must be included in the mix.
Watching the casting, one of the oddest moments was seeing a foundry-hand plunge a willow pole into the vat of molten bell metal. The willow releases salicylic acid, and this encourages gas to be expelled which might otherwise be captured in the cooling metal, causing weak spots in the bell. A couple of aspirin might have had the same chemical effect but would have been much less dramatic then a flaming willow pole.
The actual moment of casting is ironically the least captivating part of the process, as the moulds are buried in a sand-pit: only the mouth of the mould is visible.
In January of the new year, work continued at the foundry to complete the casting and create the steel frame that will support the bells in the church tower. At the same time in North Curry a leak in the tower roof was being repaired, to keep rainwater off the new bells.
The actual moment of casting is ironically the least captivating part of the process, as the moulds are buried in a sand-pit: only the mouth of the mould is visible. (Photo: Colin Trim)
Four of the bells had cooled sufficiently to be broken from their moulds before Christmas. (Photo: Darren Woodyer)
In March, we expect that the delicate task of installing the frame in the tower will start. The tower is octagonal, but not regularly so. A laser survey has captured the slight variations in the dimensions of the walls and angles, and the frame has to be customised to fit. Extra cross-bracing has been added to prevent the frame from being distorted as three tons of bells are swung back and forth. This was one of the problems of the old wooden frame: as the bells moved, so did the frame. It was built square but in motion it edged towards lozenge-shaped – which is why ringing had to stop. The new bells and frame should remain sound for at least two centuries to come.