The bells in Godmanchester Church are widely admired
amongst experts, because they are well tuned and of a good size. The largest
(always called the tenor) bell weighs (using the traditional
units for bells) 19 hundredweights, 3 quarters and 20 pounds (1,013 kilogrammes)
eight pounds short of an old-fashioned ton - and is 44" (1.12
metres) in diameter. The smallest (always called the treble)
is no trinket, weighing in at 6 hundredweights and 1 quarter (318 kilogrammes)
and spanning a diameter of 31½ " (0.80 metre). These were all
cast in 1794 by Thomas Osborn of Downham, except for number 6 (the higher
the number the heavier the bell) which had to be re-cast in 1870 by Taylors
of Loughborough. As is often the tradition, the 1794 bells were cast from
the metal of a previous ring of Godmanchester bells. There were only five
of these, but they were even heavier; the old tenor bell was about half
as heavy again as the new tenor.
All the bells carry an inscription on them, the minimum being who made them and when. The treble has the additional INTACTUM SILEO PERCUTE DULCE CANO which is badly-spelt Latin for Untouched I hang silent, strike me and I sing sweetly. On no. 4 there is Our voices shall with joyful sound make hills and valleys echo round. The tenor has the names of the vicar, the bailiffs (predecessors of the Mayor) and the churchwardens in 1794.
That English Sound
Full-circle means that the bells are swung through a full 360 degrees, first one way and then the other:
(1)The ringer is about to pull down. Bell is in the up
With the bells weight, it is simply a matter of getting them started and letting the momentum do the rest. The clapper finally catches up with the bell and strikes it just before it reaches the top, so ringers hear the note at least a second after they have pulled the rope. The result is that, when ringing full circle, the clapper strikes harder and more cleanly than it would if the bells were not swinging quite as far. When ringers want to stop ringing they stand, or set their bells in the up position (see the diagram). However, we prefer not to leave them unattended in this position.
Listen to the Bells
Next, we usually ring call changes, but whatever sort of ringing we do, we always start and finish with rounds - the bells striking in order from highest to lowest note. When a change is called, an adjacent pair of bells in the sequence swap positions to produce a different tune. As more calls are made, the tune works gradually away from the original and then back again. As you listen, see if you can spot the changes. More complicated is method ringing when the sequence is constantly changing and several pairs of bells are swapping places at once. About ten minutes before the service we start to ring the bells down - pretty much the opposite of ringing them up. Following this the tenor bell is chimed swinging just enough to make the clapper strike it on one side; until about half a minute before the service when the treble is chimed (known as the call bell) and finally the clock strikes the time of the beginning of the service.
If youre interested in doing this yourself, come
to one of our practices at 7.30 pm on a Wednesday night
© 2001 Godmanchester Community Association
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