Bells in the North Tower | Westminster Abbey Bells
Westminster Abbey is a magnificent Gothic-style church in London. Westminster Abbey bells have remained an integral part of the church for centuries. The bells are rung for events ranging from coronations, royal weddings, and even during times of mourning. The dulcet chimes produced by the ten bells can be heard in the city during church festivals and other important national events.
Westminster Abbey Bells
History of Westminster Abbey Bells
- The first recorded information of the Westminster Abbey Bells was found in the Close Rolls of King Henry III, in 1250. The king instructed Edward of Westminster to construct a bell bigger than what he had ever built before.
- In 1251, Edward was instructed to make a smaller bell that was to be in tune with the great big bell.
- According to the records of chronicler Matthew Paris, there were five bells in use at the Abbey in the year 1255.
- A bell that was cast in c.1310 by Richard de Wimbis (Wymbish) bearing the inscription "Christe Audi Nos" can still be found in the new Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey.
- From the late 15th century to the 20th century, Westminster Abbey’s bell ring remained constant at six bells.
- In 1919, with King George V and Queen Mary in attendance at London's Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the Westminster Abbey bells were recast and two new bells were added to form a ring of eight.
- During the Armistice in 1918, it had become challenging to ring the bells because of the dilapidated condition of the bell frame and fittings. Consequently, the Abbey bells underwent restoration.
- In 1971, Dr. Eric Perkins, the brother of a former reverend at the Abbey, enabled a ring of ten bells to be cast.
- The two oldest bells - one from the 16th century and the other from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I - of the eight bells were retained as part of the new ring of ten bells.
The Old Bell Tower
Westminster Abbey Bells in the North West Tower
Six bells were installed in the incomplete northwest tower during the 16th century. The incomplete towers were finally finished in the year 1745, five centuries after the reconstruction of the Abbey first began under King Henry III’s reign. During this time, the towers were raised to their present height and the bells were moved to a higher belfry in the northwest tower.
The Brethren of the Guild of Westminster was established in 1255 as recorded in the Abbey’s Domesday cartulary records. The members were responsible for ringing the bells for an annual fee of one hundred shillings.
Dean Ryle organized the Westminster Abbey Company of Ringers in 1921, following the spirit of the old Brethren. The Company of Ringers is essentially a volunteer group that comprises a principal, a supernumerary and honorary members.
Two other rings of bells were cast and they have the same specifications as those present at Westminster Abbey. A set of bells, cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, to the same specifications of the Abbey’s ten bells, was gifted by the English Ditchley Foundation to the Congress of the United States in 1977. These bells are installed in the Old Post Office Tower in Washington D.C. Each of these bells is inscribed with the Great Seals of the United States and of Britannia. Meanwhile, Westminster Abbey's coat of arms is cast on the headstock of each bell.
Westminster Abbey has more bells to its name. The Abbey collection includes a medieval cymbalum (a bell without a clapper). This bell used to hang outside the monastic refectory in the south cloister and was struck with a hammer to announce meal times to monks. Another bell, with the inscription “THOS. LESTER MADE ME 1742”, which used to hang the gable of the south transept is a part of this collection along with a large 14th-century bell. These bells are kept on display in the new Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Westminster Abbey Bells
A. Yes, there is a ring of 10 bells at Westminster Abbey.
A. There is a ring of 10 bells at Westminster Abbey. Apart from these, there are sister rings, a cymbalum, and another bell with the inscription “THOS. LESTER MADE ME 1742”, which you can see at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.
A. Yes, Westminster Abbey’s bells can be heard ringing during major church festivals, royal weddings, abbey anniversaries, special services, and even at the end of every service.
A. The members of the Westminster Abbey Company of Ringers established in 1921 are the ones who ring the bells at Westminster Abbey. The members are usually volunteers.
A. Like most bells, the Westminster Abbey bells are swung back and forth with the help of ropes to ring them. A group of volunteers who are a part of the abbey’s Company of Ringers ring these bells.