The Sound of Bells

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Dorking, Surrey, St. Martin, 8, 25cwt in Eb - the old eight

Recorded: WAH 10/8/97
Analysed: WAH

The old eight at Dorking were somewhat notorious. Some of the older bells in the peal had hung in three different towers at the church, which was rebuilt twice in the 19th century. They were actually too big for the current tower, and to squash them in some compromises were made in the frame construction which means they never went very well. They were also a mixed bag tonally. On the other hand, they were hung in the open at the base of a big spire, and when rung well (which was hard) they gave one the feeling of a job well done. Apart from the 5th, which is now hung dead in the tower, they were replaced in 1998 by a bright, spanking new Taylor ten covered elsewhere. Here are the old bells ringing rounds.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 Mears 1837 -
2 Phelps 1709 -
3 Recast 1955 -
4 Phelps 1709 -
5 John Wilnar 1626 -
6 Mears 1842 -
7 Mears 1827 -
8 Robert Catlin 1746 -

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 594Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2182 -1476 -882 -403 1259 669 1200
2 -2223 -1267 -855 -376 1130
669 1210
3 -2396 -1194 -887 -495 915 688 1229
4 -2236 -1232 -849 -403 720 671 1212
5 -2250 -1153 -809 - 547 643
6 -2281 -1242 -868 -435 418 683 1233
7 -2216 -1262 -867 -389 229 678 1221
8 -2271 -1160
-843 - 0
675 1220

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

Intensity plots

One could make a study of any of these bells. However, for reasons explained below, here is the sixth:

Dorking old 6th

and here the tenor:

Dorking old tenor


The nominals of these bells are fairly well scattered about. The tenor is 30 cents or 1/3 of a semitone flat compared with the average of the front seven. This can be just heard in the recording above once you know to listen for it, but was not apparent (to me) until I had done the analysis, despite having rung many hours on the bells. It goes to show how far out nominals can be without spoiling a peal.

It is easy to spot the modern profile bell (the third) replaced in 1955. It has near-octave hum and prime, and generally slightly sharper superquint and octave nominal than the old-style bells.

As the bells were not cast as a set, it does not make much sense to compare the rest of the partials. However, it is worth noting the tierce of the fifth (the Wilnar 1626 bell). This partial is very sharp, in fact it is a near exact major third with the strike. Modern major third bells have an odd shape - a big bump round the middle of the waist. This bell looks pretty normal until you analyse it's partials. It's tierce is the sharpest in my bell collection to date - 15 cents sharper than the major-third bell in Taylor's museum.

The sixth was an unpleasant sounding bell when rung on its own, producing a jarring sound. However, its sound merged in with the rest when rung in changes. Looking at the spectral plot above, it has several intense partials above the nominal compared with a modern true-harmonic bell or even with its partners in the peal. For such a poor sounding bell, it was pretty free of doublets.

The tenor's sound was a most satisfying clunk - not musical, but one felt it was making a noise commensurate with the effort required to ring it. Again, there are some strong partials above the nominal, and also a number of doublets, which determine the quality of the sound.

We shall not hear their like again.


Last updated January 11, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey