History of the Society

When the bells were first consecrated in 1879, the leading proponent of bell ringing at the Cathedral was undoubtedly George Cunninghame. It is not known if he was at that time a bell ringer himself or if he ever learnt to ring. Indeed it seems likely that there were then no Cathedral bell-ringers at all, since all of the members of the band that rang for the consecration were visitors from Yorkshire. It is quite possible that Mr Cunninghame was able to arrange the opening ringing through his professional contacts. Two important things happened soon afterwards: firstly, a qualified bell-ringer, possibly from Leeds, was commissioned to teach a band of ringers at the Cathedral. We don’t know the details but he either moved to Edinburgh for a short period of time or travelled here at weekends for example. This was a paid post but it is not understood whether the commission came from Mr Cunninghame or the Cathedral; secondly, a Society constitution was written. It seems that constitutions of several English towers were obtained in an effort to create a model tower constitution. The teaching of a band was a success because at the time of the first peal on the bells in 1886, contemporary reports indicate a band strength of ten or more people. Mr Cunningham was undoubtedly still the leading light in the Society, and helped organize the peal, even though he was not tower captain. Also at this time the Society Badges were purchased. Another introduction in the early days was the reading of a Bell Ringers Office in the ringing room by the Provost or other of the Cathedral clergy before Sunday morning service ringing. Sometimes a visiting cleric would officiate, sometimes the Bishop. One feature of the Office was The Bell Ringers’ Collect in which the ten virtues and graces after which the bells are named were cited. An updated version of The Bell Ringers’ Collect including the virtues after which the two new treble bells were named has been used since 2009.

Another formative influence on the Society was Charles Routledge, who came to Edinburgh from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in about 1894 to study at the University. He conducted the second peal at St. Mary’s, the first peal of royal in Scotland, rung by visitors from Newcastle in August 1895. By the time he left 3 years later, he had taught the band to ring Minor and triples on tower bells and up to Caters on handbells. It appears that the band thrived and certainly it was strong enough to ring an own-band peal successfully in 1904. Though there are extensive registers of attendance, further records are scant, though the erection of a Great War memorial in 1918 for two ringers killed in the conflict indicate a still thriving company. Little seems known of the inter-war activities & probably the three-year ban on bell ringing during WWII left the band depleted. However at the time of the arrival of Dr Kate Branson from London in 1950, the band was thriving and strong enough to attempt quarter peals on 10 bells and within two years to ring a further two Society peals. It was Kate Branson who put the belfry in order, organizing proper record keeping and the minuting of all meetings of the Society. This also included a visitor’s book and a means of recording details of all Sunday Service ringing and special occasion ringing. Charles Raine was Captain in the late 1940’s and remained so until the early 1960’s when he prematurely retired from ringing because of his involvement in other activities, predominantly the Scouting Movement of which he was an influential member in Scotland. Kate Branson then took charge and it was through her efforts that ringing was maintained through otherwise very lean years. In 2000, though having long retired from active ringing, Kate achieved 50 years membership of the Society. Things began to improve in the early 1970’s when there was an influx of established ringers into Edinburgh. Some of these were students at the University so that an interest in ringing started to develop there; this ultimately resulted, via the efforts of those students ringing at St Mary’s and others, in the formation of the University of Edinburgh Guild of Change Ringers some ten years later.


Bells, ringing, and change ringing


Bells have been an integral part of church life for hundreds of years. Bells as we recognise them today, as distinct from riveted cowbells, gongs, hemispherical and tubular bells and the like, have been known of since the Bronze Age. There are examples from the time of the Roman occupation of our Isles and earlier. These were hand bells and it was not until the 7th century that large bells were cast. The earliest examples of large bells still extant date from the 12th century when, after a short evolutionary process, the typical profile and proportions were established. These, with minor alterations are still being used today.


The material has always been a bronze alloy of tin and copper with approximate composition 1: 4: Sn:Cu. Modern proportions are 22% tin and 78% copper, this proportion varying either way by up to 2% for very large or very small bells. Above 25% tin, the material becomes vitreous and is very hard. The bell thickness, which might be in the order of ½ inch increases to several inches near the lip of the bell. Most of the mass of the bell will be concentrated here, and this part of the bell is called the sound-bow. It is from here, in the main, that the rich bell-sound emanates. More than twelve distinct frequencies have been identified in the “sound” of a bell and from the late nineteenth century, all bells were tuned, via the machining of the inside surface of the bell, so that the principal five notes are in harmony with each other. Some partial tones emanate from the sides of the bell.

