From: BELLS IN BEDFORDSHIRE: A survey and history. Compiled by Chris Pickford FSA. (Unpublished)
St.Paul’s is the main town church of Bedford, standing on an island site alongside the historic market place and in close proximity to both the old Shire Hall and Town Hall. It contained the pew of the Major and Corporation and until the mid-C19th the Archdeacon’s Court was located in what is now the Trinity Chapel. The earliest parts of the present building date from around 1224 when there was a rebuilding following the destruction of both the original church and the nearby Castle. Although much rebuilt and improved in the Victorian period the main elements of the building are of the C14th and C15th.
The central tower and spire were completely rebuilt from the ground - partly to widen the arches and improve sight-lines within the church - under Robert Palgrave (with advice from G.E. Street) in 1865-8. Their external appearance was altered when the chancel roof was raised in 1878-9 and by the addition of the north aisle in 1884. Access to the tower is by spiral stair in the north east angle of the north transept, added by Palgrave when the tower was rebuilt, and over the roof into the ringing room. From there fixed ladders continue upwards to the intermediate sound chamber and bell stage above. The clock mechanism is housed in a raised loft against the north wall of the ringing room. The disused chime mechanism occupies the south west corner of the ringing room.
In 1943 F.E. Kuhlicke published a detailed history of the bells here under the title The Bells of St.Paul's Church, Bedford, 1741 to 1941. This included an account of the chimes. The details below are based on my own article on “St.Paul's Church, Bedford” in the Ringing World of 21 May 1982 (pp.413-4, 419), expanded and updated. I have also written a thorough history of the clock and chimes, not yet published, but too lengthy and detailed to be included here.
The present bells
The tower contains a ring of twelve bells with the following inscriptions:
These bells are all flat-topped castings. Bells 5-10 were quarter turned when they were rehung in 1966.
The bells hang in an oak frame (Bellframes type 6.A, originally layout 8.3 with stepped pits for the tenors) by Mears & Stainbank, 1868. When the bells were augmented and rehung in 1896, John Taylor & Co reversed the orientation pits of two bells (now nos.5 and 6 of the twelve) and installed a cast-iron lowside pit (type 8.3.A.h) within the space occupied by the original tenor pit. The two new trebles were hung above in a frame of single-level girders (type 8.1.A.) with the bells swinging north-south above nos.3 and 4 of the ten. The augmentation in 1977-8 involved the extension of the girder framework (also type 8.1.A.) to create two new east-west pits for the added trebles.
The bells are all hung with standard Taylor ringing fittings of various dates between 1896 and 1977, including cast iron stocks, ball bearings etc. Bells 3 and 4 have Hastings stays but the rest have stays and sliders of traditional type. When the ten bells were originally installed in 1896-7 many of the Mears 1868 fittings were reused and all the middle bells remained on wooden headstocks until 1966. There is a trigger-type Ellacombe hammer on the tenth for chiming the bell for services.
The clock is housed in an intrusive wooden case on the north side of the ringing room. It is a large three-train cast iron four-poster mechanism dated 1811. It bears the name of the churchwardens on the setting dial and the parish records show that it was set up by local clockmakers John Cavit, Thomas Revis and Thomas Clare but actually made by Handley & Moore of Clerkenwell, London. It was reconditioned and set up in the new tower by the original makers, by then styled B.R. and J. Moore, in 1870 at a cost of £122 and there have been various subsequent restorations including one by John Bull & Co of Bedford in 1908.
As well as the clock, the ringing room also contains a disused and partially dismantled tune-playing carillon machine installed by Gillett & Bland & Co of Croydon in 1879. This originally played a selection of 14 tunes on the eight bells. The range of tunes was increased, and the machine remodelled by Gillett & Johnston, in 1897 after the ring had been augmented to ten. Additional barrels were obtained in 1899 and 1913 to increase the repertoire. The machine was refurbished after the bells were rehung in 1930 and again when the bells were put back in the tower after the war in 1946. However, the mechanism was always troublesome and by the 1950s the tunes were only played very occasionally. The hammers were disconnected when the bells were rehung in 1966 since when the carillon has been completely disused.
The clock and chimes are mentioned in the 1708 glebe terrier and clearly existed in the C17th. Kuhlicke mentions a poem written by Dr. William Foster in memory of the parish clerk of forty years, Richard Marks, who died in March 1668/9. Foster mentions not only the clock, but also the chimes playing at regular intervals through the day. Acknowledging that Marks was responsible for the accuracy of the clock, Foster alluded to the fact that people “did steer their watches and their clocks by thy clock ecclesiastical” while “the massy metals [i.e. the bells] thou didst cause withal thrice in twelve hours to be musicall” as the chimes played.
The original chimes operated on the then five bells. In the Gents. Mag. In 1849 (reprinted in Beds. Times 9 June 1849) J.D. Parry states that new chimes were erected at St.Paul’s in 1754, some nine years after the bells had been recast and made up to an octave. The mid-C18th chimes presumably remained in use until the tower was rebuilt in 1865-8. The duties of the Parish Clerk listed in the 1822 terrier included “keeping the Clock and Chimes” for £9 a year, indicating that at that date the chimes were still in use.
The earliest information on the ringers at St. Paul’s comes from an account of a dispute between the Vicar and the Mayor of Bedford in 1582 when the Vicar complained to the Bishop of Lincoln about “immoderate ringinge withoute cause” at his church. He claimed that the bells were frequently rung until midnight, during services, and “mervelous often at other tymes”, while the ringers loitered in the streets near the church after ringing and seldom attended services. The Mayor asserted that “he wold cawse ringing as pleased him” without reference to the Vicar, adding that Jones “was but the vicar and had nothinge to do with it”!
Various writers on bells mention a remarkable manuscript at the Bodleian Library which shows that changeringing was being practised at Bedford, probably at St. Paul’s, in the 1650s. The band was led by Mr. Oliver Palmer, and the other ringers were Matthew Faldo, Andrew Easton, Edmund Cobbe and Nicholas Spencer, gent. Clearly their performance of simple methods attracted the attention of several contemporary writers, but it seems that this early enthusiasm for changeringing soon waned.
The earliest bells of which we have any information were a ring of five, as listed in the 1708 and 1724 glebe terriers. They were recast with extra metal by Thomas Lester of London in 1744 to make a new ring of eight, the first of that number in the County. Apparently the treble was recast in 1755, but six of Lester’s original ring survived until 1896-7, and one (the original seventh) remained until 1945. The treble and third were recast in 1868.
The new ring of eight was opened in the Spring of 1745 by ringers invited from London at the expense of the Corporation. The Borough minutes include the following resolution of the Common Council:
19 April 1745 … It is voted ordered and agreed unto at this Court of Common Council That the Chamberlains of this Corporation shall pay amongst eight men that shall come from Saint Michael, Cornhill, London, the sum of six guineas for their trouble in ringing the new Peal of Eight Bells which are hung up in the steeple of the Parish Church of St.Paul in this Town
No contemporary press report of the opening has been found. It is worth noting that some twenty years later another band of ringers from London, members of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths, visited Bedford on 11 May 1761 to ring a peal of Plain Bob Major in three hours and 25 minutes, conducted by Samuel Wood. This was the first full peal on the bells, and the only such performance recorded until the next one in 1885.
North gives the inscriptions of the old ring and the weights and diameters, of which no record survives in the Whitechapel archives, were noted in the early C19th in the Taylor archives along with details of other peals cast by their competitors! Details of the C18th ring were as follows:
1. AT PROPER TIMES MY VOICE I’LL RAISE AND SOUND TO MY
SUBSCRIBERS PRAISE 1744. THOMAS LESTER MADE ME. [But said to have
been recast in 1755]
2. THOMAS LESTER MADE ME 1744.
3. THOMAS LESTER MADE ME 1744.
4. THOMAS LESTER MADE ME 1744.
5. BY A SUDDEN FALL MY SUBSCRIBERS DID SURPRISE BUT NOW AM COME
TO PLEASE THEIR LISTENING EARS AND EYES. T.L. 1744
6. THOS. LESTER MADE ME
7. THOS. LESTER OF LONDON MADE ME 1744.
8. JOHN RUSSELL MAYOR. THOMAS RICHARDS JAMES BRADLEY
CHURCHWARDENS 1744. THOMAS LESTER OF LONDON MADE US ALL.
There is little information on repairs to the bells in the later years of the C18th and early decades of the C19th. At the Visitation of 1836 Archdeacon Bonney ordered that four of the Bell Wheels be repaired. In compliance with this, the vestry agreed in 1837 that the bell wheels should be repaired “agreeable to an estimate sent in by Wm. Tucker” at a cost of £7. 10s.
The bells were subsequently rehung in 1851 by French & Freeman, as reported in two contemporary newspaper reports:
The Bells at St.Paul’s, Bedford, eight in number, have been recently re-hung by Mr. French,
of Bedford, and Mr. Thos. Freeman, carpenter, of Olney, on the new principle. On Thursday
week, the Olney ringers rang several merry changes and were highly commended
(Northampton Herald 19 April 1851)
The bells at St. Paul’s Church, Bedford, have been recently re-hung by Mr. French of
Bedford, and Mr. Thomas Freeman of Olney, on the new principle. On Thursday, the 10th
of April, the Olney ringers went to open this beautiful peal of eight bells, and in the course
of the day merry peals of changes were rung by them. The Mayor of Bedford and other
authorities willingly assented to the proposal to invite the Olney ringers, who were highly
commended for the satisfactory manner in which they performed their undertaking, it being,
we believe, the first introduction of change ringing at Bedford. (Bucks Herald, Sat. 26 April 1851)
During the course of the restoration of the Church in the 1860s, the tower and spire were rebuilt from the ground. The work began in December 1865, and by the beginning of 1868 the new tower was sufficiently advanced for the bells to be reinstated. Two bells (the treble cracked in 1859, and the third) were recast by Mears and Stainbank who also provided a new oak frame and rehung all eight bells with new fittings. The total cost of this work was about £220, and the bells were first rung in the new tower on Friday 13th March 1868. The bill for the work is as follows:
March 13th 1868 - Robert Palgrave Esq, per St.Paul’s Church, Bedford
1868 January 18
To 2 Bells, 8-1-2, 6-2-11 [Total] 14-3-13 @ £7/-/- £104 1s. 3d.
New Stocks, Wheels, Clappers, Ironwork, Gudgeons, Brasses, Ropes &c to 8
bells £85 0s. 0d.
False staples to bells £6 6s. 0d.
English Oak Frame for 8 Bells, Men’s time & all expenses making & fixing
same & hanging Bells, including Journeys, Use of Tackle &c, but exclusive of
Carriage as per Estimate £100 0s. 0d.
Carriage, Inspection etc. £7 0s. 0d.
[Sub-total] £302 7s. 3d.
By 2 old Bells 8-0-22, 7-1-26 [Total] 15-2-20, [less] Draft for Waste, Dirt &c 0-
1-19, [nett] 15-1-1 @ £4/18/- £74 15s. 4d.
[Total] £227 11s. 11d.
According to North, the inscriptions of the two new bells of 1868 (since recast) were as follows:
1. MEARS & STAINBANK, FOUNDERS, LONDON.
Waist: MICHAEL FERREBEE SADLER, VICAR / JOHN MASON CUTHBERT } /
JOHN TRAPP } CHURCHWARDENS, 1868.
3. MEARS & STAINBANK, FOUNDERS, LONDON, 1868.
The ‘go’ of the bells was apparently never very satisfactory - a good band from Oxford had reported the bells “not pealable” in 1876 when a peal of Stedman Triples was lost after two hours and ten minutes owing to the difficulty of the 5th, 7th and tenor - and after a certain amount of agitation from the ringers John W. Taylor of Loughborough was asked to examine the installation in January 1896. He reported both on the state of the frame and fittings and on the tonal quality of each of the individual bells. He proposed various schemes for augmentation to ten and expressed the view that the best plan would be to install a complete new ring of ten with a 35 cwt tenor. An alternative proposal involved the addition of two larger bells (tenor 47½ cwt.) and some recasting, by which “a very grand peal will be obtained similar to the ten largest at Worcester Cathedral”.
In the event the authorities were obliged to go for the cheapest option and entrusted Taylors with the work of recasting the old tenor and adding two new trebles. The new bells were to be hung between girders above the old frame and they and the recast tenor were to be provided with modern fittings, but the others were only to be retuned and rehung with their old fittings. In the process of tuning, however, it was found necessary to recast the treble and during the course of the work a new cast iron ‘lowside’ pit for the tenor was incorporated in the old frame. The old bells were last rung on 16th January 1896 and the restored ring was dedicated on 29th September at a service conducted by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Macrorie. The sermon was preached by the Rev. F.E. Robinson who afterwards joined the local ringers for a course of Kent Treble Bob Royal and touches of Grandsire Caters.
Reports of the restoration and augmentation appeared in various publications including the Parish Magazine, the Beds. Standard on 2 October 1896, the Bell News on 10 October 1896 (pp.293-4) and Church Bells on 30 October 1896 (p.1274). Afterwards Taylors’ advertisements in the bellringing periodicals included a photograph of the new Bedford tenor. Taylors’ invoice was as follows:
19 September 1896 - The Bells Committee, St.Paul’s Church, Bedford
To two new treble bells completing the ring of ten, also a new tenor bell in
place of the old according to estimate no.1 of 16 January 1896 - weight of the
new bells 1. 5-3-2, 2. 6-0-11, 10. 28-3-6, [Total] 40-2-19 at £5 per cwt £203 6s. 11d.
