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

Update January 2016

Sound Control

The quieter period of time between emptying the bell chamber and preparing it for the arrival for the bells and new frame did have one period of great activity. In early October the sound control blocking was installed. This began with the removal of a mixture of more recent boarding and some very old wooden doors. Then gradually the window spaces were filled with blockwork leaving a hole in each one ready to accept new wooden sound proofing doors. We are all very keen that a good level of flexibility is created. The bells need to ring out ‘loud and clear’ for Sunday services and other special occasions but we also wish to hold regular practices and welcome visitors as well as ring quarters and peals. The bells will be rehung at a slightly different level in relation to the louvred windows and so the final stages of sound control adjustment will not be completed until the bells have been reinstated and we have had the chance to assess the level of sound.

Bells work resumes and new floor laid

As Christmas approached there was much excitement at the progress up the tower even though the idea that we might be able to ring at Christmas proved to be somewhat over optimistic. Work resumed in November and began with more work to prepare a new floor for the bell chamber. In the end the whole of the old double layered floor had to be removed and some adjustments made to the huge wooden beams which formed the base of the old frame. We now have one layer of flooring carefully fixed to these wooden base beams. And above that the new frame is beginning to take shape. A second layer of flooring will be fitted at a later stage.

Delivery of the new base frame

As with most aspects of this project nothing has been entirely straightforward but eventually all the pockets were prepared and the new base frame installed. For many of the team of volunteers who have worked incredibly hard this was a totally new experience – but an enjoyable one. There were more spectacular activities as pieces of frame were lifted through the air into the open louvred window of the tower. Once again passers-by ‘stopped and stared’.

Bell frame
The base frame now in the tower

Some extra challenges

Additional challenges were created when noisy work had to be stopped from time to time because of activities in church (of which there were many). Incessant use of a Kango hammer does not mix well with a children’s nativity play and carol service – not to mention the other numerous concerts and carol services. It is very pleasing to see the church being so well used by those who live and/or work in the area. Such activity has made us even more confident that the potential for easier and more frequent ringing on the rehung bells will be a significant benefit to the wider life of this important London church.

A service bell

It was during a conversation with the vicar during the Autumn, about where to put the chiming rope in the vestry, that a new idea emerged. The vestry at the bottom of the tower is rather small and cramped and previously the rope hung neatly in one corner and provided a direct pull to the 4th which was swing chimed (with a little difficulty). The layout of the new bell frame would require a different arrangement. And so we began to explore the option of also hanging an independent service bell. Enthusiasm gathered very quickly and additional financial support was offered and so with help from Matthew Higby, David Kelly of the Keltek Trust and Taylors a suitable bell was identified and plans were drawn up to hang the bell just above the others. It is hoped that this can all be completed as part of the main project.

Foundry Visit

Various other activities have taken place during the Autumn. A group visited the Taylor’s bell foundry in November and had a very interesting day there. We were delighted to see our bells nicely cleaned and to be told that no cracks had been found. For some it was a first opportunity to see casting and rope making at close quarters. And seeing our new bell frame assembled gave us an increased understanding of the scale of the work being done.

Bells at Loughborough with new headstocks

2016 Calendar

Calendar for sale

£7.50p plus poastage and packaging

Throughout the project we have been lucky to have Steve Atkinson join us and to see some of the thousands of photographs he has taken. We will finish this project with a very full record of the work at almost every stage. And having seen just how good the photographs are we decided to have a special calendar prepared. It is now available to buy and if anyone is interested please let me know and I will arrange to send you one. email

St Stephen's, Rochester Row, 2016 Calendar

The tidy up

For much of the last few months the garden area just outside the church has resembled a junk yard, with remnants of frame, flooring and bits of stone all collected there. And almost inevitably this has attracted other rubbish. So the final work before the Christmas/New Year break has been a massive clear up.

The return of the bells

The completion of the installation of new frame and the hanging of the bells is due for mid January.