The Original Bells

St Mary’s Church, Moseley originally possessed three bells, as is recorded in an inventory of 1552. They were later recast, as follows:

Bell Description
Treble By Hugh Watts of Leicester, with the inscription ‘God save the King 1638’
2nd By John Martin of Worcester, with the inscription ‘Jesus bee our good speed 1650’
3rd By William Brooke of Bromsgrove, with the inscription ‘Wm Broke cast me, Samuel Smith, Junier, Churchwarden, 1740’

In 1874 St Anne’s Church in Moseley had just been built, and Miss Rebecca Anderton purchased the three old bells from Saint Mary’s, which were re-hung in the new church together with a fourth bell, cast by James Barwell of Birmingham, also given by Miss Anderton. A chiming apparatus was the gift of Mr F Elkington of Moseley Hall.

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The steel bells

bells 2

St Mary's Bell Chamber

In 1861 a ring of patent cast steel bells was made by Naylor Vickers & Co at their River Don works in Sheffield, and was offered on free loan to St Marie’s (Roman Catholic) church in that city. They were heard in public for the first time on July 20th of that year and a full peal of 5040 changes of Grandsire Triples was rung for the first time in 1872.

They were displaced when a new ring of eight bell-metal bells was installed there in 1873-4. Mr Walter H Lyndon of the Henburys, Moseley, obtained them for £700 and presented them to St Mary's. They were hung at Moseley in 1874 by Mr C Bateman of Sheffield, foreman to Vickers & Sons. The treble being first re-cast by Naylor Vickers, who also made the two-tier frame in which the bells were hung.

In 1903 the bells were re-hung by Charles Carr of Smethwick, at a cost of £42 5s 0d, and a further two full peals of 5040 changes were rung, one of Plain Bob Major on 4th May 1904, and one of Stedman Triples in 1905.

Details of the ring of eight steel bells

Bell Inscription Diameter
inches
Weight
cwt-qr-lb
Treble PATENT CAST STEEL 6046. VICKERS AND SONS LIMITED: SHEFFIELD 1874. 30¾ 4-1-0
2nd NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co. 1858 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 1985 31¾ 5-0-0
3rd NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co.1861 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2508 35½ 6-2-0
4th NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co.1861 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2515 38½ 7-1-0
5th NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co. 1861 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2123 41¾ 10-2-0
6th NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co. 1861 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2519 44¾ 11-3-0
7th NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co. 1861 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2486 49½ 13-2-0
Tenor NAYLOR VICKERS AND Co.1860 SHEFFIELD. E.RIEPES PATENT CAST STEEL, No: 2085 53½ 16-3-3

Bells treble to seven: weights are taken from other steel bells where the weight is known. The tenor bell has been weighed in position at this church; it is tuned to the key of Db.

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1884 Report in a local newspaper

An article appeared in the Birmingham, Moseley, and Balsall Heath News on Saturday, September 6th 1884, which described a visit to the church one Sunday morning by a reporter using the initials J.R.N., which included the following:

tower1

A dark and winding stair

“Coming back from the churchyard, we were permitted to ascend a winding and crumbling stair which led to the belfry, where we found six or seven ringers gravely pulling at the ropes. Here was the source of the wild music we had often listened to. At twelve o’clock on the last night of the year we are accustomed to fling open our windows and listen for the Moseley bells. Now we know all about them.”

This was at the time when a ringing room existed one floor up. Access would have been via the outside door at the base of the tower, up the stone stairs and in through a door into the chamber; the blocked-up doorway can be seen from the present ground floor ringing room.

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Bellringers’ payments

Annual payments to the bellringers are recorded from 1886 to 1909 inclusive. These amounted to £1 1s 0d (divided between eight ringers) at first, rising to £9 13s 3d in 1909.

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Church rebuilding

In 1909 the church was partially rebuilt, and in May of that year the ringing room floor in the tower was removed; ringing could therefore have been done only from the ground floor level, though in fact, this was never done.

From then until the recent restoration work the bells could be chimed by hammers operated from an Ellacombe chiming apparatus, by which the operator pulled ropes from within a frame on the wall; this frame can now be seen in the clockroom in the tower. Also certain bells could be swung for chiming.

In 1937 the present tower clock was installed, and the cables supporting the clock weights were made to run in such a position that four of the eight bells could no longer be rung at all.

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1991 Renovation

Early in 1979 the bells were inspected in detail, and the opinion of the Architect and John Taylor & Co (Bellfounders) Ltd, was that the steel bells should be scrapped, and that the framework should be replaced being of an obsolete design which allowed too much sideways movement of the bells.

In 1989 Mr Christopher Pickford carried out a check on all church bells in the diocese; he suspected that the bells at St Mary’s were unsafe and this suspicion was confirmed by a detailed inspection of the headstock bolts. Three months later Mr Jeff Webb and Mr Simon Adams, two bellringers from St Edburgha’s, Yardley approached the parish authorities to see whether the bells could be restored to working order, as the ring of steel bells was now unique in this country. The estimated cost of their work, to include the re-routing of the clock weight cables and the replacement of all unsafe supports was £4,500, while a quotation to have the same work professionally done amounted to £35,000. The Parochial Church Council agreed to the Yardley ringers’ proposals, and a faculty for the work to proceed was obtained. Various grants, and efforts such as a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, raised much of the necessary money.

The main repair work was completed by Easter Sunday, March 31st 1991, when the bells were rung after Morning Service. A quarter-peal (of 1260 changes) was rung before Evensong on June 9th, after which the equipment was all examined and certified satisfactory. This was a great reward for Mr Webb and Mr Adams, and for Mr Ralf Vines of Moseley, who had been asked by the PCC to oversee the work, who between them had devoted some five thousand man-hours to a task which most people had considered to be impossible, but which enabled the bells to be rung again after an interval of more than eighty years, at a small fraction of the cost of a new ring of bells.

The first peal after an interval of 89 years was rung on 4th May 1993. The peal was 5024 changes of Plain Bob Major rung in 3 hours 7 minutes.

(Compiled from various articles by Paul Lindley)

Details of St Mary’s steel bells can be viewed on Dove’s Guide For Church Bell Ringers.