St Albans Bells
By Susan Hall
During 2010 the bells at St Albans Cathedral were replaced. The project had been 40 years in gestation. Here are some of the reasons why and some pictures of the new set of thirteen bells when they were at Whitechapel.
The bells themselves no longer gave a good peal in E flat, they had deteriorated slowly over time. The bell ropes were increasingly difficult to pull and correspondingly the bells more difficult to ring. The bell frame needed restorative work and improvements needed to be made within the bell ringing chamber.
The project would ensure St Albans Cathedral has a bell ringing facility that will match those of other catherals.
In addition to the bells the Cathedral took the opportunity to make some health and safety improvements in the tower, principally, installing emergency lighting on the stairway, making sure the doors fitted and closed properly, installing a fire detection system within the bellfry and some repairs to the tower roof.
An outline summary of the project is as follows:
Dismantle the 12 existing bells, fittings and upper steel bell-frame
Dispose of the fittings and old steel framework as scrap
Sell the four smallest bells
Design and construct a steel bell-frame to house the eight larger bells, to become static chime bells for the carillon and the clock, in the SE quadrant of the Belfry to stand on the belfry floor
Install a new electronic control box for the carillon, to replace the existing mechanical linkage system
Cast a new ring of 13 bells in the key of E and to 1920s Gillet & Johnston profiles – these will be slightly smaller and lighter than the current ring
Provide completely new change ringing fittings for the 13 bells
Renovate and refurbish as necessary the existing timber bell-frame
Construct and install new steel bell frame to support five of the new 13 change ringing bells to be built up from the base of the existing timber frame to replace the previous upper steel bell-frame
Make up all new fastenings for replacing the existing fastenings within the timber bell–frame, as well as new pit end bracings to replace those removed in 1935.
Install the new ring of 13 bells – five into the new upper steel bell-frame and eight into the existing timber bell-frame.
The casting of the new bells began in January at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London; the photos were taken in February 2010 by Tewin bell ringer Jill Rudd whilst on an organised tour of the foundry.
Naming the bells
The thirteen bells were each named by the Cathedral and was sponsered through donations by groups or individuals. Each donor asked that their bell be inscribed with a personal message or motto.
The names on the bells are in latin with Albanus being the tenor and the rest being given an apostles name.
According to custom, bells are consecrated by the bishop of the diocese, so on Saturday 4th September 2010, a celebratory service was held at the Abbey.
The thirteen bells arrived days before and the bells were lined up down the centre of the nave. Bishop Alan sprinkled the bells with holy water, anointed them with oil and asked each donor “what name does this bell bear” finally the bells were incensed.
In October the bells were hoisted into the Norman tower of St Albans Abbey.