The Sound of Bells

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Towcester, Northamptonshire, 12, 23-1-16 in Eb

Recorded: WAH 13/2/02
Analysed: WAH 13/2/02

This fairly new peal of twelve consists of an eight originally cast in 1897 by Taylors for Christ Church Todmorden in West Yorkshire. When the church in Todmorden was made redundant the bells were moved to Towcester and augmented to twelve by the addition of four Taylor trebles. Some trouble was taken at the time of augmentation to ensure compatibility between the new and old bells. The original eight are of historical significance, being one of Taylors' early true-harmonic peals. The frame in which the bells hang includes some H-pattern framesides from St John the Divine in Leicester. The sliders at Towcester were originally on the Rudhall peal at St Martin-in-the-fields in London!.

I am grateful to Andrew and Michael Wilby for allowing me to take recordings, and providing much interesting information about the bells. Here is a recording of the bells rung in rounds and a much longer one of them ringing Erin Cinques, both of which they have just provided to me.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 4 Taylors 1989 none since
5 - 12 Taylors 1897 none since

Tuning of main partials

The recordings were taken with the bells swinging. The Doppler effect of the swing is quite noticeable and made the recordings difficult to analyse and impossible to check for doublets. Some of the front bells were also a bit loud for my recorder . . .

Tenor nominal: 648Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2402 -1199 -900 -370 1911 657 1171
2 -2396 -1197 -907 -409 1708 676 1197
3 -2398 -1209 -905 -461 1604 675 1204
4 -2400 -1195 -905 -514 1396 682 1218
5 -2404 -1207 -924 -392 1208 694 1237
6 -2381 -1217 -904 -443 1101 685 1232
7 -2397 -1201 -913 -469 899 695 1251
8 -2394 -1203 -882 -514 702 681 1219
9 -2390 -1196 -892 -505 499 692 1243
10 -2394 -1197 -880 -534 402 689 1236
11 -2396 -1201 -887 -498 206 684 1240
12 -2390 -1200 -878 -518 0 684 1232

(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 intensity plots of various bells selected from the ring:

Towcester fifth

Towcester sixth

Towcester tenor

Commentary

The nominal tuning of this peal is not entirely clear. The best fit for the whole twelve is to equal temperament, but comparison with other Taylor peals of the early 1900s suggests that the back eight were intended to be tuned Just but that the sixth of the back eight was tuned sharp. Another page gives a detailed comparison of the tuning of these bells with other Taylor peals. The plot below shows the differences in the nominal of each bell from equal temperament, together with a straight-line fit to the data.

Towcester nominals

There is the slightest amount of stretch (4 cents in the octave). Interestingly, the fourth - the largest of the four trebles added in 1989 - is a little flat. The interval between fourth and fifth is 12 cents or just over 10% of a semitone too small. This would be very difficult to hear. Apart from this bell, the maximum error in the nominals is six cents, which is nothing at all.

The primes in the original eight bells are very good. Clearly, by 1897 Taylors had found the secret of keeping the primes in tune throughout the peal, rather than going flat in the trebles as was the custom in old-style bells. The hums also are very good. The sixth is a slight exception to this, as its hum is a little sharp and its prime a little flat. This bell has a slightly different profile to the others, as will be seen below, and had been pointed out to me as sounding a little different from the others.

The tierces of the original eight get considerably flatter as the bells get smaller - the sixth, as before, breaking the sequence. This will give each bell a slightly different timbre. It took Taylors several more years to get their tierces fully under control. The hums, primes and tierces in the front four bells - the new ones - are as one would expect well tuned. However, the higher partials of the smallest bells are quite a lot flatter than those in the heavier bells, a feature also seen in modern Whitechapel trebles also.

The intensity profiles show a slight difference between fifth and sixth - the sixth has weaker prime and nominal and a strong superquint. The tenor has lots of high partials, a common feature of bigger Taylor bells.

The shapes of the bells

The plot below shows the results of taking various measurements on the bells to compare their shapes. The figure in the plot for each bell shows a straight line drawn from the lip, to the shoulder, to the centre of the crown, and down the central axis of the bell. All twelve bell shapes have been normalised to unit radius at the lip. The height of the crown above the shoulder was estimated, the remaining dimensions were measured as accurately as could be achieved with a tape measure.

Towcester profiles

This diagram shows that the shapes of all the bells are very similar, with the slight exception of the sixth which is proportionatey the tallest bell in the ring.

Comparison of tuning figures

Andrew Wilby supplied me with two sets of tuning figures for the original eight bells - one set from Taylors' records of 1897, and one set taken when the bells were installed at Towcester in 1989. In the table below I have compared both these with my own measurements. All the figures are in Hertz, and the bell numbers refer to the position in the enlarged peal. The most noticeable difference is in the nominal of the fifth, where I agree with the 1897 figure. I make no other comment except to say that the Doppler shift in my recordings led to considerable uncertainty in the partial frequencies. Do not record bells when they are swinging!

Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nominal
Bell 1897 1989 2000 1897 1989 2000 1897 1989 2000 1897 1989 2000 1897 1989 2000
5 325.5 323 325 650.5 650 649 765 763 764 1041 1038 1038 1303 1298 1303
6 309.5 310 310 608 606 606 728 722 726 953 949 948 1227 1222 1224
7 273.5 271 273 546 544 545 645 642 643 834.5 830 831 1091 1089 1089
8 243.75 244 244 487 484 485 585 582 584 727 721 722 974 974 972
9 217.25 216 217 434 432 433 517 516 516 648 644 646 867 863 864
10 205 204 205 410.5 409 410 492 491 492 603 601 601 820 816 817
11 183 183 183 366 364 365 438 438 437 548.5 548 548 731 729 730
12 163 162 163 325 325 324 392 390 390 482 479 481 650 649 648

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Last updated March 1, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey