Bells of the City of Westminster


 
Collegiate Church of St Peter
 

Westminster, Collegiate Church of St Peter,


Details of the Bells

Bell Weight
(most recent)
Diameter Note Date FounderRetuned
® 1 4-3-1627¾" F♯ 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 2 5-0-2628¾" E 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 3 5-1-2029¾" D 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 4 5-2-2030⅝" C♯ 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 5 6-2-2333" B 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 6 8-1-836" A 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 7 11-2-440" G 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 8 14-0-743" F♯ 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 9 19-0-1048½" E 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
® 10 30-1-1554" D 1971 Whitechapel Bell FoundryNever
Service Bell 1 11-1-2649¼" G 1598 Robert Mot, WhitechapelNever
Service Bell 2 19-1-340" E 1583 Robert Mot, WhitechapelNever
Sanctus 1-2-1324½" 1738 Richard Phelps & Thomas Lester, WhitechapelNever
Disused 1 35" B 1320 UnknownNever
Former morning bell 21" A 1742 Thomas Lester, WhiechapelNever

®  - Hung for full circle ringing

Ring of 8 prior to 1971

Bell Weight*Weight
(Painted board in ringing room)
Diameter Note Date Founder Retuned Fate
1 (of 8)7-1-127-1-1432½"1919Mears & StainbankNeverRecast 1971
2 (of 8)8-0-168-0-1634"1919Mears & StainbankNeverRecast 1971
3 (of 8)9-0-1836¼"1919Mears & StainbankNeverRecast 1971
4 (of 8)10-1-439"1919Mears & StainbankNeverRecast 1971
5 (of 8)11-1-2640"1583Robert MotNeverPreserved as a service bell
6 (of 8)16-1-1145"1743Thomas LesterNeverRecast 1971
7 (of 8)19-1-349¼"1598Robert MotNeverPreserved as a service bell
8 (of 8)28-2-056"1738Richard Phelps & Thomas LesterNeverRecast 1971

* Source of weight figures: Whitechapel Daybook (31 May 1919)

Prior to 1919

Bell Weight Diameter Note Date Founder Retuned Fate
2 (of 6)12-0-2039½"1743Thomas LesterNeverRecast 1919

