The Bells Of St. Mary's

A Taunton Community Project


St. Mary's was fortunate that the church's bells were designed and installed to be used both as a part of a Carillon, as well as for 'Change ringing'.

What is a Carillon?

A carillon is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a bell tower, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of bells, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A carillon is played by striking a keyboard - the keys of which are sometimes called batons - with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the inside of the bells, allowing the performer on the bells, or carillonneur, to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

The carillon is the heaviest of all musical instruments; the total weight of bells alone can be 100 tons in the largest instruments.

(Description courtesy of Wikipedia)

 St.Mary Magdalene, Taunton does not quite fit the above description for two reasons:-

      1. The number of bells is small, being only 15, 12 hung for full circle change ringing and known in bell ringing circles as probably the worst peal of 12 in the world, and 3 others for the carillon only.

      2. The tunes rung by the carillon are fully automated using a digital/pneumatic system.

Unfortunately the workings of St. Mary's Carillon are broken and beyond repair. We plan to replace the workings to enable the Carillon and clock chimes to sound out across Taunton again!!

The digital system appears to be functioning correctly (after a minor repair by a staff member of Queens College in early 2011) but is very much outdated by modern advances in this field. The pneumatics are however well past their sell by date; the electric motor, pressure pump, piping, hammer mechanism and electrical wiring have been a nightmare to maintain for many years.

What is 'Change Ringing' (or Bell Ringing)?

In England the bells in church towers are generally hung for full circle ringing: every bell swings through a complete circle (actually a little more than 360 degrees) each time it sounds. Between strokes, it sits poised 'upside-down', with the mouth pointed upwards; pulling on a rope connected to the bell swings it down and its own momentum swings it back up again on the other side.

These rings of bells have relatively few bells, compared with a carillon; six or eight-bell towers are common, with the largest rings numbering up to sixteen bells. The bells are usually tuned to fall in a diatonic scale without chromatic notes; they are traditionally numbered from the top downwards so that the highest bell (called the treble) is numbered 1 and the lowest bell (the tenor) has the highest number; it is usually the tonic note of the bells' scale.

(Description courtesy of Wikipedia)

St. Marys bells are still rung by experienced ringers, but their current condition makes it very hard for less experienced ringers, or beginners, to ring the changes. Several expert advisors have examined the bells and fittings and confirmed the current problems.

Below is a drawing of a church bell, along with some of its fittings. All the bells and fittings will need to be replaced as part of the project.

bell drawing