The Sound of Bells

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Holborn, London, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, 8, 18 cwt in F

Recorded: WAH 18/1/01
Analysed: WAH 19/1/01

These bells have a distinctive and much loved sound. Two of the bells have been ringing in this tower or its predecessor since before the Great Fire, and the youngest bells were cast more than a quarter of a millenium ago. The description In-the-Fields no longer suits the situation of this church, which is right next to and dwarfed by the Centre Point tower.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 R. D. Phelps 1736 -
2 Richard Phelps 1736 -
3, 4 E. K. 1635 -
5, 6 Richard Phelps 1736 -
7, 8 William and Philip Wightman 1685 -

I assume, based on reference to Stahlschmidt, that E. K. is Ellis Knight of Reading. I do not know the tuning history of these bells but believe that they were not touched during the 20th century.

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 723, 724.7 Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2353 -1365 -880
-489 1219 665 1187
2 -2286 -1300 -883 -420 1104 652 1179
3 -2404 -1231 -894 -464 867
693 1246
4 -2442
-881 -524 699
700 1257
5 -2193 -1159
-824 -282 513 656 1187
6 -2257 -1136 -826 -394 395 669
7 -2237
-533 210 659 1195
8 -2201 -1317
-387 0
672 1222

(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

These bells divide (on the basis of founder and date) into four pairs:

Holborn 1st and 2nd

Holborn 3rd and 4th

Holborn 5th and 6th

Holborn 7th and 8th


As regards nominals, these bells are quite well in tune. The only significant deviation is the third, which is about 30 cents flat. I was puzzled as to why this was not more audible in the tower. It emerges from further analysis that the third is probably the best-toned bell in the tower - it has a good intensity profile apart from a rather loud hum, and its partials, especially the hum, are very close to true-harmonic. Its good tone means that it does not stand out despite its nominal.

Comparing tuning of the other partials across the peal, it's interesting that the fourth has a flat hum (which is not often seen) - however, this partial is quiet and hard to hear. More striking are the primes of the fourth, fifth and sixth which are sharp. The sixth partial in particular is quite sharp and the bell's loudest partial.

The intensity profiles of the treble and second are quite unusual. They have a very loud hum indeed, and the rest of the partials are very quiet - completely different from the spectra of the 5th and 6th which are the same founder and date. The sharpness and loudness of the second's hum are distinctly audible.

The intensity profiles of the 7th and 8th are actually quite different though both bells are the same founder and date. The seventh has a very strong prime which however is very close to the octave. The tenor has a flatter prime which however is quiet. Both bells have moderately quiet higher partials apart from the octave nominals which, however, are both near the octave, which they would not be in modern bells. Both bells are really quite pleasant considering their age.

All-in-all this is a most interesting peal of bells to listen to and analyse, from which much can be learnt from study. The best bells in the tower - the third, followed by the eighth and seventh - are actually the oldest. The third in particular is a very good bell considering that it is 366 years old and has probably not been tuned. Here are recordings of the sixth, to demonstrate the effect of the sharp prime, and the third, to show what a good bell it is.


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