image showing a 'ring' of bellsBells have been used for centuries all over the world in different cultures and for different reasons - in religious ceremonies in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and China, as well as in modern times; for celebrations and to give warnings; keep track of farm animals; to make music.

The earliest "bells" were made of wood, but nowadays are made of bell metal, an alloy of copper and tin. Bells are tuned to the exact note, following methods known since the 16th century. The tuning and tone of bells affect its shape and properties, and the various notes and overtones produced by any vibrating body are more clearly heard from a bell than from any other instrument. The oldest known bell in the British Isles is in Lancashire and is dated 1296, and the oldest existing bell foundry is Mears and Stainbank at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, which dates from 1570. After the First World War, it was called upon to rehang the bells at Westminster Abbey that it had supplied over three hundred years earlier.

Most bells are found in church towers but also in carillons, particularly in continental Europe, but there is a celebrated carillon at Bournville in Birmingham. The heaviest bell cast, at 180 tons, was the Great Bell of Moscow of 1733, but it was broken before it was used. The largest bell in actual use is another one in Moscow weighing 128 tons. A bell in a temple in Burma weighs 80 tons, and the heaviest in Britain is in St Paul's Cathedral and weighs almost 17 tons.

The art of change ringing, as practised by tower bell ringers in Britain, started in the 17th century. It has been suggested that the ringers, unwilling to practise in draughty belfries on cold winter nights, used handbells instead in the warmth and comfort of their houses - or the local inn. Ringing tunes on the handbells followed on as a natural development. There is a record of a team of handbell ringers from Lancashire playing in 1848 for the French court and in Spain. In fact Handel, the 18th century composer, described handbells as the English national instrument and included handbells in his oratorio Saul.

Site originally designed byGT Computer Support

Webmaster: Stuart Brydges