The Sound of Bells

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Egham, Surrey, St. John the Baptist, 10, 16-3-26 cwt in F

Recorded: WAH 24/2/00
Analysed: WAH 26/1/01

The back bells are an eight by Gillett and Johnston of 1912, i.e. quite early true-harmonic. They were augmented with two Whitechapel trebles in 1971 but not tuned then. The ten are a very handy peal, and pleasant to listen to, with a bright, clean tone and little of that twanginess that one can get with Gillett's bells. It is interesting to compare the back bells with a Taylor eight of a similar age and weight, such as Henfield. Here is the sound of Egham being rung together.

Bell Founder Tuning
1, 2 Whitechapel 1971 none since
3 - 10 Gillett and Johnston 1912 none since

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 707.5 Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2408 -1200 -881 -499 1598 660 -
2 -2403 -1200 -893 -493 1412 670 -
3 -2401 -1194 -881 -489 1192 678 1218
4 -2397 -1196 -885 -496 1103 678 1217
5 -2401 -1203 -863 -527 887 667 1197
6 -2402 -1203 -871 -505 698 682 1230
7 -2398 -1193 -866 -511 490 682 1233
8 -2389 -1191 -867 -494 379 681 1231
9 -2396 -1200 -857 -494 200 675 1218
10 -2404 -1209 -860 -498 0 675 1223

(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.)

Intensity plots

Here are the spectra of the treble and second:

Egham treble and second

and here those for the back eight:

Egham back eight


The tuning of the nominals of these bells shows quite a lot of scatter, considering the accuracy of the 'inner' tuning, i.e. of the partials within each bell to its nominal. This plot shows the error in each bell's nominal from equal temperament in cents:

Egham nominals

The flatness of the eighth might lead one to think these bells were going to be tuned in just temperament, but then the sharpness of the fourth suggests otherwise. The sharpness of the second is striking. The scatter in the nominals - the difference between the second's sharpness and the eighth's flatness - is a third of a semitone.

In contrast, the tuning of the hums, primes, tierces (and to some extent quints) of these bells is pretty exact. Gilletts clearly had no problem with tuning individual partials at this date, as can be seen both from the tuning figures and from the combined spectrum. The eighth's slightly sharp hum and prime and rather flat nominal suggest a bell which was cast a bit out but judged good enough to put in the peal.

The intensity profiles of the bells as usual show much of interest. The trebles look very similar to those at Greenwich, with very strong lower partials and very weak nominal and upper partials. As with Greenwich, the exact tuning of the hum and prime means that the loud hum gives depth rather than spoiling the tone. Whatever Whitechapel did with the profiles of the Greenwich trebles in 1954, they also did here. The spectra of the back eight show much variation. No bells have dominant strong upper partials, though 9 and 10 have quite a bit of superquint. However, several of the bells have strong hums and all have some energy at 400 cents above the nominal - the 'secondary strike' partial. The octave nominals are a little flatter than in modern bells.

It was only after doing this analysis that I was able to explain my reaction to these bells. Each bell individually is good - I find it hard to fault them rung singly. However, the mistuning of the nominals, the variation in bell shapes across the peal and the slight edginess to the tenors with their strong superquints give just a little degree of stress to the effect of them rung together. They really are quite good, though.


Last updated August 14, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey