Listen to the Audio Guide and discover:
- The memories of Eric Naylor, the Abbey’s former Tower Master, who recalls how the bells were restored in the twentieth century.
Bath Abbey bells
The Abbey’s ten bells hang in the tower at the centre of the Abbey. Eight of the bells date back to 1700 and two more were added in 1774. The bells hang in a large wooden frame made of oak older than the bells themselves. The frame is probably as old as the tower itself, dating back to the late 1500s.
Restoring the Abbey’s bells: February–August 1957
In February 1957 a major restoration of the Abbey’s bells and their framework was begun. First the bells had to be taken out of the Abbey. They were lowered to the floor of the Abbey from the tower through an opening in the floor of the ringing chamber; the room in the tower where the bells are rung. If you stand in the middle of the Abbey and look up, you will see a circular opening in the stone ceiling that looks like a black grate covered by a shield. This black grate is in two halves and can be lifted into the ringing chamber so that the bells can be lowered through it to the ground.
Lowering the bells
To lower the bells they removed the “clapper” (the part that strikes the inside of the bell and causes it to ring) from each bell and attached a rope through the hole using a bolt. They then lowered the bells through the hole in the floor of the ringing chamber using a pulley. The largest and heaviest bell (known as the “tenor” bell) weighs over 1.5 tons (about 1,500 kilograms!). It took three men to lower it to the ground. There were only a few centimetres between the edge of the stone ceiling and the tenor bell, the men had to move the bell very carefully and slowly through it. Eric Naylor, a bell ringer who remembers the bells being lowered, said that they could only move it about a foot (30cm) every 5 minutes through the hole.
Re-tuning the bells
Once all the bells had been lowered to the ground, they were taken to a bell foundry in Loughborough to be re-tuned. The tenor bell cost £350 to re-tune (which is about £6,000 in today’s money), the other nine bells lesser amounts, down to £61 for the treble bell (about £1,000 in today’s money). The wooden framework in which the bells hang was also repaired in the Abbey tower.
When the bells were being repaired Eric remembers it being “dead silent” at the Abbey, even the clock couldn’t strike the hour as there were no bells to chime. People missed hearing the bells and the bell ringers had to practice at other churches in the city.
Once the bells had been re-tuned they were brought back to the Abbey and pulled back up into the tower and re-hung on new ball bearings which made it easier for the bell ringers to ring them. Once the bells had been re-hung, they were re-dedicated in a special service in August 1957, six months after the work on them had begun.
Further restoration in 2004
In 2004, after almost fifty years of further wear and tear, the bells and their framework needed maintenance again. This time the work was carried out by White’s from Appleton based in Oxfordshire. They were chosen for the job because they specialise in restoring wooden bell frames. Wooden frames are unusual in churches today, most are now made of steel.