Running Repairs      Routine Maintenance     Ropes     What to Look out for    

 Muffles         Rope Guides        Further links 

  
Bell Maintenance


In the Church of England, the maintenance of a church tower and its contents is the responsibility of the Parochial Church Council (PCC).  Please note that the PCC can claim the amount of VAT paid  on many bell items through the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme. The information in these leaflets (CCCBR and PDG) may be of interest to Incumbents and Churchwardens who are not familiar with bell installations.
 
The tower and the whole church building has to be inspected by a diocesan approved architect and a report made to the PCC every five years (“the quinquennial inspection”). This report should include a review of the electrical installation. Please make that there is bright enough emergency lighting in the ringing chamber to enable safe setting of the bells in case of unexpected sudden darkness when power fails. Few architects have much knowledge of the bell installation itself and may need specialist advice if there are matters needing attention. In the next round of inspections, the Guild is keen to ensure that access for those maintaining the bells is considered. 

Each tower will ideally have a tower captain appointed by the PCC and either directly or by delegating to a steeple keeper can keep the PCC and architect advised of any difficulties.

Each Branch of the Guild has a Steward who has experience in these matters and can assist with advice, perhaps hands-on assistance or a recommendation to get professional advice. The Guild Steward can also provide information and provide details of grants available from the Guild’s Bell Fund.

It is wise for the Branch Steward to make sure that the PCC of any tower without ringers is aware of the expertise that can be provided to prevent inappropriate work being carried out. Such work might include: obstruction of the swinging of bells and the ringing of them by heating, toilet, organ apparatus; installation of radio telecommunications equipment or even the installation of well intentioned but inappropriate 'health and safety' measures! The Diocesan Advisory Committee ('DAC') also has a Bells Advisor who as a ringer and engineer can advise a PCC about major projects

The DAC view on bell installations are available here. These could include major repairs to the bell framereplacing the bell frame; specialist welding or recasting of cracked bells; tuning old bells and the provision of new bells or secondhand bells.  Please see the note here about the need to obtain a Faculty or the Archdeacon's written approval for certain works in the tower.

Professional advice on bell installations is available, in most cases free, from the two British bell founders who cast bells and hang them:
        John Taylor & Co


        Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd

and from specialist bell-hangers:


        Matthew Higby & Company Ltd

        Nicholson Engineering Ltd

Pendleton Bell Hangers and Engineers

TLB Services

Whites of Appleton Ltd


If you receive complaints about the volume of noise outside, or indeed inside the tower, specialist advice is worthwhile - see the useful Guidance Notes published by the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. It has also produced some technical notes with useful diagrams available here.

Steeple Keepers can expect to be involved in various activities, including those shown below.  This CCCBR article may be useful as a background to the operation of bells.

Running Repairs
Work safely! - Does someone know you are amongst the bells? 

Replacement of broken stays, (plain or the more difficult Hastings design); repair of broken ropes (short splice or long splice); adjusting natural fibre ropes on the wheel to account for wear at the garter hole and for length changes with prevailing weather conditions.   Investigating and trying to correct odd-struck bells.

Routine Maintenance

Work safely! - Does someone know you are amongst the bells?

Mechanica
l
Oil plain bearings; grease clapper pins fitted with greasers; inspect ropes for undue wear at the garter hole and over the pulleys and in the case of machine spliced polyester ropes for weakness at the splice above the sally; check that stays are sound and properly bolted; check that the crown staple (the bolt that holds the clapper hinge-pin into the bell) is tight and the clapper hits the bell straight across; tighten the bell and gudgeon bolts on wooden headstocks; check that the pulley wheels spin freely (do not oil!); Clean the bell chamber and stairs.

Check clappers for excessive wear. Seek advice if the clapper can be moved up and down by more than 1/8 inch against its hinge pin- it may need to have a replacement bush fitted. A small number of cases have come to light where the hinge pin for the clapper in crown staples fitted by Eayre and Smith have worked out due to failure of the rollpin that holds it in.  This can allow the clapper to fall out. Use a light or torch to have a good look.

Ropes
You should routinely check ropes for undue wear.  In natural fibres, this is most likely to occur at the "garter hole" in the wheel rim and the rope that runs over the pulley under the bell wheel. In polyester tops, look carefully at the natural fibres end of the splice with the polyester rope just above the sally. You may need to pull the rope up into the chamber above to look at it in detail.  

Natural fibre ropes will last about 15-20 years depending on useage. During this time it will probably be necessary to repair the tail end and top end by a splicing repair or splicing in a piece of new rope. (see Running Repairs above). Pre-stretched polyester top ends are likely to outlast the life of the sally and tail rope.


Although pre-stretched polyester ropes (machine spliced to the natural fibres above the sally and tail) cost more than a complete rope made of natural fibres, besides the advantage of a longer life already mentioned, they are far less likely to change their length with changes in humidity. With a long draught of rope this overcomes the problem of ropes being too short when it is damp and too long in a dry spell. 

In recent years the supply of hemp that was traditionally used for natural fibre ropes has been difficult and flax or sisal was substituted.  These seem to have a rougher handling quality and are much more prone to becoming very stiff in humid conditions, so much so that many towers have added a rope warmer to their kit.
 Click here for details of this version. With a time clock set for four hours before ringing time, the tails are dry and supple, ready for use. The supply of hemp has recently become more available and some suppliers offer hemp as an extra-cost option.


When the rope is becoming well worn, please be aware that the delivery times for new ropes went up to a year, but with more suppliers has now reduced to about two months – ask about delivery times before placing a firm order! 

