Bells & Bellringing at St Nicholas’
Throughout history it’s bells have been closely linked with the life of St Nicholas’. As far back as 1533 the Commissioner of King Edward V1 recorded that the church had five large bells plus a Sanctus, a smaller bell chimed for the lesser services. These old bells would have been swung chimed, not rung full circle as we do today. They would have been rung for services and civic and national events – also for the ringers amusement, perhaps when they came away from ‘The orange tree’ and felt like a bit of exercise.
In the early 18th century the country was swept by a new fashion in bell ringing. Old heavy bells were broken up and melted down so that they could be cast into a larger number of smaller bells that would permit the new fashion in ringing, scientific change ringing, to be taken up. In 1718 the old bells of St Nicholas’ went into the pot at the bell foundry of Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester and a fine new ring of six bells emerged, the tenor, or heaviest, bell weighing about 10cwt and being tuned to the note of G.
These very bells still form the ‘back six’, i.e. the heaviest, and therefore deepest voiced, of the present ring. The original Rudhall installation continued in use until 1958 when the state of the wooden frame, in which they were mounted, became so poor that they were rehung in a new cast iron frame by Taylor’s of Loughborough. The period between these two dates was, of course, eventful in many ways for the church which, in 1841, was moved from King Street to it’s present site. Naturally the bells came too.
The last chapter in the story brings us to April 1981 when two new treble bells were added, conveniently located in the spaces left for them in the new metal frame. This gave the church a fine, bright ringed, toned ring of eight bells on which the most intricate and pleasing changes could be rung. With this augmentation the church tookm its place amongst the principal ringing towers of the City along with the Cathedral and All Saints.
Today the church has a strong band of capable ringers and the bells are rung regularly, often twice a day, to call worshippers to the services. Ringing at this level, whether it be called ‘changes’ or ‘scientific change ringing’ is a real challenge, especially to the mind, but the rewards of doing it well are considerable and, once a basic level has been achieved, ringers are free to visit other towers and join in the ringing there – sure of a warm welcome.
We have a dedicated band of young and older ringers while new recruits are always being coached and progressed. It is a fine activity in which, almost uniquely, young and old can take part on an equal footing.
We practise on Wednesday evenings and are always pleased to meet potential new ringers and to discuss their possible involvement.