History

1253 A belfry was completed on the north side of the abbey on the site of the present Guildhall. This was a 22m square stone squat structure, only 18m high. It was topped with a large lead spire. It contained 3 large bells. [1]
c 1310 One of the bells that survives to the present day was attributed to this year and to founder Richard de Wymbis (on account of the letters used), although both the date and founder have been questioned by medieval bell expert George Elphick who suggests that it was cast between 1315 and 1330 by either Henry in the lane, potter or William de Aldgate, potter as possible founders. [2]
1583 Bell cast by Robert Mot. Destined to be 3rd of 6 (then 5th of 8) and now preserved as a service bell.
1598 Bell cast by Robert Mot. Destined to be 5th of 6 (then 7th of 8) and now preserved as a service bell.
1735 Various newspapers ran a story that Samuel Knight (bellfounder at Whitechapel) had been commissioned to cast a new ring of 12 bells, tenor 75cwt. This didn't happen. [3]
1738 The tenor was recast at Whitechapel on the cusp of Richard Phelps dying and being succeeded by Thomas Lester, resulting in both the names of Phelps and Lester appearing on the bell. A sanctus bell was also provided.
1743 The 2nd and 4th of 6 were recast by Thomas Lester. [4]
1860 The 3 largest bells were rehung by George Mears with associated repairs. [5]
1919 The bells were remodelled as a ring of 8 by Mears & Stainbank. This involved maintaining the back 4 of the ring of 6 and adding 4 trebles. The former treble (by de Wymbis) was preserved in the Abbey, whilst the former second (by Thomas Lester) was broken up. [7]
1971 All the bells were recast in 1971 into a new ring of 10 with the exception of bells 5 and 7, which were preserved and used as service bells. The new bells were hung in a new cast iron frame. The old bells were rung for the last time on 11 February 1971 and the new ones first rung on 10 December 1971
[1] Further to the north on the site of the present Guildhall stood the belfry which was completed in 1253. This was a most remarkable structure, being an immense, massively built tower 75 ft. square and only about 60 ft. high, which was surmounted by a great leaded spire, on which, as we shall see, plumbers were engaged in 1249-53. It must have been begun concurrently with the church, if not earlier. I doubt whether this belfry ever became the actual property of the church; it may, I think, in part at least, have been built to represent Westminster town in some sort of competition with the London bell-house by St. Paul's. Stow says that Henry III., devising how he might extort money, in 1246 appointed a mart to be kept for fifteen days, during which time trade was to cease in London. Stow, when he tells us that this belfry (in the Little Sanctuary) was built for the use of St. Stephen's chapel, shows at least that he did not know that it had belonged to the Abbey. It was, he says, a strong clochard of stone and timber covered with lead, containing three great bells, usually rung at coronations and funerals; the bells had been taken down and the spire had probably also been destroyed at the time he wrote. The stone tower, however, remained until 1750, when it was drawn and described by Stukely, who says is was absurd to call it a belfry (not so now that we know of several such structures), but that there was profound ignorance as to its meaning. He however states that it was built as an asylum for those who fled into Sanctuary. This seems to be the first statement of the "Sanctuary" theory, which has been repeated ever since with more and more details, until Sir W. Besant tells us that some of the princes born in sanctuary were born here. Widmore writing about 1750, says that the tower had been used for two hundred years as a cellar to a tavern, and was by some "imagined" to have been a chapel, but he found it called a Belfry in a charter of 1290, and it continued in use as a bell-tower till Islip built the towers of the church ... The tower, like all belfries, was built very strongly so as to support a great timber bell-cage. The angles of the lower storey were massesof masonry 22 ft. square, and it was only destroyed at great expense. A guild had the bells in charge, one of which was of immense size. They were taken, Norden says, by Henry VIII. before his expedition to Boulogne. In Van den Wyngaerde's View of London appears a large leaded spire which, occupying the right position, could hardly have been anything else than this belfry. It resembled the thirteenth-centuty belfry which used to stand on the north side of Salisbury Cathedral; and by putting together these indication we can make a fair approximation to the form of the Westminster bell-house. (Westminster Abbey & the King’s Craftsmen: A Study of Mediaeval Building, W.R. Lethaby (1906))
[2] Rather than 1310, Elphick suggests that such an early date is unlikely because a) the profile suggests a date not much earlier than the second quarter of the 14th cent, b) the canons are plain, oval in section, as used by the Burford group of founders whereas all the remaining Wymbis bells with canons have them cable moulded, c) all Wymbis bells have a flat fillet on the edge of the shoulder whereas the Westminster bell has it above the inscription band below the shoulder, d) the hump moulding wire occurs at the junction of the waist and soundbow, while on every Wymbis bell is is plain and rounded with no beads either side and on the Westminster bell the hump has two concave surfaces meeting at ridge. He notes comparisons with an early bell at Besford, Worcs, and a London bell at Southchurch, Essex, considered to be by Geoffrey de Edmonton 1303. The latest date for Richard de Wymbis is c.1315 and the earliest for Peter de Weston is 1330. Elphick suggests that the Westminster bell was cast between these dates, suggesting Henry in the lane, potter, or William de Aldgate, potter, as possible founders (both mentioned in 1318), as Peter de Weston was the guardian of a son of Henry (Handwritten note by George Elphick, June 1988, in the Elphick papers)
[3] We hear that Mr. Knight, the famous Bell-founder, is employ'd by the Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter Westminster, to cast 12 new Bells (the Tenor whereof is to weigh 75 Hundred Weight) which are to be hung up at least 40 Feet higher than the former, in the Tower at the West End of the said Cathedral. (Stamford Mercury - Thursday 11 Dec 1735)
[4] To 1 Sts Bell 1-2-13 @ 13d £9.16.1., To 1 Clapper 0-0-11 @ 9d 8s.3d., To casting a Dish Bell £0.3.6., To 1 pr. Bell mettall Brasses 0-0-6 @ 13d £0.6.6., To Carridge Paid with the Sts. Bell from Westminster 4s., To a 4th Bell 17-1-27 @ 13d £106.2.3., To a 2d Ditto 12-0-19 @ 13d £73.16.?, To 2 Clappers 0-2-8 @ 9d £2.8.?., To Cash paid Cartridge for the 2 Old Bells from Westminster £0..5.?., To tuneing the old bells £3.3.?., [Total] £196.13.2., By old 4th bell & a pr Brasses 1-2-9 @10d £7.7.6., By 1 old Bell 17-0-21 @ £5 per cwt £85.18.9., By old 2nd Ditto 7-2-1 @ £5 per cwt £37.10.11. [Sub-total] ££130.17.2., [Total] ££65.16.10. By a deduction of the recasting old 2d bell weighing 7-2-1- @ 20 per lb £7.10.0., [Nett total] £58..6.0., Examined and cast up per Jno. James (Invoice from Thomas Lester to the Dean & Prebends of Westminster, 1 March 1742/3 (Westminster Abbey archives Ms.46488))
[5] Westminster Abbey. To rehanging the 3 larger Bells new brasses lining & turning gudgeons repairing ironwork & clappers as per estimate £23.15.8. (Whitechapel daybook, 22 August 1860)
[6] THE BELLS OF WESTMINSTER ABBEY. The north-western tower of the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster, contains a peal of six bells, and a saints' bell. The first and fourth of the peal were made by Thomas Lester in 1743; the second was evidently cast in the fifteenth century; the third and fifth respectively in 1583 and 1598. Gabriel Goodman being then dean. The sixth, or tenor, bears the following inscription:- "Remember John Whitmell, Isabella his wife, and William Rus, who first gave this bell, 1430. New cast in July, 1599, and in April, 1738. Richard Phelps, T. Lester, fecit." The comparatively small, or saints' bell, was also made by Thomas Lester. I do not hesitate t say that the tenor, or largest bell of the peal, is an excellent one, remarkable for dignity and mellowness of tone, its weight being about 36 cwt., and its note D flat. It will be seen that this bell bears the names of Richard Phelps, - founder of the great bell at St. Paul's - and Thomas Lester. According to the Whitechapel register of burials, Phelps died in 1738, and I may state that Lester was his foreman and subsequent successor. This will account for both of their names appearing on the bell. In an opening in the upper part of the gable of the south transept is another comparatively small bell, which was made by Thomas Lester in 1749. [... discussion on ringing customs...] I have said that the tenor or great bell is a remarkably fine one; and I believe it is never tolled for deaths or funerals except for a member of the Royal family. It certainly was not used at the funeral of the late Lord Palmerston. THOMAS WALESBY (The Builder, 9 May, 1868)
[7] Old bells as received 1 ----, 2 12-0-20, 3 12-0-18, 4 17-1-24, 5 20-1-7, 6 29-3-15. Nett weights of back four 11-1-26, 16-1-11, 19-1-3, 28-2-0; Daybook 31 May 1919 p.306 - job details, including weights of recast treble of six and two new trebles, 7-1-4, 8-0-12, 9-0-18. Cost £1056.2.0 (Whitechapel daybook Feb.1919 (p.291))

Articles

  • "Westminster Abbey bells", Lucas, C W (The Ringing World) 10 September 1971
  • "An Historic Occasion: Westminster Abbey Bells dedicated", Unattributed (The Ringing World) 3 December 1971
  • "Great Tom of Westminster", Ridley, C (The Ringing World) 17 June 2004
  • "Westminster Abbey bells", Unattributed (The Ringing World) 22 December 1972
  • "Westminster Abbey - the facts", Meadows, R B (The Ringing World) 4 May 1984
  • "When the Abbey bells ring", Unattributed (The Ringing World) 8 June 1984
  • "2 June 2003 at Westminster Abbey - A service to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Coronation of HMQ", Hilling, D P (The Ringing World) 27 June 2003
  • The old belfry


    A sketch of the original campanile completed in 1253 as determined from the Wyngaerde panorama.
    Photo: Westminster Abbey & the King’s Craftsmen: A Study of Mediaeval Building, W.R. Lethaby (1906)

    The position of the belfry with spire on the Van den Wyngaerde panorama of London (1543).
    Photo: Van den Wyngaerde panorama


    Love's Guide to the Bells of the City of Westminster Page updated: 15 April 2022