The Sound of Bells

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Lambeth, London, St. John the Evangelist, 8, 18-1-23 in F

Recorded: WAH 10/7/00
Analysed: WAH 13/7/00

These bells are a complete Mears 8 of 1825. Some of them were retuned by Whitechapel in 1997 when the bells were rehung. This work was carried out under the control of English Heritage, and at the time caused some controversy, as these articles from the press demonstrate. The bells are hung on two levels in a tiny tower, something of a triumph for the frame designer. Despite walking past the church every day for the last three years, I do not have a recording of them rung together, so, until I get one, here's the tenor. Ignore Ruth Gledhill, they are worth ringing!

Bell Founder Tuning
1 Mears 1825 none since
2 Mears 1825 none since
3 Mears 1825 Whitechapel 1997
4 Mears 1825 Whitechapel 1997
5 Mears 1825 Whitechapel 1997
6 Mears 1825 Whitechapel 1997
7 Mears 1825 Whitechapel 1997
8 Mears 1825 none since

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 655Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2320 -1457 -897 -567 1202 682 1215
2 -2288 -1446 -880 - 1100 678 1218
3 -2308 -1319 -861 - 898 659 1184
4 -2316 -1219 -850 -555 701 671 1200
5 -2291 -1262 -863 -497 501 687 1231
6 -2316 -1341 -895 -519 405
676 1213
7 -2319 -1247 -875 -529 207 673 1210
8 -2225 -1206 -855 - 0 682 1228

(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

The intensity plots for all the bells are fairly similar. Here is that for the 8th (which was not tuned):

Waterloo Road tenor

Here is the seventh (which was tuned):

Waterloo Road 7th

And here is the treble (not tuned - note the extra partial near the prime):

Waterloo Road treble


The nominals of these bells are very well in tune. The sixth is a bit sharpish (16 cents), but this is not noticeable when ringing, it only became apparent when I analysed the recordings. Its sharp nominal may be offset by the flatter prime. The nominals of the 1, 2 and 8 (which were not tuned) are remarkably accurate with less than two cents variation across the whole octave.

As usual, the primes get broadly flatter as the bells get smaller. Notice the prime of the tenor, though - only six cents out. This partial would not have been tuned (even the tuning machine which Mears bought from Rudhalls in the 1840s could not tune in the shoulder) and so we are seeing here the effect of a good bell-shape.

The intensity profiles of all the bells are quite good - the tenor specially so. The tenor has very subdued upper partials which give it a clear resonant sound. The only real comment one can make on this bell is that the hum is both loud and sharp, either on its own would not have been important. The seventh is not quite as good - it has a loud quint which is most unusual, and may be due to clappering - but again the higher partials are well subdued. The profile of the treble is interesting because it has an extra partial just below the prime. More detailed analysis shows that it is very short-lived, and is probably due to some structural metal rather than the bell. The treble also has a strong superquint, which might give it a bit of a 'clonk' compared with the others.

One cannot talk about the sound of these bells without describing the tower. From outside it looks so small that it is remarkable that such a heavy eight could ever be got to fit in it. They do fit, very well, but space is very cramped and there is a floor immediately above the bells, presumably put there for sound control, which increases the claustrophobic effect. I wonder what these bells would have sounded like if they had been tuned as an eight, and the bells hung in a big stone tower with lots of space above? We shall never know.


Last updated June 5, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey