The Sound of Bells

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Poynton, Cheshire, 6, 13-2-17 in F#

Recorded: WAH 22/2/02
Analysed: WAH 23/2/02

This peal of six were cast as a set by Taylors in 1887, a little before or perhaps just as their experiments leading to true-harmonic tuning were beginning. They hang in a composite timber and cast-iron low-side frame on their original timber headstocks. They are at the base of a sizeable stone spire, which makes the best of their musical qualities. The tenors of the peal have flat crowns and angular shoulders, the trebles have high domed crowns and rounded shoulders - evidence perhaps of experiments in progress. I am grateful to Peter Dyson for permission to record these much-rung and much-loved bells. Here is a recording of them rung in rounds, unfortunately with a little rope noise - the recording was taken on the tower stairs.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 6 Taylors 1887 none since

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 758.1Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2336 -1299 -895 -392 899 687 1228
2 -2319 -1295 -896 - 703 690 1239
3 -2251 -1278
-870 -407 515 672 1211
4 -2262 -1371 -896 -412 390 693 1246
5 -2310 -1323 -898 -487 194 698 1252
6 -2336 -1275 -882 -512 0 688 1236

(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 is an intensity plot showing the spectra of all six bells:

Poynton Bells


The plan behind the nominal tuning of this peal is not obvious. All bells except the third fit very closely to meantone - a maximum two cents error - provided one assumes a stretch of 14 cents per octave. Why a peal of six should be stretched so much is not apparent. An alternative interpretation involves comparing the nominals with equal temperament. Compared with equal, the errors are larger but the stretch is much smaller. In either interpretation, the third is rather sharp. In recognition of this, two plots appear below, one comparing the nominals with meantone, and one with equal. In either case, the blue curve is the actual tuning and the red curve a straight line fit to the data.

Towcester nominals

Towcester nominals

In fact, the probable interpretation is that Taylors were not tuning their nominals very accurately at the time these bells were cast. The discrepancies are small enough to not significantly affect the sound of the bells.

The hums of several of these bells are not so far from true-harmonic. The sixth and treble are best, followed by the second and fifth. Whether this represents an approach towards true-harmonic tuning or a happy accident is not clear. Certainly both treble and tenor have an 'octavey' sound to these partials. The primes are a bit of a puzzle. In classic old-style peals they would get rather flatter in the trebles. In these bells it is the fourth and fifth which have the flattest primes. The primes are also not too loud in any of the bells. In consequence, the timbre of the trebles is quite similar to that of the tenors; the trebles do not 'squeal' as they sometimes do in 19th century Mears peals. The tierces of all the bells are pretty consistent. Apart from the third, there is no more than 16 cents variation across the peal. When Taylors first mastered true-harmonic tuning of hums and primes, the result was tierces which varied much more than this.

These bells have a lot of characteristics which make for a good sound, especially the near-octave hums and primes which do not squeal. The variations in nominal tuning I think can be attributed to lack of ability to measure and tune exactly rather than some fundamental flaw in design. As an example of the jumping-off point for development of true-harmonic tuning these bells are quite interesting.


Last updated February 24, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey