"AS I WALKED I HEARD A PLEASANT, GONG-LIKE BELL STRIKE TWO AT ASTON". Edward Thomas. The Icknield Way
The Bells of St Michael's
We know very little of substance about the early history of the six bells in St Michael’s but would be most interested to hear from anybody who knows more! However, the notes about the six bells in the 1936 church inventory and the 2008 check do provide some clues:
The bell inscriptions were not inspected during the 2008 check, hence the extra notes in italics from the 1936 inventory:
Photo estimated to be between 1978 & 1986: Tom Worthington, Phyllis Corderoy, Ms Vere, Woody Lord and Julia Hambleton
Bell One: Treble 1936 “To commemorate the Coronation of King George VI M&S”. (Note: 1936 inventory records the inscription as “King George VI Coronation 1937”
Bell Two: 1603 “This bell was made 1603 (by J Carter of Reading). 1937 inventory records the inscription as “This bell was made 1603”. Founders Mears and Stainbank.
Bell Three: 1520 “Cross sign followed by the letters MARIBΣL W”. Note: re the letter like a Greek E, Jean Conisbee has added the comment: “a unique inscription, significance unkown”. The 1936 record is MARA BEAA. Founder W - circa 1530
Bell Four: 1617: Inscribed “Henry Knight made me” (Reading). (Note: 1936 inventory records “Henry Knight made Mee” Ano 1617)
Bell Five: 1639: inscribed “Love God”
Bell Six: The Tenor. 1737: inscribed “Lester & Pack, London”. Note: 1936 inventory has: 5th Tenor: LESTER AND PACK, LONDON FECIT. “John Cripps - Richard Hayward Churchwardens 1757.
The dates of the founding of the Treble Bell (1936) for King George VI’s 1937 coronation, described in the 1936 inventory don’t seem to add up, but that’s what is apparently written!
Thus I don’t know why the final note in the 1936 inventory should refer to the “5th Tenor” as this bell is now clearly the 6th Tenor, founded in 1737, but I suppose it is quite likely that at this stage the tower had only 5 bells (as some towers still do) - shown in the inventory as 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th and that a Treble was added in 1936, such that the “5th Tenor” became the 6th Tenor. The fact that bells 2-6 are all much older might support this theory.
It is also worth mentioning that for much of this time, the bell ropes would have descended to, and the bells been rung from, ground level rather than from up in the clock/ringing chamber. There are closed-in holes in the floor of this clock/ringing chamber to show this and, as further evidence of the theory above, there are only five bell rope holes.
In reading just the bald “founding” dates of the bells, it is easy to not really take in that:
- No. 1 (Treble) is 80 years old
- No. 2 is 413 years old
- No. 3 is 496 years old
- No. 4 is 399 years old
- No. 5 is 377 years old
- No. 6 (Tenor) is 279 years old
As to bell ringing, bells have been associated with church religious services from ancient times and in the early days performed many other functions, such as the announcement of church services, births, marriages and deaths.
Before the 17th Century (1600s) English churches would only have had three or four bells and these would have been chimed rather than pealed and it wasn’t until about 1650 that bells began to be mounted on large timber wheels with bell ropes passing round them, affording to ringers much more control of the chimes and leading to what is now called full circle ringing, with wheels and bells passing through 360o during a ringing round. I am aware of no evidence as to how ringing developed in St Michael’s but taking into account the age of the bells, it would be nice to conjecture that in the 16th Century (1500s) the current No. 3 was in place, perhaps with a couple of others now departed, but that these were simply chimed. Then, over the next two centuries (1600s and 1700s) bells numbers 2, 4, 5 and 6 were added in that order and that during this time wheels and wheel ropes were installed to give, by 1737, a ring of 5 bells adapted for full circle and change ringing. Finally, in 1936, a treble might have been added to give the ring of 6 bells, as at present.
We can guess that there will have been Astons or Aston Tirrold bands ringing these bells since the middle of the 18th century (about 1750). More recently though, we don’t believe that there has been an Astons band ringing since the 1990s.