The bell is cast in a two-part mould; a “core” shaping the inner surface of the bell, and a “cope”, that may carry decorations and inscriptions in the negative, shaping the outer surface of the bell. The core and cope are built on iron or brick “armatures” from a special moulding “loam”, smoothed and baked in an oven before use. The metallurgy of the bronze is very complex and the cast structure will be heavily cored (non-uniform crystal composition) & this is exacerbated to some degree by very slow cooling, the bell mould being buried in a pit of sand before casting. These methods dating from medieval times are still in use today by the two major UK bell foundries.


It was realised very early on that the bell needed to be struck by a swinging clapper in order to achieve the rich and powerful tones we all know today, rather than being struck by a hammer or mallet. The bell would have a centrally- hinged clapper and be mounted on a headstock so that it could swing on bearings. It would be chimed via a lever attached to the headstock and a rope falling to the church floor. Most churches originally rang their bells in this fashion and in many countries this is still the practice today, but in England, the bells were gradually swung higher and higher, the levers to which bell ropes were attached being supplanted first by half-wheels and eventually by whole wheels, so that by the 17th century, sets or “rings” of bells, tuned to a musical scale were to be found in many towers. With the advent of the stay and slider, the bells were capable of being rung in an orderly fashion by swinging through 360o from an inverted position. Rung in this controlled way, the typical speed of the clapper could reach 600 mph and the full voice of each bell is heard.


No longer was it necessary to ring sets of bells in what was no more than a cacophony of noise! There was, however, a drawback with this kind of arrangement; the time between consecutive blows on the same bell was in the order of 1 ½ to 3 seconds so it was not possible for example to strike coherent “chords” with sets of bells nor to play melodies or anything approaching the likes of conventional music. Further, when sets of bells were rung in order down the scale for example, usually called “rounds”, the typical interval between consecutive notes is in the order of 0.2 – 0.25 seconds and altering this spacing substantially takes great physical effort and is not sustainable for any but short periods of time. It was mainly because of these limitations that the otherwise peculiar “music” of change ringing developed – and this musical form is unique to bells rung in this fashion.


When a bell hung for full-circle ringing is at rest, the rope runs past a ground pulley and winds itself over the wheel for a length of approximately 1/8th of the wheel circumference (c). On applying successive synchronized pulls to the rope the bell swings higher & higher and is gradually raised until, in its highest position it will be facing vertically upwards. Via the stay & slider it may be stopped and kept or stood in that position. The raising of a bell can be likened to a garden swing where successive synchronized pushes raise the swing higher and higher – but not as far as to overturn it! When the bell is in this upturned position the rope runs round the wheel a length of 1/8th (c) but now the rope runs over the ground pulley and under the wheel. A bell in this position called “set at handstroke” has the rope falling in an identical manner to when the bell is at rest & great care must be taken to establish whether the bell is “down” (and safe) or set at handstroke ie. “up” and ready to ring.

By pulling the rope in an appropriate fashion the bell will swing from its upright position through an arc of 360o and, facing upwards again be re-set this time at “backstroke”. Here the rope runs past the ground pulley and winds itself a length 5/8th (c) over the wheel so that the tail of the rope in the ringing room will be, perhaps some 7ft above the floor. On pulling the rope again – the “backstroke” – the bell is returned to its original ringing position. These two strokes, causing the bell to strike twice & thus giving the epitomic “ding – dong” sound are called a whole pull. The mechanics of the handstroke and backstroke action are similar for the bell but there are differences from the ringer’s standpoint. At handstroke the rope is necessarily pulled up by the bell as it rotates so that, together with friction as the rope runs through pulleys and guides there is a net energy loss from the bell and as a result, unless the rope is pulled a little harder the bell will not rise so high, and will swing back again giving a shorter period.  At backstroke the weight of the rope aids the action and there is a net gain of energy by the bell. The bell will swing higher & the period is lengthened. Because of the way in which bells are rung together these differences actually help the ringing action. Of course there is also an energy loss from bell-bearing friction & windage but this is small and the same for both strokes of the bell and is easily accommodated by the ringer.


When ringing rounds, the sound produced is a continuous series of notes with the exception that there is a slight pause before the handstroke blows, this being helped by the effects of the rope as described above. This might be the equivalent of a single blow, sometimes less. The result is that writing-out the “notes” as they sound might appear (on 6 bells for example) as

123456123456 123456123456 123 etc.

That is, ringing is shown in whole-pulls punctuated by slight pauses shown by the gaps.

