Cost and Weight of a Pre-reformation Ring of Bells

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries VI, (January 1910 to October 1911), pp. 222-3.


J.F. Chanter

Prepared by Michael Steer

The size of a typical church bell today is 28" and greater and the weight is 400 lbs. and over. Most are cast in bronze and have a deep rich tone. It is not possible to get a church bell sound from a small bell. Smaller bell sounds are associated with small chapels or schools. The Note facilitates comparison of Braunton's bells with an existing ‘Ring’ or set of Devon’s ancient bells. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 208. COST AND WEIGHT OF A PRE-REFORMATION RING OF BELLS. — I do not think that I have ever seen any note before of the cost and weight of a complete ring of church bells during the pre-reformation period, so the following memorandum in the oldest existing volume of the Churchwardens' Accounts of Braunton, 1554-1610, which I have just finished transcribing, may be of interest: —

A note taken many years past at ye buying of the whole cage of bells within the Tower of Branton as than what wight every of the said bells then was.

Imprimis the formost bell in wight x and xxxli for ye hundred a xxviijSomm xiiijlii vijs vjd
Itm the second bell weyeth xiiij c lxx" for the hundred xxviijSmm valu xixli xiiijs
Itm the third bell weyeth xix c and xxx" for the hundred ut supSmm xxvli xijs
Itm the great bell weyeth xxv c xxiiij" for y e hundred ut supSmm xxxvli vs ixd
Somm tot. valu dict iiijor campanaslxxxxvjli xvs vj
M against every hundred-weight in a bell there must be iij of iron in the clapper (that is to weete) a bell of x weight the clapper must be xxx and soe after that rate.

None of the bells, mentioned in the above note are now in existence; the third bell was re-cast in the churchyard in 1591 by John Birdall, and the great bell was re-cast 1593-4 by William Poole, some negotiations with a bell-founder named Preston having fallen through, and the whole ring was re-cast again in 1713 by E. Evans.

In the memorandum it will be noticed that the sum total of the cost of the bells does not agree with the items, which is of frequent occurrence in medieval accounts ; also the word 'cage' is applied to the ring, or, as it is sometimes called now, though, I believe, incorrectly, a peal of bells. The cage would be more properly the framework of timber that supported the bells.                         J. F. Chanter.