The Bells of Bath Abbey
If an Abbey ringer from the 18th century entered the tower today, he would feel quite at home. Not much has changed: eight of our ten bells date from 1700, two smaller bells were added in 1774 to make the present ring of ten, and they still hang in the original timber frame.
Perhaps the most unusual feature is that our bells are hung in a descending scale, in an anti-clockwise direction; a curious phenomenon shared with just a handful of churches in the country. The smallest bell, known as the Treble, weighs just under 6 cwt (1/4 of a ton), while the largest, known as the Tenor, weighs over 33 cwt (1.5 tons), a mere lightweight when compared with the tenor of St Paul’s Cathedral at over 62 cwt (3 tons).
In 1869, the Tenor unexpectedly cracked during ringing practice one night, and had to be recast. The replacement was examined by the Abbey organist, and given the go-ahead. However, when it was hauled up and reinstalled, it proved to be out of tune, so it had to be recast a second time! The replacement bell survives to this day. It is inscribed: 'All you of Bathe that hear me sound Thank Lady Hopton's hundred pound' referring to the original Tenor bell cast in the 17th century and gifted by the Hopton family of Witham Friary.
A full restoration of the bells took place in 1957, thanks to the Friends of Bath Abbey, with contributions from other sources, as well as a second major refurbishment in 2004. Routine maintenance, as well as additional work including the repair of the Ellacombe chimes, again funded by Friends of Bath Abbey, continues to be carried out today. Fortunately all our bells are in full working order now and we have a fantastic team of bell ringers who create the most wonderful sounds each week.
For further details of the bells see Dove's Online Guide for Church Bellringers http://dove.cccbr.org.uk/home.php