The Parts of a Church Bell
Here we have an image of a model bell, and an outline drawing naming the various parts of the mechanism. It is helpful for the ringer to know what is happening above their head when the rope is pulled, but not essential.
When not ringing, the bell is parked with its mouth upwards. Pulling the rope attached to the wheel rotates the bell firstly in one direction and then in the other.
The main parts of the mechanism of a bell hung for change ringing are ->
- FRAME This may be made of wood or iron in substantial proportions to support the weight of the bells. Each of the spaces where the bells hang is called a pit.
- HEADSTOCK attaches the bell to the wheel and is pivoted on two gudgeon pins into the bearings.
- WHEEL has a deep channel for the rope around its circumference.
- GARTER HOLE A hole in the wheel that allows the rope to pass through. The rope is then tied around the wheel spokes.
- CLAPPER is mounted on a bearing just below the crown of the bell. It swings from side to side as the bell rotates and strikes on the sound bow. Often wrongly called a Bell Clanger, Bell Donger, Bell Tinckler (in ornimental bells)
- SOUND BOW is the name given to the thick metal area on the mouth of the bell.
- GUDGEON is a strong pin fixed to the headstock and carries the weight of the bell into the bearing.
- BEARING The two bearings allow the bell to rotate easily. Nowadays roller bearings are fitted, however in the past, other designs were used that required regular greasing to work efficiently.
- STAY is the device that keeps the bell in an upright position between ringing, when the bell is stood. It needs to be sturdy enough to support the bell. If the bell is mishandled and it violently comes to rest the stay is designed to break and protect the bell, which could otherwise crack across its crown. One end of the stay bolts into the headstock and the other engages with the slider as the bell approach the balance point.
- SLIDER does as its name suggests and slides across a track between two end stops on the lower part of the frame. In conjunction with the stay, it allows the bell to be parked with its mouth upward just slightly past the point of balance.
Church tower bells hung for English Change Ringing are normally tuned to the notes of a major scale. In normal terminology, the Key note of the scale is the first note which is the lowest note. In change ringing the last bell ( The Tenor ) has the lowest note so we use this when we give the keynote for a ring of bells. The note of the first bell ( The Treble ) depends on the Key note and how many bells there are in the ring. The notes of the other bells are chosen so they form a major scale with the tenor.
On occasions it may be desirable to ring fewer bells than there are hung in the tower. This may be because there are insufficient ringers present or insufficient with the skill to ring a method using all the bells. The back bells in a twelve bell tower may be too heavy to manage easily. So it may be desirable to ring six or eight of the lighter bells.
In a six bell tower the semitone intervals between bells 1 to 6 are 2-2-1-2-2. In an eight bell tower the semitone intervals between bells 1 to 8 are 1-2-2-2-1-2-2. While it is common to ring the front six bells (1 to 6) for doubles and minor methods, using the back six bells (3 to 8) will sound much nicer as these bells have the correct semitone spacing for a major scale.
The semitone interval of bells 1 to 12 in a ring of twelve is 2-1-2-2-1-2-2-2-1-2-2 the eight bell semitone interval sequence 1-2-2-2-1-2-2 can be found on the back eight bells 5 to 12, but this requires the heavy tenor to be rung. The front eight of a twelve ( semitone intervals 2-1-2-2-1-2-2 ) have almost the correct semitone sequence and can be converted into a major key octave by replacing the second bell with an extra bell, a sharp second. This reduces the 1st to 2nd interval from 2 to 1 and increases 2nd to 3rd from 1 to 2 creating the desired sequence. Likewise bells 2 through to 9 can be made into a major key by replacing the sixth bell with a flat sixth bell.
Worcester Cathedral has three extra bells; a flat 4th, a flat 6th and a flat 8th; in addition to the diatonic twelve making a total of fifteen.
The photograph on the right illustrates how the semitone bells at Worcester Cathedral may be used to create varying keys with six, eight or ten bells.