Bringing St Stephen’s bells to the next generation in Victoria

About the project

Information on St Stephen's bells

An integral part of the church's original endowment by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, the eight bells were cast in 1850 by Charles and George Mears at the world-famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The tenor weighs 24 cwt and the eight bells are currently hung on plain bearings in a wooden frame of unorthodox design. The frame and most of the fittings date from 1850.

Each bell was given a name taken from a prayer in the Book of Revelation: Blessing, Glory, Wisdom, Thanksgiving, Honour, Power, Might and Hallelujah. They were first rung shortly before the consecration of the church in Dec 1850 and have been rung regularly ever since.

The Problems

Alas, time has not been kind. The surfaces of the bells have begun to corrode, the timber bell-frame has deteriorated and weakened, and now only the most experienced ringers can manage them. One bell cannot be rung at all and all teaching has had to stop. If nothing is done, they will be silent within 10 years.

What needs to be done

If the bells are to ring for another 150 years, they require an industrial clean and re-hanging in a modern steel frame with new wheels and fittings, as in the photo above. The job is complex as the bells cannot be lowered down the tower but have to go out of the louvred windows at belfry level.

The project includes work to make an adjustable system for sound control as well as refurbishment of the ringing room.

We also wish to install equipment to assist with a programme to teach new ringers. This includes provision of a dumb-bell and an electronic simulator to make it possible to practise ringing without disturbance to local residents.

Ringing History

There is a long history of ringing at St Stephen's. The bells have been rung to mark the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, special royal events, the birthday of Baroness Burdett-Coutts, the opening of Victoria Street in 1851 and numerous church and national occasions. More recently they have been rung to celebrate special Royal and National occasions eg Jubilees, Royal weddings and births.

Over the years members of the two most prestigious ringing associations (The Ancient Society of College Youths and the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths) have formed the majority of the band at St Stephen's. Many special peals have been rung by members of both societies. The peal boards in the ringing room record peals in complex methods and difficult compositions. Two long peals have been rung and in 1901 two exceptional performances were noted - a peal of Cambridge Surprise Major and one of London Surprise Major both 'silent and non conducted'.

Throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century ringing continued to be strong at St Stephen's and after the First World War members of the St Stephen's band were asked to provide the core for a new band to be established at Westminster Abbey.

What this will achieve

The ancient and traditional heritage of the sound of bells ringing across Victoria will be renewed, and people will be able to enjoy their sounds and rhythm for years to come.

Young people can benefit from the physical challenges and mental stimulation associated with ringing, giving them the opportunity to meet new people and participate in an enjoyable group activity. Children from the adjacent Burdett-Coutts Primary school regularly visit the church. A programme to teach bell ringing to pupils from the school is already being developed. They will be taught at a neighbouring church so that they will be ready to ring on the newly re-hung bells.

Older people will also be able to learn, encouraging them to remain active in later life. After all, it is widely recognised that bell-ringing is good for you. As an activity it provides some physical challenges, mental stimulation and opportunities to get out and about meeting new people and participate in an enjoyable group activity.

The ministry of the church will be fulfilled as our bells can continue to ring out to mark joyful occasions such as weddings, as well as events in the life of the church and the nation. In Central London it is not unusual for people to be drawn into the church building by the sound of bells. And for those unable to leave home to attend a service (eg those in the adjacent almshouses) ringing can provide an opportunity for spiritual refreshment and a remote participation in the worship of the church.