from the St Peter & St Paul magazine
The first bell to be cast in the reign of King Charles ...
... will hang in North Curry church from spring 2023. It bears the cypher (‘C III R’) of the new King, as will six of the other new bells. The eighth bell will reproduce the cypher of the late Queen Elizabeth (‘E II R’), as it will commemorate the Queen’s silver jubilee in 2022.
On 24 November 2022 a group from the village watched as craftsmen at the Loughborough Bell Foundry poured molten metal into moulds sunk in a sand pit. In less than 20 minutes the first two of eight new bells for the church had been created, both of them bearing the new royal cypher.
This was both the end of a three-year process of raising the funds and determining how best to renew the bells and the frame that holds them; and the start of a six-month process of manufacturing and installing the new frame and bells that will serve church and the community for the next 200 years.
The foundry has melted down the old bells and tested the composition of the metal in them so that the mixture could be tweaked, if necessary, for the casting. ‘Bell metal’ (we learned) is not just any metal that a bell happens to be made of. Deviate too far from 77% copper to 23% tin, and the bell will not sound with that rich, traditional chime.
The newly cast bells are allowed to cool slowly, for about five days, to avoid cracking. They are then tuned, individually and as a set, by having small amounts of metal removed from them. In past times, this would have been done by a bloke with a hammer and chisel. Skill, judgement and experience are still vital today, but now bells are spun on a vertical lathe as slivers of metal are shaved off, and the process is guided by electronic analysis. The curved shape of a bell causes it to reverberate differently at different points along its body, which gives depth to its sound – so each bell has to be tuned in five different places on the curve.
The molten metal for the last two of North Curry's bells is stirred with a willow pole. This release salicylic acid, which encourages unwanted gas to rise to the surface. Photo: Katelyn Collins, Loughborough Bell Foundry Trust
The result of all this work is that for the first time in living memory (and well beyond) North Curry will have a ring of bells that are in tune with one another. The old bells were so far out of tune that they could never have been corrected – one reason why they have been replaced.
At the same time, the design of the new steel frame has been finalised. Anyone could see that bits of the old wooden structure were damaged beyond repair, from alterations, rot and beetles over the last two centuries. What was startling was the extent of woodworm damage that could not be seen until the floor of the bell chamber in the tower was fully exposed. This was the right time to take action! The new frame, unlike the old one, will be firmly fixed into the walls of the tower; it is carefully cross-braced so that (also unlike the old frame) it is not bent out of shape when three tons of bells are all rung at once.
The new bells will be brought to the village in the spring of 2023. First, the whole installation has to be assembled in Loughborough and thoroughly tested. Then it is a matter of ‘fingers crossed’ that no problems are discovered in the structure of the tower when the new frame is being fitted. Nonetheless, this is definitely the home straight for the long-running Appeal of Bells in North Curry.