By the old tenor bell 26-3-7 at £3 per cwt £80 8s. 9d.
[Sub-total] £122 17s. 2d.
To inscriptions on tenor bell to order 138 letters at 4d. £2 6s. 0d.
To entirely new fittings for the three bells £40 0s. 0d.
To girder frame for the two additional bells, also turning the two smallest of
eight round so as to swing North to South £49 0s. 0d.
To removing the eight old bells out of the frame & sending to foundry £8 0s. 0d.
To fixing £36 0s. 0d.
To carriage £20 10s. 0d.
To recasting the old treble of eight according to quotation 17 July 1896, recast
bell 7-0-8 @ £5 £37 7s. 1d., [less] old 5-3-14 at £3 £17 12s. 6d, [Sub-total] £17
14s. 7d., new clapper £1 10s. 0d., altering fittings 15s. 5d, [Sub-total] £20 £20 0s. 0d.
To taking out the old tenor frame & fixing new iron sides on new oak beams for
the new tenor [itemised charges given] £24 18s. 0d.
[Total] £323 11s. 2d.
At the outset, J.W. Taylor had warned that the old six bells would seem very weak in comparison with the new, and so it proved when they were first rung together. The tenor was generally acknowledged to be a particularly fine bell, and Mr. Taylor is reported to have said in 1903 that “he had tried to turn out one to beat it but had been unable to do so”. It was therefore hardly surprising that within months of the dedication arrangements were made for replacing five more of the old bells leaving Thomas Lester’s original seventh as the sole survivor of the 1744 ring.
The old bells were actually left in the tower until the new ones were ready. The five new bells left the works on 23 January 1897 and four of the old ones were delivered there a week later, on 30 January. One of the old bells did not reach the foundry until March 1901 as it was loaned to Cardington (q.v.) for temporary use while the bells there were taken away for rehanging. This was the old fourth, by Thomas Lester 1744, weighing 6-3-8.
The work was completed in February 1897, giving Bedford a noble ring of ten of which the bellfounders, ringers and townsmen at large could be justifiably proud. Taylors invoiced for the job on 4 February 1897:
4 February 1897 - The Bells Committee, St.Paul’s Church, Bedford
To recasting the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th bells of the ring of ten of St.Paul’s
church according to estimate of 3 December 1896 and letter of 4 February
The new bells as sent off 4. 7-0-26, 5. 8-1-11, 6. 11-0-0, 7. 14-1-25, 8. 15-1-4
The old bells as received 4. [blank], 5. 7-0-0, 6. 9-3-0, 7. 11-3-18, 8. 13-0-9 &
Recasting the fourth bell £27 9s. 0d.
Recasting the fifth bell £32 9s. 0d.
Inscription 106 letters at 4d. £1 15s. 4d.
Recasting the sixth bell £35 4s. 0d.
Inscription 48 letters at 4d. 16s. 0d.
Recasting the seventh £44 9s. 0d.
Inscription 237 letters £3 19s. 0d
Recasting the eighth £50 9s. 0d.
Including 5 new clappers, readjusting the other fittings, taking down fixing &
For the third bell, new gudgeons, bolts, new pair bearings, bolts, wheel stays &
wheel strips £2 18s. 0d.
For the fourth bell, new stock, pair gudgeons & bolts, brasses & bolts, wheel
stays & strips £3 5s. 0d.
For the fifth, new stock, pair gudgeons & bolts, brasses & bolts, wheel strips &
wheel stays £3 7s. 0d.
For the sixth, stock, gudgeons & bolts, bearings & bolts, wheel stays & strips £3 14s 6d.
For the seventh, stock, truing old gudgeons, wheel stays & strips £1 13s. 0d
For the eighth, stock, truing old gudgeons, wheel stays & strips £1 11s. 0d
Fitting the new gudgeons to the headstocks, fitting the new headstocks to the
bells & fitting the new bearings to the frame, also lifting the ninth but no new
materials for this bell £3 0s. 0d.
Carriage on new materials 12s. 6d.
Blacksmith’s bill 12s. 6d.
Gunmetal inscription plate for the fourth bell 14s. 0d.
[Total] £217 14s. 10d.
