The Sound of Bells

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Lyminge, Kent, 8, 18-0-11 in E

Recorded: WAH 17/12/01
Analysed: WAH 18/12/01, 24/2/02

Lyminge is a village close to the Channel Tunnel terminal. The peal of eight were at the time of recording about to be taken down for retuning and rehanging. The peal consists of three Mears trebles of 1904 (old-style, of course) together with five older bells of which the rarest is a John Wilnar bell of 1631. Rung in peal the bells sounded quite attractive even in their untuned state, though some of the back bells have strident doublets. Here is the sound of all eight recorded from the far side of the churchyard. Here is a description of the bells on Dickon Love's Kent Bells website.

The bells have now been retuned by Whitechapel, and rehung by Matthew Higby. To see what changes were made, and a before and after comparison, go direct to the page describing them after tuning.

I am grateful to the tower captain Ro Edmond, to Matthew Higby, and to the Whitechapel bellfoundry for their permission to record these bells and publish the analysis here.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 3 Mears 1904 none since
4 John Wilnar 1631 none since
5 Mears 1785 none since
6 Knight 1727 none since
7 Mears 1785 none since
8 Lester & Pack 1759 none since

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 685.8 Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom. Source
1 -2236
-856 - 1214 658 1180
Mears 1904
2 -2265
-874 - 1110 671 1200 Mears 1904
3 -2227 -1348 -869 -557 897 676 1214 Mears 1904
4 -2342
-1368 -892 -479 681 683 1218
Wilnar 1631
5 -2202 -1291 -867
- 474 681 1226 Mears 1785
6 -2338 -1153
-831 -534 369 668
Knight 1727
7 -2204 -1256
-410 181
Mears 1785
8 -2219
-857 -405
0 669 1205 Lester & Pack 1759

(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. The links in the first column provide recordings of all the bells.)

Intensity plots

Here are the spectra of all eight on a single plot:

Lyminge, all eight


Before tuning, the nominals of this peal were somewhat out of tune. I have provided two plots below, one comparing the nominals with meantone temperament and one with just tuning. These two tuning styles are more appropriate than equal temperament because of the age and provenance of the bells, and because they are a better fit to the untuned nominals. In the plots below, the blue line shows the existing nominals, and the red line a straight-line fit to the values.

Lyminge compared with meantone

Lyminge compared with just

It is plain from these two plots that the treble, second, third and tenor are sharp compared with the others. The sixth is quite a good-toned bell, and the fourth, given its age and rarity, ought to receive the least tuning possible. A retuning scheme that involves tuning the nominals of 1, 2, 3 and 8 down to these bells will be a good solution, provided there is metal in the tenor to make this possible. Why the trebles were tuned so sharp in 1904 is not at all clear.

Turning now to the partials of each bell, the three trebles are classic Mears old-style; sharp hums and very flat primes. Probably nothing can be done about the primes, except to tune the nominals down to them. As the nominals of these bells need to come down by 30 or 40 cents there is a good opportunity to improve the hums during the tuning. The fourth has quite a flat prime, but its hum is good considering its age, only about half a semitone sharp. Unlike the other Wilnar bell in my collection (the old fifth at Dorking) which has a major third tierce, this bell has the flattest tierce in the peal. I would not be surprised if this bell was hardly touched by the tuner.

The 5th, 7th and tenor are very similar bells, and were all cast at the same foundry 26 years apart. All have primes which are a little flat and hums which are almost a tone sharp. The only bell which needs significant tuning to its nominal is the tenor, which needs to be flattened by 20 cents or so. This is not a major change, but I expect the tuner to attempt to lower the tenor hum significantly. Success in this and the overall character of the bell after tuning depends critically on the amount of 'spare' metal in the bell. The last bell to be described is the sixth. This bell has a very good prime indeed considering its age, and a hum which is a little sharp. Interestingly, it has a very sharp, almost major third tierce which gives it an edgy tone compared with its neighbours. Its nominal will not need much tuning, I expect the efforts of the tuner to be directed to flattening the hum and tierce as much as is practical.

To find out how the bells were retuned, and the extent to which my predictions were correct, see the description after tuning.

For those interested in the more theoretical side of my work, I used the second here in some work on the simulation of bell sounds, described elsewhere on the website.


Last updated May 17, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey