The History of St Michael’s Bells

Information about the Bells with a photograph gallery In 2010, St Michael’s celebrated the 500th anniversary of the founding of the current church building. The main nave and tower were built in 1514 but there is no record of any bells being hung in the tower until 1558. 1558 - The current 6th bell was founded by John Saunders, an itinerant bell founder, presumably close to the church and most likely on the land adjoining the Church currently known as Glebe Gardens. 1602 - The 7th bell was cast probably by R Beconsall, probably under similar arrangements to those above. 1670 - The 5th and Tenor bells were cast by Henry Knight II of Reading. 1751 - The only other recorded bell at this time was the 2nd, cast by Edward Read of Aldbourne. 1754 - The records indicate that by this time there must have been a ring of 8 bells, (although there is no record of the treble, 3rd and 4th) as the first peal recorded on the bells was of 5040 Plain Bob Major on 17 July, rung by the Reading Youths in 3 hours and 14 minutes, who are reputed to have walked from Reading, a distance of approximately 18 miles, to ring the peal, and presumably had to walk home afterwards! 1764 - The treble was replaced by a bell cast by Lester & Pack of Whitechapel. 1812 - The third was recast by Thomas Mears II of Whitechapel, but was reputed to be a half-tone flat. 1841 - Thomas Mears II carried out further work on the bells which included replacing or recasting the unknown 4th bell. 1843 - The turret clock was made by Benjamin Louis Vulliamy, whose father, also Benjamin, was clockmaker to King George III. The clock which is unusual in that it has a second hand on the movement and is still wound by hand every week by the ringers. The striking hammers and linkages have been removed but the striking mechanism is still in place. There are clock faces on both the north and south faces of the tower. 1878 – In this year John Warner recast both the flat Mears 3rd and the Lester & Pack treble as it was in a poor state of repair. 1879 - Under the authority of Rev C H Lacon, assistant curator of the parish, the ringing chamber floor was lowered approximately 1 meter to improve the draft length of the ropes to the ceiling and so to improve the go of the bells. There is still much evidence of this event in the tower which explains why the staircases to the windows and clock all start well above floor level. The old entrance to the tower can also be seen above the new doorway. 1885 – The first peal of Holt’s Original rung in Hampshire was completed by the Royal Cumberland Youths. 1894 - Saw the bell frame which was ‘light and very shaky strengthened by Mr T Blackbourne of Salisbury including the addition of long vertical bolts , cast iron angle corners and light portions of the timber frame replaced with more significant members 1896 – Alice White, then a 15 year and old daughter of the tower captain Henry White, rang the treble to a peal of Grandsire Triples, making her the first lady to ring a peal anywhere in the world [Please see the Peal Board for this peal here]. She subsequently became what appeared to be a fairly accomplished ringer and the first president of the Ladies Guild. 1938 - There is no further significant work to the bells until 1938 when the front four bells and the tenor were recast and the ring hung in a new steel frame by John Taylor of Loughborough. The recast Taylor’s bells also still retain the original maker’s marks and inscriptions of the old bells, and the bells were dedicated in 1939. There has been little further work on the bells to date apart from regular maintenance and minor repairs.