History of the bells

The original bells – 1454 to 1624:

The earliest record that confirms the existence of a tower dates from 1454 – it is the bequest of Ralph Langle of Beckenham who left money in his will for new bells. It is likely that the bells were cast and hung shortly after this bequest. The original tower stood about 20 feet to the north of the present tower on the centre-line of the present Nave and was part of the Church building started around the year 1340 during the reign of King Edward III.

In November 1551, the Inventory of Church goods taken by the Commissioner appointed by King Edward VI lists “iiij bells of bell mettell suted in the steeple whereof one was broken”. These four bells were probably in use for around 150 years. They would have been hung for swing chiming (tolling) and, as bell-founding was a somewhat hit-and-miss technology at that time, probably of poor tone and quality. This may explain why one was broken! The final fate of these four bells is unknown, but it is possible that they may have provided some, if not all of the metal for the bells that followed in the years 1624 – 1629. It is equally possible that they may have been stolen or plundered for their scrap metal value, or to provide metal for casting cannons as were many bells during this period of history. No other details of the four original bells are known.

The old ring of 5 – 1624 to 1796:

The first bell of the old ring of 5 was cast in 1624. This bell was eventually to be the No.2 bell of the ring. The No. 4 bell was cast in 1625. The No. 5 bell (The Tenor) and No. 3 bells were cast in 1629. These four bells were all cast by Thomas Bartlet. Thomas Bartlet was the bell founder at the Whitechapel bell foundry from 1616 until 1632. There was a locally – held tradition that the Tenor was cast in the Churchyard due to the difficulty of moving larger loads along the poorly – surfaced roads of that time. This certainly happened in other places in those days, where the founders would set up temporary foundries in or near the Churchyard. Unfortunately, there is no written evidence to support the suggestion that this occurred in Beckenham.

Some 11 years later, another bell (No.1 or treble) was added to give a ring of five bells. This bell was cast in 1640 by William Lambert.  William lambert was a less well – known London bell founder. There are very few examples of his work still in existence (the 5th at Sundridge cast by him is still in use) and it is generally believed that his work was not of particularly high quality. The bells remained as a ring of 5 for nearly 150 years. These 5 bells were all hung for “full circle” or “Change” ringing as had become the custom in the early 1600’s.

The ring of 6 – 1783 to 1902:

In 1783 the Vestry decided that a new bell should be added to form a ring of 6. In 1790, a terrific thunderstorm destroyed the old steeple, part of the tower and a portion of the Church. When later re-cast, none of the old bells bore the date 1783, so it is possible that if a bell was indeed cast in 1783 that this bell was destroyed in the terrible fire. The spire was repaired in 1794 and the new treble was finally cast and hung by Thomas Mears I (of Whitechapel) in 1796. The details of the ring of 6 bells are listed below – The weights are estimated from the diameters, the diameters being the only known details. Some publications of the time list the tenor as weighing 20cwt, but this seems unlikely bearing in mind the diameter of the bell. The bells in the old tower were rung from the Ground Floor.

Bell Weight Diameter Date Founder
Treble 5 cwt 29” 1796 Thomas Mears I
2nd 6 cwt 31” 1640 William Lambert
3rd 7 cwt 32 1/2” 1624 Thomas Bartlet
4th 9cwt 36 1/2” 1629 Thomas Bartlet
5th 12 cwt 40 1/2” 1625 Thomas Bartlet
Tenor 16 cwt 45” 1629 Thomas Bartlet

The inscriptions were as follows:

Treble “THE REVD WM ROSE_ RECTOR: ROBT HOGGART AND THOS RANDELL, CHURCHWARDENS. GEORGE GROTE AND ROBT TANNER OVERSEERS: THOS MEARS OF LONDON FECIT 1796”
2nd “WILLIAM LAMBERT MADE ME R.L. 1640″
3rd “THOMAS BARTLET MADE ME 1624”
4th “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL 1629″
5th “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL 1625″
Tenor “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL 1629″

The ring of 8 – 1902 to 1934:

The population of Beckenham expanded very rapidly during the 19th century – from around 2000 in the 1840s to 6000 in the 1870s, and to 16,000 in the 1880s. The old Parish Church was far too small to accommodate the growing population and congregation. After much contentious discussion and consultation, it was decided in 1883 to rebuild the Church on a much larger scale. The East end of the present Church building was built during 1885 and the Nave, Aisles and lower portion of the Tower completed by 1887. The new tower was sited some 20 feet to the south of the old one and the old one demolished. The lower stage of the new tower was built to a height of 44” (13.3 metres) at which point finances could not be found to complete it. The old ring of 6 were temporarily installed at the top (where the clock room is now) in a shed-like structure known as a Kentish Cap. They were not hung for change ringing at this time, but “hung dead” and chimed using a chiming apparatus. This situation persisted until 1902, by which time the rest of the Church building had been completed.

The old bells were described as being of poor tone and it was decided that they should be replaced. They were taken down on 11th July 1902 and transported to the bell foundry for re-casting. By this time, sufficient funding had been secured to complete the tower during the absence of the bells. The foundry chosen was that of John Warner and Sons Ltd in Spitalfields, London. Most of the new bells were cast during 1902, the Tenor being cast on 6th March 1903. The casting was witnessed by several Beckenham residents and the Church-Warden was entrusted with several silver coins by members of the congregation which were included in the new casting. It is believed that each bell was re-cast individually from the metal of the old bell which it replaced to preserve the identity of each of the old bells.

In addition to the six re-cast bells, two further bells were cast from new metal to provide a ring of 8. These two additional bells (the treble and 2nd of 8) were given, along with the tower clock, by Mr C E Atkinson in memory of Cecil Rhodes (the founder of Rhodesia – now known as Zimbabwe).

The bells were hung in the completed tower during 1903. The bells were hung on Elm headstocks with oak and ash wheels. They were fitted with wrought iron clappers hung on independent clapper staples. The bell-frame is cast iron, again by Warner’s, and sits on a substantial oak grillage supported by three RSJs. The bells were tuned by machining, as bells are now, but using the traditional method where only the fundamental is tuned using tuning forks and the harmonics are not tuned. This gives the bells an “old fashioned” but pleasing sound, as they are quite well tuned. (Harmonic tuning was at this time being developed by the John Taylor foundry in Loughborough but was not in common use in the industry). The installation was also provided with an Ellacombe chiming apparatus which allows one person to chime all eight bells if there are not enough ringers. Fortunately, this is rarely used.

The Tower, Bells and Clock were dedicated on 14th November 1903 by the Archbishop of Canterbury – Beckenham was in the Diocese of Canterbury at this time. The bells were first rung on Friday 8th July 1904 by which time the mortar of the new tower was fully set.

The ring of 10 – 1934 to present day.

The bells were again augmented in 1934. The Officers and members of the Court St. George 5106 (Beckenham & District) Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society gave two Treble bells to commemorate their one hundredth anniversary, resulting in the ring of 10 bells that we still ring today. These two new bells were cast at the Croydon foundry of Gillett and Johnston – sadly, Warner’s had by this time stopped casting bells.

These two new bells were provided with cast-iron headstocks and ball bearings as was by this time standard practice. These two bells are tuned harmonically, as are nearly all bells cast since the 1920’s. Gillett & Johnston developed their own approach to harmonic tuning in the early 1900’s. This is the tuning technique where the harmonic notes and fundamental of each bell are tuned to each other, as well as the bell being tuned as a whole to the other bells in the ring.

A new two-bell cast iron frame (again by Gillett and Johnston) supported on RSJs was provided above the existing 8-bell frame. In order to ensure that the ropes fell in the correct order, the old Treble and 2nd bells (now 3rd and 4th) were moved. The old 2nd bell moved up into the new frame and the old Treble into the old 2nd pit below, becoming bells 3 and 4. The new Treble was hung in the upper frame with the new 2nd directly below.

In 1952, the back 8 bells (bells 3-10) were re-hung by Gillett and Johnston as the old plain bearings were worn and the bells were becoming too difficult to ring. The original clappers, wheels and headstocks were re-used, but with new gudgeon-pin retaining plates being fitted, along with new gudgeon-pins and double-row self-aligning ball bearings in cast-iron bearing housings. The bells were also ¼ turned at this time to present a previously unused surface of the bell’s sound bow to the clapper and new rope pulleys were fitted.

During 1987, the tenor was re-hung after one of its gudgeon-pins broke. It was fitted with a new Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast-iron headstock and 1/8th turned. In 1991, it was discovered that the 6th had a broken gudgeon-pin and was rehung on its original fittings by the ringers. The 7th was the next to break and it became obvious that the old fittings were failing rapidly.

Bells 3-9 were re-hung on new cast-iron headstocks by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry during 1992.

The 1902 – 1903 Warner bells originally had “Doncaster” canons (hoops cast as part of the bells). These canons had iron ties looped through them to attach the bells to the wooden headstocks. These canons were cut off and hardwood pads fitted to the top of each bell to allow the new flat-bottomed cast iron headstocks to be fitted and bolted through. As a result of the canons being removed, the exact weight of the back 8 bells is not known (with the exception of the 6th and Tenor which were weighed in the tower whilst renewing the bearings in 2014).

The old wheels were re-used but with new soles and shrouds (the outer parts of the wheel which guide the bell-rope). The bells were 1/8 turned and the clappers “twisted” by the blacksmith at the foundry to present new faces of the clapper ball to the bell. The upper bell frame was at this time strengthened and re-fitted into the walls by the ringers.

Further work has been done since to re-furbish the pulleys with new sealed bearings and re-surfaced sheaths, re-align the rope chutes in the Clock Room and brace and re-fix the lower bell-frame to the oak grillage.

The bells are regularly maintained and it is hoped that they will continue to give good service and to ring out to the people of Beckenham for many generations to come.

The details of the present bells

Bell Weight

according to foundry (cwt, quarters, pounds)

Weight now

* denotes estimated weight after removal of canons

Diameter Note Year of casting Founder
Treble 4-1-12 4-1-12 (221kg)  25⅛” A 1934 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon
2nd 4-1-22 4-1-22 (226kg)  26” G 1934 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon
3rd 4-3-20 4 ¾ cwt *(241kg)  28” F 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
4th 5-0-19 5cwt *(254kg)  29” E 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
5th 5-2-10 5 ¼ cwt *(267kg)  30 ¼“ D 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
6th 6-2-26 6-2-2 (331kg)  32 ½“ C 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
7th 7-3-3 7 ¼ cwt * (369kg)  35” B♭ 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
8th 8-0-17 7 ¾ cwt* (394kg)  36 ½“ A 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
9th 11-0-12 10 ¾ cwt * (547kg)  40” G 1902 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
Tenor 14-2-18 14-0-2 (712kg)  44” F 1903 John Warner & Sons, Cripplegate
Sanctus bell 2-0-0 2-0-0 (101kg)  21” G# 1894 Mears & Stainbank, Whitechapel

The inscriptions are as follows:

TREBLE “GILLETT & JOHNSTON . CROYDON . 1934”
‘ANCIENT ORDER OF FORESTERS
FRIENDLY SOCIETY
CENTENARY – 1934’
‘5001’
2nd “GILLETT & JOHNSTON . CROYDON .
1934”
‘COURT ST.GEORGE . NO. 5106
BECKENHAM DISTRICT’
‘5002’
3rd “CAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902”
‘PRESENTED BY CHARLES E ATKINSON
WITH CLOCK
IN MEMORY OF CECIL RHODES
1902’
4th “CAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902”
‘PRESENTED BY CHARLES E ATKINSON
WITH CLOCK
IN MEMORY OF CECIL RHODES
1902’
5th “THE REVD WM. ROSE_ RECTOR: ROBT HOGGART AND THOS RANDELL CHURCHWARDENS.”
’GEORGE GROTE AND ROBT TANNER OVERSEERS: THOS MEARS OF LONDON FECIT 1796” RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902’
6th “WILLIAM LAMBERT MADE ME R.L. 1640″
‘RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902’
7th “THOMAS BARTLET MADE ME 1624″
‘RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902’
8th “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL 1629″
‘RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902’
9th “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL
‘RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902’
TENOR “THOMAS BARTLET MADE THIS BELL 1629″
‘RECAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LTD LONDON 1902
HENRY ARNOTT RECTOR’
ROBT BORROWMAN & LISTER BECK. CHURCHWARDENS W.G.BARTLEET & SONS ARCHITECTS 1902
SANCTUS BELL “MEARS & STAINBANK 1894″

The Sanctus bell does not hang in the tower, but in its own “Bell Cot” – a small spire rising above the Nave roof to a height of around 70 feet. It is built directly above the Chancel arch where the Nave and Chancel meet. The bell was cast by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel. It was originally hung for swing chiming, but is now hung “dead” and struck by means of an Ellacombe hammer (which strikes the inside of the sound-bow from underneath). It is used daily to announce the consecration of the sacrament during the Eucharist.

Discover more…

The clock

The Bellringers