The Bells

History of the Bells

St John the Baptist has not always had the 8 bells that ring out for Sunday service these days. Originally there were only 6 bells, this being the normal number for all but the richest communities.

However as Eltham grew as a town, it was decided to enhance the ring to 8 bells. The restoration project was organised by Captain W. Anderson M.C. and by 1924, the money was finally raised to do the work.

This involved replacing the old wooden frame with a stronger, longer lasting, metal one. Also, for musical reasons, the existing bells had to be re-tuned slightly to match the two new higher toned ones, to create the perfect octave we have today. Finally, this was when the electronically wound clock was added. All this work was carried out by Gillett & Johnston, Bellfounders and clockmakers, who are still based in Croydon today.

For the musically aware, the bells are tuned to G. The heaviest bell, known as the tenor, weighs 10 hundred weight, 2 quarter weight and 24 pounds. The lightest bell, known as the treble, is about a third of that weight. It is inscribed with the name Mary, in memory of Mary C.L Yeatman and E.M. Yeatman.

Bell-ringing today

Today we ring twice a week at least. On a Sunday morning the ringing of the bells announces that the time for service approaches. And as we cannot get good enough to ring without practice, we also meet on a Tuesday evening.

There are other occasions where you will hear the bells ring out. We can ring to proclaim the good news that a wedding has taken place, or to share the sad news that a funeral has been held. And ringing out the old, ringing in the new, is a traditional way of marking the start of the New Year.

We also ring what are called peals, which take about 3 hours, or quarter peals, that take 45 minutes. These are sometimes done to mark a special event such as the Queen’s Coronation, but can also be done just as a way of getting extra practice, and for the sense of achievement!

Finally, we will occasionally allow visiting bands to ring at our tower at the weekend, just as we will go to other towers ourselves.

If you wish to learn more about the bells, or bell-ringing, then drop us a line on bells.sjb.eltham@gmail.com

Read another report about our bells.