History of the Bells
Any occasion provides a good excuse for ringing – church services, births, birthdays, marriages, deaths and anniversaries to name but a few. The bells of St Helen’s were rung to celebrate the release of Terry Waite from Beirut in November 1991. They took part in the countrywide ring for the Millennium, at 12 noon on 1st January 2000. Only World War II silenced them, when the ringing of church bells was forbidden from 1940 onwards because the bells were to be used to signal a German invasion. They were allowed to ring briefly, however, in November 1942 after the British victory at the battle of El Alamein. Significant peals and other ringing occasions are shown in the Peal Book, a beautifully illustrated record of some of the main occasions, and a work of art in its own right.
St Helen's Tower holds a ring of ten bells.
A spiral stone staircase in the south-west corner leads up first to the clock chamber, then to the belfry which houses the ten bells and finally to the roof, which commands a fine view of town, castle and surrounding countryside. The sixteen-foot high pinnacles on the Tower were added in 1886.
The eighth bell is medieval – the oldest bell in the tower. It dates to 1571 but was recast in 1849. The inscription reads, ‘Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judeaorum’ – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The second oldest dates from 1698 and the rest date from 1814 onwards.
Re-hanging of the bells in 1886
Ashby’s Spa Bath was closed in 1884 due to its decaying state. However, in 1885 the owner, Lord Donington, allowed a three day bazaar to take place in it for the restoration of St Helen’s tower and the re-hanging of the bells.
In 1886, Taylors of Loughborough repaired the bells, re-hung them seven feet lower in the Tower and a new bell-floor and frame were installed.
Re-hanging of the bells in 2006
In 2005, a Faculty was applied for to overhaul and renew parts of the bell-frame, to position it lower in the tower and to re-hang the bells. The £85,000 cost of the work was raised by donations and a Heritage Lottery grant
The bells were out of action for most of 2006 as Hayward Mills Associates carried out the work of replacing the bell frame and re-hanging the original 8 bells (including the re-cast tenor) and two additional treble bells.
Work in the Tower began on 9th January 2006. The tenor bell was re-cast and two new trebles made, bringing the total to ten. Lots of people from St Helen’s went to John Taylor’s Bell Foundry in Loughborough that year to see the new bells being cast. Prior to re-casting, the tenor bell (the largest bell in the Tower) weighed 902 kilograms (1,989 lbs).
The new 10 bells were rung for the first time on 22nd December 2006.
You can see the bells in action and find out more about how they work on the VisBox general tour.