The Sound of Bells

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Bridport, Dorset, St. Mary, 8, 21-2-16 in Eb

Recorded: WAH 17/4/01
Analysed: WAH 10/6/01

These bells are a complete eight by Mears of 1924, replacing a Warner eight of 1887. It is said that they were one of the last old style rings to be cast - Mears moved to true-harmonic tuning in 1926 or 1927. However, as with Taylor peals of the 1890s, the Bridport bells show evidence of the transition from one tuning style to the other. Christopher Dalton in his excellent book on Dorset Bells gives full details of the bells and their history and says "one cannot but wonder whether the present octave is any real improvement on Warner's ring". But I quite like these bells; the tenors have a warm, plummy sound; the trebles though flat-primed are quite good; and rung together they have a harmonious effect both in the ringing room and the churchyard, despite a slight wash of old-style partials in the background.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 8 Mears 1924 None since then

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 631.7Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2348 -1399 -904 - 1222 687 1222
2 -2324 -1373 -889 - 1102
684 1223
3 -2319 -1296 -873 -484 887
680 1223
4 -2308 -1289 -878 -521 713 682 1225
5 -2294 -1262 -877 -527 496 685 1228
6 -2302 -1188 -870
- 384 688 1240
7 -2316 -1207
-872 -537 203 688 1235
8 -2311 -1226 -878 -447 0 690

(The figures in this table are all given in cents. For all partials except the nominal, the partials are given from the nominals of the bell. Cents of the nominals are relative to the tenor. Pairs of values indicate a doublet. Frequencies for the quint are often not given, especially if inaudible.)

Christopher Dalton and Richard Jones measured the partial tones of these bells in 1990. The table below compares his measurements with mine. He quotes the tuning as cents from a note name. As his books appear not to mention the pitch standard used, I converted his figures to frequencies in Hertz and assumed a pitch standard (equivalent to E flat = 619.75 Hertz) which gave the least error across all partials. As my recordings of these bells are not so good - chimed from the ringing room - I have only quoted the figures to the nearest Hz. The Dalton figure for the treble nominal I was unable to substantiate, I cannot find anything at that frequency in my recording.

Bell WAH hum Dalton hum WAH prime Dalton prime WAH tierce Dalton tierce WAH nominal Dalton nominal
1 330 329 570 571 759 756 1280 1272
2 312 312 540 542 714 714 1194 1194
3 277 276 500 499 638 638 1056 1054
4 251 252 453 454 574 576 953 956
5 224 223 406 406 507 506 841 838
6 209 208 397 396 478 480 788 789
7 186 186 354 354 429 429 710 709
8 166 166 311 311 381 385 632 631

Intensity plots

Here are intensity plots of the treble, the third and the tenor. All recordings were taken from the ringing room with the bells chimed:

Bridport treble

Bridport third

Bridport tenor


Looking first at the nominals, these bells show just tuning, but with stretch (of 22 cents) across the octave, presumably to offset the flat primes in the trebles. The difference between my measurement of the treble's nominal compared with Christopher Dalton's is puzzling. I estimate the pitch of the treble at about 635 - 640Hz (by comparison with a pure tone) which supports either figure for the nominal. That the peal is stretched is confirmed by the tuning of the second, third and fourth, which are sharp of just by 14 to 19 cents, 3 to 6 cents and 11 cents respectively.

It is interesting to compare the tuning of these bells with Epsom St Martin, a slightly lighter ten cast at Whitechapel only three years before. Epsom 4th / Bridport 2nd, Epsom 6th / Bridport 4th, and Epsom 9th / Bridport 7th are tuned to the same intervals to within 2 or 3 cents. And yet Epsom 7th and 8th are tuned 26 or 27 cents sharp of the equivalent Bridport bells, giving a very sharp and hard effect. Sharp thirds are typical of Pythagorean tuning. Is this design or poor tuning?

Further comparisons with Epsom are illuminating. The primes of both peals of bells show very similar effects - very flat (up to 200 cents) in the trebles, graduating towards a rough octave in the tenors. But the hums show a dramatic difference - the Bridport bells are consistently flatter, by an average of 126 cents, and the greatest improvement is in the trebles - the Bridport treble hum is almost 2 semitones flatter than the equivalent Epsom bell, and is only 52 cents sharp of the double octave. The hums of the Bridport tenors are a little sharper than those in the trebles, whereas at Epsom the hums are consistently very sharp apart from in the back two, which are a little flatter.

It is clear from the tuning figures that Whitechapel by 1924 were making deliberate and successful efforts to flatten their hums, but had not yet done anything with primes. The nominals also are much much better, by accident or design.

The intensity profiles of Bridport tell a similar story to Epsom - trebles with hardly any high partials, and tenors with a more balanced profile. In fact the effect is more extreme at Bridport, but the bells were recorded from the ringing room, which may well attenuate the higher partials. The trebles at Epsom have very strong primes, which dominate the nominals, giving a 'two tone' effect which gives some uncertainty to the pitch. The trebles at Bridport do not show this. First, the dominant partial in these bells is the hum, not the prime, and the hums in the front bells are pretty close to the double octave. Secondly, the plot of partial intensity over time below shows that the prime never really stands a chance against the hum and the nominal, unlike the equivalent plot for the Epsom treble.

Bridport treble decays

So why do I find these bells satisfying to listen to, compared with other Whitechapel peals of the early 20th century? I believe it is due to a number of factors. This is a reasonably heavy peal, which always helps. Secondly, the hums are quite near the double octave, giving a plummier sound. Thirdly, the trebles sound better because although they have very flat primes, this partial does not dominate the sound of the bells in changes. Compared with Epsom, the nominals are much better tuned, especially in the 5th and sixth, giving a warmer effect. It is interesting to see how far Whitechapel had come in three years.


Last updated September 17, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey