Sherborne Abbey Bellringers

The Bells

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Sherborne Abbey contains the heaviest peal of eight bells in the world. At the dissolution of the Monastery in 1536 the parishioners originally purchased them and the roof lead for £260.

The tenor is 46 cwt. and 5 lb. and was last recast in B flat in 1933/34 during a partial restoration by Whitechapel Bell Foundry. According to tradition it was originally one of the seven bells from Tourney and was a gift from Cardinal Wolsey in about 1514.

Bell Diameter Weight
Note Cast Inscription
Treble: 3' 0" 9-2-25 Bb 1858 G. Mears founder London. Lord let the folk below resound in living song Thy praise, as we do now with iron tongue August 18th. 1858
Second: 3' 2" 10-1-3 A 1858 G. Mears founder London. We hang here to record that the Choir was restored In the year of our Lord 1858.
Third: 3' 4" 11-3-4 G 1903 W. M. CAST. F.R.S. THO GERARD GAVE ME RA. 1652. Recast John Warner & Sons Ltd 1903
Fourth: 3' 6" 12-1-6 F 1803 Peace & plenty is the wish of Thomas Thorne & Samuel Jeffrey Churchwardens 1803. Thomas & James Bilbie Chewstoke Somerset fecit.
Fifth: 3' 10 1/2" 16-3-3 Eb 1787 Bartholomew Watts : and : Sweet Hart : Churchwardens 1787. Be meek & lowly to hear the word of God. William Bilbie Chewstoke Somerset fecit
Sixth: 4' 2 1/2" 22-1-4 D 1858 G. Mears founder London 1858
Seventh: 4' 7 3/4" 28-0-18 C 1903 R.A. CAMPANA. DOMINE. IOHN WHETCOMB IOHN COOTH WARDENS. 1653 William Hector Lyon M.A. Vicar. Mark Parsons Frederick Bennet, Churchwardens Recast by John Warner & Sons Ltd 1903
Tenor: 5' 4" 46-0-5 Bb 1934 By Wolsey's gift I measure time for all. To mirth : To Grieffe : To Church : I serve to call. Recast 1670 by Thomas Purue of Glosworth Somerset. Joseph Barker Vicar. Gustavus Horne, Walter Pride, Churchwardens. Again recast 1865 by John Warner & sons of London. Edward Harton Vicar. James Hoddinott, Francis Stokes, Churchwardens. Again recast 1933 by Mears & Stainbank of London. Wifred Marcus Askwith Vicar. Clement Horrace Adams, James Florance, Churchwardens.
Sanctus:       c.1350 + Sta. Maria ora pro nobis
Fire-Bell:       1653 + Lord qvench the fvrious flame | aris, run, help put out the same. I W I G + 1653 R.A.

Until the mid nineteenth century the bells were rung from the ground floor directly under the tower. Ringing such heavy bells with such long ropes would have taken a lot of effort; it was likely the heavier bells would have each taken two or three men to ring them. Probably because of this the bells were set into a new frame and a ringing chamber was built just above the tower fan vaulting.

The last restoration carried out by Nicholson Engineering of Bridport in 1995 included replacement of headstocks, bearings, wheels, pulley assemblies, clappers, stays and sliders, and the remove of the cast-in crown staples; all costing around £32,000. During this restoration all the work to the bells was carried out in the actual bell chamber, with only the Fire-Bell being lowered to the ground. The restoration that was carried out in 1933/34 was a lot higher key event with the bells being taken away and returned by rail. There are many old photographs of the bells arriving at Sherborne station and then being pulled on hand cart along Digby road back to the Abbey.

In addition to the peal of eight bells that are used for ringing we also have two other bells in the tower: The Fire-Bell, which is unusual in so far as it has an in-turned lip, and so has a completely different sound to a conventional bell, and is only suspended from the bell frame, so is unringable. The Sanctus bell, which again is not hung for ringing, is still in regular use and is chimed at the blessing of the sanctum and probably weighs about one and a half hundredweight.