Be careful when specifying a new rope. You will need to provide the details listed below.  (For towers in the Daventry Branch click here

the length of the untucked tail end 
– allow for plenty of double tuck, so that there is enough rope for a short splice if it wears where it hits the floor and not too much to avoid the need to triple tuck! However, a rope maker points out that if a tucking point hits the floor the rope is liable to fray more quickly at that point!

the overall length end-to-end with the tail end untucked 
– this should include about 12ft of rope from the garter hole for tying around the wheel spokes. If you are still using natural fibres, include an extra 10ft in this length to be stored around the spokes so that it can be used later. When the rope is badly worn in the garter hole and over the pulley, carefully measure and cut the top off, turn it round and splice the unused rope stored around the spokes so it now runs through the garter hole and over the pulleys. The worn rope is quite safe around the spokes thus doubling the life of the rope.

the length and three colours for the sally 
– on heavy bells, especially the tenors of rings comprising 4 and 5 bells, it can be beneficial to specify a 42” long or longer sally, instead of the normal 36”, to take account of the bigger difference in rope length needed for hunting down and hunting up and the need to cater for taller and shorter ringers, both of whom need to be able to give the bell a long pull in order to control it adequately. The usual colours for sallies are red, white and blue but suppliers offer a full range to meet individual preferences.

the weight of the bell

- to give a guide to the maker as to the appropriate strand and rope diameters.

I am aware of six suppliers: Ellis and Pritchards (the main supplier), Avon Ropes, Mendip Ropes, Peter Minchin Bellrope Maker Tel. 01885 490673,  John Taylor & Co.  and Malcolm Brown Bell Ropes.


What to Look Out For
Work safely! - Does someone know you are amongst the bells?

Birds 

Check that netting is still in place and no birds can get into the bell chamber. Jackdaws are very good at poking twigs through netting in spires. The resulting mess usually needs an annual clearing up session. Take any opportunity that offers itself to have such openings netted on the outside. Pigeons create a great deal of mess if allowed to enter. Please take precautions before removing their mess.

Rain ingress

Constant ingress of rain can cause early deterioration of timber frames and flooring. Leaks through the roof of the tower should be reported to the PCC for attention.  Excessive rain through the bell opening louvres can occur in exposed positions where the openings are large. A successful way of dealing with this is to install Galebreaker on the inside of louvres.  This strong plastic mesh material, besides keeping birds out, has a low permeability to rain and snow but allows air and sound to pass through.


Movement 
Look out for any movement of the frame within the walls. Towers are seriously damaged when the bell frame becomes loose and is able to move within the walls. Do not be tempted to wedge the top of timber frames to the wall to stop it moving. It will batter the tower to pieces. Remember a bell exerts twice its weight as a fore and aft force when ringing and four times its weight downwards. Wooden frames can often be strengthened with new tie rods to prevent too much movement and your Branch Steward can advise.

Corrosion 
Corrosion of ringing fittings, frame members and foundation beams.  Descale, remove loose rust and repaint with corrosion resisting paint. 

Access

If there are increasing hazards getting to the bells for maintenance, (like worn steps, rickety ladders, rotting floor boards, poor lighting) these should be brought to the attention of the PCC and they should have the more serious items included in the quinquennial inspection report.


Muffles
Work safely! - Does someone know you are amongst the bells? 

When bells are rung half-muffled, it is usual to muffle the backstroke. When the bell is down, fix the muffle firmly, so that it cannot turn, on the side of the clapper ball away from the rope pulley. Then check all the bells again to make sure that all the muffles are fitted on the same side! Note that if a bell goes up "wrong" way it will have to be corrected before you start ringing!

The traditional form of muffle has: a buckle on the strap that goes below the ball and around the neck of the flight; and a leather lace to wrap around the shaft of the clapper above the ball. Do-up the buckle as tight as the punched holes allow.  The lace should be wrapped as many times as feasible and pulled as tight as possible so that it grips to prevent the muffle turning at a critical point in the ringing.  If the lace snaps, get a new long one (Timpsons usually have them in stock).  Some find that disposable electric cable plastic ties work adequately. There is a range of muffles of different designs of which Big Wilf's is one.

Some ringers think that if they are to ring a quarter peal or peal in an even bell method, it is better to muffle the handstrokes (when the bell is down, fit the muffles on the same side of the clapper as the rope pulley) so that the backstrokes, which often contain the more musical changes, ring out loud and clear.  Try it sometime!


Rope Guides
There are some towers in which the length of unguided rope above the sally until the rope passes through the first rope boss, usually in the ceiling, is so long that it causes difficulty in controlling a bell safely.  This is particularly prevalent where the bells are not very heavy and the weight of the rope itself becomes a predominant influence.  Bell-hangers usually recommend that the first rope support should be about 15 to 16 feet above the ringing room floor.  Provision of such a rope guide in several towers, for example at Kilsby and Litchborough,  has made a dramatic improvement in the bell handling and hence the safety and ease for teaching young and old recruits.  To counter any complaints of the view of the west window being obstructed, it may be possible to make use of the information available here.


Acknowledgements
The links made on this page take you to far greater founts of knowledge, which we acknowledge:

https://cccbr.org.uk/
http://www.bellringing.org/belltower/
http://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/timber-bell-frames/timber-bell-frames.htm
http://www.churchcare.co.uk/images/QI_Report.pdf
http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction
http://www.keltektrust.org.uk/indexsoundofbells.html
http://www.magicofmaking.com/bells
http://odg.org.uk
http://toweressentials.vpweb.co.uk/default.html
http://www.wdcra.org.uk

Diagrams by John Gough of Napton-on-the-Hill

Articles from The Ringing World

Trade websites



Page last revised: 9/3/17  CCCBR links

 





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