tuning bells

Making it, listening to it, words, music sheets, making instruments

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
kate/bob
Posts: 243
Joined: Tue Jan 24, 2006 10:00 pm
Location: deepest Staffordshire

tuning bells

Post by kate/bob »

On the way into work this morning I heard our local church bells ringing (a bit odd at 8.15!) and got to thinking about the origins of bell ringing. How on earth did people tune bells historically? Trial and error seems a time consuming and expensive way to begin!

User avatar
bournio
Posts: 20
Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:46 pm
Location: Near Preston

Post by bournio »

Surely trial and error is the way everything was tuned? Even including the tempered scale and stuff like that?
If you look generic you look like a few people, ok...

User avatar
jelayemprins
Posts: 245
Joined: Thu Jun 08, 2006 2:43 pm
Location: The edge of reason
Contact:

Bells

Post by jelayemprins »

Theophilus - 'on diverse arts' - book 3 chapter 85 and 86

easy to type, years to master...
'making history happen'
-

Maureen
Posts: 153
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:49 pm
Location: Eastleigh, Hampshire

the sound of bells

Post by Maureen »

Not been on here for a while, so only just spotted this one. As a bellringer for 35 years I've rung many church bells, and they don't all sound perfectly in tune, I've come across some that are quite awful.
Tuning bells, until recently, was always a matter of trial and error - - abefore about the 1500s most churches would only have had one or very occasionally, two bells It was only with the introduction of Method ringing that churches began installing more than one or two bells, and it was only then that there would have been a requirement for them to be in tune with one another. The note of a single bell, because it didn't have to match with any others probably wouldn't have mattered too much.
These days bells are tuned electronically so the human element has gone - - though it's not very many years since bells were tuned by ear. To get all the right ovetones, undertones, harmonics, hum notes etc etc is quite a complicated business, and metal has to be removed from just the right places on the inside of the bell in order for this to happen. It does, of course, require some fairly hefty machinery to hold and turn a bell (fixed mouth upwards) in order to remove metal from the interior. This, I would think, is something that, historically, would have been near impossible (depending how far back you go), so the note you got from your bell would have been whatever note it happened to have once it came out of the mould and was cleaned up.
During the medieval period, and indeed, later, a considerable numbers of bells are believed/known to have been cast in fields adjoining churchyards, so it would have been very difficult to have tuned them very much at all.
Bellringing as it exists in this country today is a peculiarly English thing, and there are still many more rings of bells, whether in church towers, churchyards, or secular places, than in any other country in the world - in fact, you could probably add up all the rest put together and still be nowhere near the number there are in England (and in that addition I'm including Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as the rest of the world).

BTW - 8.15 isn't so early to hear church bells ringing - most places ring for 45 minutes before a service, so an 8.15 start would be about right for a 9am service - - which is what we used to until a year or two ago.

User avatar
Attilla the Bun
Posts: 203
Joined: Fri Aug 19, 2005 11:52 pm
Contact:

Re: the sound of bells

Post by Attilla the Bun »

Maureen wrote: During the medieval period, and indeed, later, a considerable numbers of bells are believed/known to have been cast in fields adjoining churchyards
When they "restored" *sound of teeth grinding* the church in Llantrisant in Victorian times, they apparently found a bell mould in situ in a pit under the floor of the church tower, along with some tools. Sadly history doesn't record what they did with the bits of mould or the tools.
Age and Treachery will always overcome Youth and Skill

User avatar
Phil the Grips
Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2000
Joined: Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:01 pm
Location: Auld Reekie- capital village o' Jockland
Contact:

Post by Phil the Grips »

There's a few stories of local bell founding pits with frantic foundrymen raiding the locals for bits of brass and plate to get the mix right as they couldn't wait any longer and had to pour straight away or the mix went out of proportion.
--Angels also carry weapons--
http://www.blackboarswordsmanship.co.uk/

kate/bob
Posts: 243
Joined: Tue Jan 24, 2006 10:00 pm
Location: deepest Staffordshire

Post by kate/bob »

I'm not sure why I assumed that churches would have more than one bell (and therefore think about tuning them) as you only need one to tell people that it's time to come to church!

I suppose that cost must've been part of the reason as I imagine that casting a bell isn't cheap given the amount of metal you need apart from anything else.

It must be fascinating watching a bell being made - especially the big ones

Eric the well read
Posts: 275
Joined: Thu Jun 15, 2006 11:58 am
Location: Cloud 9

Post by Eric the well read »

kate/bob wrote: It must be fascinating watching a bell being made - especially the big ones
It is! You can go on a tour if you like.
http://www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk/

Regards
Eric

Maureen
Posts: 153
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 11:49 pm
Location: Eastleigh, Hampshire

bells

Post by Maureen »

Yep - you sure can. Not only at the Taylor foundry in Loughborough, but at the one in Whitechapel too. I've visited both, and it's a fascinating process.

It's unlikely that many churches had more than one bell until some time in the 1500s when the likes of Fabian Stedman began devising what are known to bellringers as 'methods' - methodical ways of changing the order in which bells ring, in order to make them sound more pleasing to the ear, and presumably to be more of a challenge to those ringing them... and though bells are tuned to a musical scale, to ring them one does not have to be a musician - it's all done by numbers......

Post Reply