Church bells and their installations are very complex and require great care and attention. Bells are very heavy, some weighing in at over a ton. Their bearings, ropes, clappers and pulleys all require periodical maintenance in order for them to retain their function. A new bell installation, like many older rings, ought to last 100 years, but interim maintenance is essential.

Cracked Bells

crackedUntil about the middle of the last century the clapper was hung from an iron staple in the crown of the bell. Iron and bronze expand at different rates and this has contributed to the crack in the crown of the bell below.

Recent technology has made it possible to weld bells in this state so that they can be rung again.

When a bell is rung full circle, as in change ringing, the bell hits the clapper and the clapper takes the shock. If a bell is chimed the clapper hits the bell and the bell takes the shock. Prolonged chiming can cause a bell to crack on the soundbow (that is the area in which the clapper strikes) which is why tenor bells, which were frequently tolled for the dead, so often had to be recast. The bell on the left is cracked on the soundbow and will have to be welded or recast if it is ever to be rung again.

Wooden Headstocks

headstockHere you can just see the bell suspended beneath the headstock. The iron straps, bolts and centre staple are all that hold the bell in place. Headstocks were traditionally made of hardwood, most usually of elm, cast-iron and more latterly fabricated steel now being more usual. Take a look at the photo of the cracked bell for another shot of the bell beneath the headstock. Frequent checks and maintenance should keep the headstocks sound for many years. Damage left to run its course will result in unringable bells.Cracked and worm-ridden, with old plain bearings these have rendered the bell unringable.

Worn Pulley

worn_pulleyDifficult ringing action caused by wearing ropes is a sign of loose, misaligned or damaged pulley blocks or wheel. These elements must be restored and the action adjusted or the bell motion may be forced or uncontrolled with potentially dangerous consequences.

This can make the bell difficult to ring and cause uneven wear on the rope.

Broken Wheel

broken_wheelPerhaps the most attractive and obviously “crafted” part of any traditional bell installation is the wheel. Wheels are often made from multiple types of wood. Good quality wheels usually have the spokes of air-dried English oak, soles of steam bent ash and the shrouds or sides of the rim of sweet chestnut. The wheel has a deep channel for the rope around its circumference. A hole (garter hole) in the wheel allows the rope to pass through, where it is tied around the wheel spokes.

Difficult ringing action caused by wearing ropes is a sign of loose, misaligned or damaged pulley blocks or wheel. These elements must be restored and the action adjusted or the bell motion may be forced or uncontrolled with potentially dangerous consequences.

Rotten frame

rotten_frameTraditionally made in hardwood and usually oak, these days bellframes are more usually made in fabricated steel or cast-iron. Bird and bat droppings discourage and impede regular maintenance and, combined with moisture, they form a nasty brew corrosive to wood, iron and manilla rope alike. Try to keep birds out of the belfry! An unstable wooden frame, compromised by rot, can cause the bell standards to spread and the bell to take a catastrophic tumble. This condition may be indicated if the bell is supported by improvised props mounted from the belfry walls.

Plain Bearings

bearingEach bell is fixed by iron straps to a short wooden beam (the headstock) which has an iron spindle set in each end. This enables it to rotate in bearings. Nowadays roller bearings are fitted, however in the past, other designs were used that required regular greasing to work efficiently. Plain bearings require lubrication on a regular basis in order handle them with reasonable ease. These become worn with use, and make the bell hard to ring.

Towers

The towers in which bells are hung and which are often much older than the bells and framework may need repair to allow the bells to continue to be rung.

Replacing a tower’s wooden bell frame with a metal one may have an adverse effect on the tower itself causing faster wear and tear on the stone structure.

The content provided here is an electronic version of the details we provide for LEBRF open days and presentations.