The Sound of Bells

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Wargrave, Berkshire, St Mary the Virgin, 8, 17-2-10 in E

Recorded: WAH 8/5/02
Analysed: WAH 9/5/02

Wargrave, Berkshire

The above picture was taken from the Wargrave village website.

The bells are a complete eight from the Whitechapel bellfoundry, installed in 1915. The previous lighter six were destroyed in 1914 when the church was burnt down by suffragettes. Local tradition has it that the church was burnt in error for another in the area, though sources differ as to which one was intended. The brick tower, from its external appearance, is 18th century. Internally it has concrete floors supported by a cross-braced steel frame reaching up above the bells almost to the tower roof. This support was presumably installed when the current bells were put in. The bells are hung in a cast-iron low-side frame and were refurbished about 6 years ago by Whites. Here they are being rung in rounds by the local band.

I am very grateful to David Sullivan and the Wargrave ringers for their welcome when I went to record the bells.

Bell Founder Tuning
1 - 8 Mears 1915 none since

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 679 Hz

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom.
1 -2269 -1339 -862 -453 1229 666 1193
2 -2283 -1381 -880 -474 1109 676 1207
3 -2265 -1339 -868 -440 907 680 1223
4 -2246 -1321 -860 -468 699 670 1208
5 -2254 -1177 -834 -459 505 665 1199
6 -2251 -1228 -857 -456 395 679 1221
7 -2288 -1235 -863 -483 205 679 1224
8 -2244 -1232 -867 -423 0 678 1223

(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.)


This peal is classic old-style Mears. Taylors had been producing true-harmonic bells for almost twenty years when the Wargrave bells were installed, and Mears would stick to their 19th century principles for almost another decade before adopting the new approach piloted by Taylors and then Gillett and Johnston. But as an old-style peal, these are fine bells. In changes, they sound tuneful and bright. Chimed singly, the non-octave hums and primes are noticeable, especially in the trebles. The tenors are a little lighter for their note than modern profiles, though a Mears catalogue of the time shows that 18cwt was their recommended weight for an 'E' bell. This lightness, stretched trebles, and the brick tower, gives them a certain bright edgeiness.

Wargrave nominals

The graph above shows, in blue, the actual nominal tuning, compared to Just. The red line on the graph is a straight line fit to the data, for comparison. The nominals are a very good fit to Just tuning, apart from the 4th, which is perhaps 15 cents flat. The rest are very close indeed, and even 15 cents is nothing to worry about. The peal is stretched, by about 28 cents or just over 1/4 semitone in the octave. This is standard practice in old style bells. If they were not stretched, some listeners would say the trebles were flat, because the lower primes, and perhaps octave nominals, lower the perceived pitch of the lighter bells.

On to the other partials. The hums are all sharp, of course. The primes are not so bad in the tenors, but get quite flat in the trebles, which is the classic old-style design problem. To make the bells easier to ring, the founders cast the trebles to a heavier scale to the tenors. However, at this time Whitechapel did not know how the scale the designs properly. The shoulders of the thick trebles have to be proportionately even thicker than the rest of the bell to get the primes right. This was Taylor's great discovery in about 1896.

The tierces and quints are very good considering they are in effect 'maiden' partials. Apart from the problem of primes, Mears knew how to scale their designs across the peal. The octave nominals tell an interesting story, they are very flat in some of the smaller bells. This is often a sign of thicker, heavier bells. The fifth with its sharp prime and flat octave nominal stands out from the bells around it, and seems to have been cast to a different profile.

Intensity plots

I am planning some work on an approach to provide better comparisons between the spectra of different bells and towers, and as a result am not routinely providing on these pages at present. However, it is interesting to compare bells in this peal because they are all of one foundry and date, and yet show distinct differences in tuning which are due to profile. The plot below shows the spectra of the fifth and sixth together. The fifth is slightly displaced so that it can be seen.

Wargrave spectrums

The fifth, with a prime and octave nominal suggesting a bell with a thicker profile, has much lower intensity high partials, suggesting that it has a softer, less bright sound compared with the sixth. A better analysis of these effects awaits completion of more study.


Last updated 11 May, 2002. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey