Christ Church’s Steel Bells: 1866
The first record we have of bells in the history of Christ Church is dated 1825 for a single bell, subsequently altered in pencil to two bells, which is known to have been the case in 1830.
It is possible that one of these was brought from the Old Brig Chapel when it was demolished to join one which had been newly installed at the opening of Christ Church. However one of these bells was sold in 1865 to help fund the purchase of a peal of eight bells. In a history of the church written by a former vicar the total funding raised was
|Mr Lewis Morley’s legacy||180||0||0|
|Mr J Taylor (small bell)||20||0||0|
|Sale of old bell||62||11||0|
|Subscriptions & Collections||177||2||7|
Both Mr Morley and Mr Taylor are recorded on the Benefactors board now hanging in the community room but Mr Taylor is referred to as “Thomas”. Nothing more is known about him.
The history booklet also reports that the bells were first rung in 1866 at the opening service conducted by the Bishop of Ripon for the installation of a new organ- itself costing £266 9s 6d.
However we have recently found another more detailed report in the Halifax Guardian dated April 7th 1866 stating that “On Thursday, on the occasion of the marriage of Miss Emma, daughter of the late Mr T Pollit, (founder of Thomas Pollit & Co) the church bells for the first time rang a marriage peal. Although worked by machinery, the “shooting” was very well managed.”
We now know that these bells were steel not the traditional bell metal. Beamish Museum described them to us as “Cast steel, made in Sheffield and date from the 1860’s when there was a brief and unsuccessful fashion for such things.”
This was due to a new manufacturing process based on a German invention being introduced at Millsands Mill, Sheffield by Colonel Tom. E Vickers who emerged as the head of the crucible industry and founded the famous “Vickers” steel company. We have recently discovered a paper “Colonel Tom and his Cast Steel Bells ” which describes this manufacturing process in detail, and the features which attracted the customers to purchase this new technology.
Steel bells are much thinner than their bronze counterparts, and therefore lighter for any given size. Churches could obtain massively oversized rings at a price they could afford, but maintenance once installed in their often inadequate towers frequently became a problem. The great attraction was of course their relative cheapness. In 1864 a bronze bell of 48” diameter, sounding the note E would weigh a ton and cost £177. A steel one of the same diameter and note would weigh 14-cwt and cost £66. The paper lists every peal of 8 bells produced, together with the note of the largest tenor bells including:
“Sowerby Bridge, Yorks, 50”, 14-cwt in E-flat.” There is also a quote describing how the bells sounded in later years. “When they were rung, the effect must have been peculiar to say the least, with the front five bells sounding progressively sharper, the sixth and seventh sounding painfully flat, to be rounded off by a not very melodious tenor” (Dennis Greenwood, 1976),
In 1983, dry rot was found in the west end of the church and tower, and for safety reasons the bells had to be removed. They were sold and subsequently stored at Andy Thornton's architectural salvage, for many years. When clearing out the storage yards prior to moving premises, Thornton’s considered scrapping them as un-sellable, but they were bought “very cheaply” by Beamish Museum, County Durham. Staff at Beamish have kindly photographed them for us using chalk to make the patent number and inscription on bell no. 7 visible.
Members of our current congregation cannot remember the full peal of bells ever being rung. They do remember that one, (possibly the small bell), was used for calling people to church and for funerals.
The small bell has been made into a collection point in the entrance of the museum, whilst the other 7 (pictured below) are held in storage. The bells have now been pronounced “tonally dead”.
Like the Victorians before us, we have looked to new technology as a cost effective solution to restore a “voice to Christ Church. The digital Bell Sound system now installed at Christ Church is supplied by Smith of Derby Ltd. Their 150 years expertise in heritage clocks (including those with chiming bells) led them to develop electronic techniques to sound real bells and create digital bell sounds. They first installed a full Bell Sound system in Derby cathedral in the mid 1980’s. The system reproduces the sound of traditional church bells with a number of differently programmed peals, with the subtle harmonic resonance of the original bells. A demonstration system to gauge the community’s reaction was in place on 5th December 2015.
When Sowerby Bridge was hit by dreadful flooding on Boxing Day, Christ Church opened its doors to help the community in any way it could. Unlike other towns in the Calder Valley, Sowerby Bridge had no automated flood siren and we were asked if the newly proposed system could be used in any way as a warning. In addition to the standard choice from a single bell tolling, to traditional peals using 8 bell notes or hymn tunes, we commissioned a bespoke alarm of two bell notes , with a battery back up in case of power failure. We were able to install the system on 8th December 2016 as part of our role as a support hub from the Calderdale Communities team and with additional grant funding from the Community Foundation for Calderdale. It is now being incorporated into the flood response plan by the Environment Agency and Sowerby Bridge Flood Wardens.
The control panel and sound amplifier is now fastened securely to the fabric of the church tower at ground level in the South Porch and the electrical wiring travels up the height of the tower. Three full size speakers are now fastened permanently in the original belfry, one to each of the South, West and East elevations and positioned to direct maximum sound wave to the town below, through the mesh screens in exactly the way that the sound waves of the old bells travelled from the tower.