Settled 10 March 1897
The remodelling of the ring was reported in Bell News on 20 February 1897 (pp.573-4), the Parish Magazine for March 1897 and elsewhere. Several fine photographs of the bells and their donors were taken outside the church. In their catalogue of c.1904 John Taylor & Co included testimonials regarding their recent work. These include one for St.Paul’s, Bedford (p.6)
St.Paul’s Church, Bedford.
A new ring of ten (except the 9th). Weight of tenor 28¾ cwts.
St.Paul’s Church, Bedford
Feb 17th, 1899.
We have great pleasure in testifying to the very great success attending the recent re-casting of the old peal of eight bells, and the adding of two new trebles, thus making a ring of ten for the tower of St.Paul’s Church, Bedford. The work was undertaken and successfully carried out by Messrs. J. Taylor & Co., of Loughborough. The bells are much admired for their sweetness and quality of tone; and the peal is pronounced by several noted ringers, who have taken part in “touches” on the bells since their completion, to be one of the finest in the country.
LAMBERT WOODARD, Vicar.
THOMAS BULL, Churchwarden.
In 1927 the three principal firms of bellfounders were asked to quote for rehanging the bells. Reporting for the Croydon foundry, Major J. Howard R. Freeborn who had family connections with Bedford, suggested that the ring should be augmented to twelve. The church architect advised most strongly against the idea, however, also arguing against the introduction of an iron and steel frame and asserting that any work on the bells including the recasting of the ninth should be entrusted only to Messrs. Mears and Stainbank. The ringers were somewhat understandably insistent that Taylors should recast the bell. In the end recasting was deferred, and in 1930 the bells were rehung on ball bearings by Messrs. Mears and Stainbank who also provided a new headstock for the ninth.
During World War II the bells were taken down and stored in a corner of the churchyard where they remained until hostilities had ceased. The removal took place in September 1941 and Taylors charged £45 for the work. In February 1944 the treble was reinstated in the tower and the ninth was taken way to Loughborough for future recasting. In 1945 the old ninth was recast by Taylors who reinstated the remaining bells in the tower, the reopening taking place on 9th November. The new ninth was hung with a new cast-iron headstock (but reusing the existing ball bearings). All the other bells were reinstated with their existing fittings. The total bill for the work came to £318.11.3. In 1946 the tolling hammer was transferred from the tenor to the ninth, again by John Taylor & Co., at a cost of £4.15.0.
Despite the amount of work done at various dates some of the 1868 fittings remained in use, and by the mid-1960s they had reached the end of their useful life. In 1966 Taylors were again called in to provide new fittings for five of the bells and to rehang the others, the work being completed between July and November. At the same time sound control was installed in the louvres, later improved by the construction of a roof above the bells in the base of the spire.
The idea of augmenting the ring to twelve was resurrected in 1970, at a time when the Bedford band was reaching a peak in its ten-bell ringing. Taylors were initially unhappy about the idea of hanging the additional bells between the girders on which the two trebles were hung in 1896, but advice was sought from various experts including Brian Threlfall and it was eventually agreed that they could be safely accommodated in this way. In June 1972 Stephen Ivin made a detailed submission to the P.C.C. on all aspects of the project and the scheme was approved in principle, but as no Church funds were available the ringers were left to finance the augmentation themselves. This difficulty had been foreseen and it was proposed to raise the money by way of 7 year covenants from the ringers (as was eventually done when the scheme was came to fruition in 1977) but unfortunately this setback caused a delay of five years during which time costs rose considerably.
Two important events in 1977 led to the augmentation getting off the ground, just fifty years after the idea was first seriously considered. The two bells were cast at Loughborough and commemorate respectively the Silver Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, and the centenary of the Diocese of St. Albans. The fittings were supplied by Taylors, but the steelwork for the frame was installed by a local contractor and the job of actually hanging the bells was undertaken by Frank White of Appleton in February 1978. Even at this late stage there remained some doubt about making a good rope circle and even as to whether the ropes of the new bells (particularly that of the treble which with a straight fall would hang immediately in front of the rope of the tenth!) could be satisfactorily drawn across the tower, but Stephen set to with characteristic energy and ingenuity and the twelve bells were first rung on Sunday 19th February 1978.
The augmentation gave Bedfordshire its first ring of twelve, and in the annual report for 1977 the late Alfred E. Rushton (Association President) paid tribute to the efforts of the people of St. Paul’s, and “particularly its ringers, under their leader, Stephen Ivin, whose disregard of expense, either of time or money, has brought about this desirable result”.
Visited: Inscriptions taken by CJP, 2 March 1994