Normally the order of bells is not written as a continuous line but as a column, and further, the pause between whole-pulls, whilst still made is not shown. The above therefore will normally be written as:





123 etc.

Ringing in “rounds” would undoubtedly have been the norm in the early days, perhaps early 17th century. For variety, the order was altered, at first by command (of the conductor) and later evolving to automatic systems and thus giving birth to the science & art of change ringing. In change ringing it is the order in which the bells sound that changes; the bells do not change/move in the belfry nor do the ringers change/move in the ringing room. By controlling the bell to ring either faster (& so sounding earlier) or slower (& so sounding later) at the cost of a certain physical effort, changes in the order of the bells sounding may be affected. It is generally unsustainable to change the position in which a bell strikes by anything but one place at a time for more than short ringing sessions and it was one of the early decisions of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR – the international governing body of change ringing) that such “movement” be limited to one place. This means that any bell may, the next time it sounds, do so one place earlier, one place later, or in the same place. This ruling gave rise to the birth of the “method”. This is a set of changes rung to a certain & defined “formula” much as the musician plays his noted as defined by the composer’s “formula” or music.

Nowadays one of the simplest forms of change ringing is “plain hunt” evolving readily to “Plain Bob”. The formula for plain hunt is; change all odd pairs of bells (12, 34. etc) – change all even pairs of bells (23,45 etc) – repeat the whole a sufficient number of times until rounds (the starting row) is reached. These numbers referring to the bell positions & not the actual bells. So that on six bells, for example we get: –






If this is repeated 5 more time we will have rung 12 rows or changes and will have returned to rounds – 123456. If, however we introduce a further rule, namely “that when bell no 1 leads (rings first), then the bell in 2nd place remains in 2nd place so that bells in 34 and 56 must swap. The above numbers therefore continue as;












132546    Applying the second rule gives:


This is “Plain Bob” and what is shown is a “lead” of the method; repeating the formula will make five leads and this will run to 60 rows or changes. By changing the second rule into a third rule or even fourth rule, at the command of the conductor at certain positions, in a pre-determined way – bearing in mind that the repetition of any row is forbidden – the length of the performance may be extended to the maximum possible number of changes, called the “extent”, which, on six bells is 720 changes. It will be noticed in this example of Plain Bob that bell No 1(the “treble”) returns to its original position after 12 changes. This kind of method is referred to as “treble-dominated”. All of the other five bells are referred to as “working bells”. The vast majority of methods are treble-dominated. The exceptions, strictly speaking, are called “principles” and not methods.

The number of methods that can be rung on six bells runs to about 3000 so that the repertoire can be regarded as inexhaustible. On 7 and more bells – up to twelve – sometimes 14 or even 16 bells, the possibilities can be regarded as infinite.  Thus a bell-ringer of 50 years experience for example might still, in his twilight years be busy learning new methods to practice his art.


A peal is a ringing performance involving 5000+ (unique) changes, starting and ending in rounds, typically taking about 3 hours or more to ring. On seven or fewer bells this is defined as a whole number of “extents”, one for “Triples” – seven bells (5040 changes), seven for “Minor” – six bells (5040 changes), 42 for “Doubles” – five bells (5040 changes) and 210 or 209 for “Minimus” – four bells (5040 or 5016 changes).

Names of change ringing “music” follow a defined pattern. First is a unique name unrelated to any other “method” unless it is an extension or condensation of a an already existing method on a lower or higher number of bells, second comes a term to describe the nature of the formula by which the changes are defined and third comes a name to describe the number of bells involved.  Thus a method called Cambridge Surprise Royal for example has a unique name, “Cambridge”, it has a structure defined as “surprise” (a technical definition a bit too complicated to describe here), and a third term “Royal” meaning it is rung on 10 bells. All methods are so named. Minor means six bells, Triples means seven bells, Major is eight bells, nine is Caters, 11 Cinques and Maximus is 12 bells. There are a few towers with 14 & 16 bells whence the method names extend to Sextuples (13 bells), 14-in, 14 bells, Septuples (15 bells) and 16-in 16 bells. We have Doubles on five bells & Minimus on Four bells.

A quarter peal is a similar kind of performance to a full peal but with a qualifying length of 1250+ changes. This will take usually less than an hour to ring & is very popular for marking special events & for Sunday ringing. Typically, about five times more quarter peals are rung than full peals. Both quarter peals and full peals are published in The Ringing World, a weekly official magazine for the ringing exercise and such publication is a qualifying requirement for a peal.


The bell ringer does not learn the numbers as shown in the diagram. For each bell, a line is drawn through the column of changes which represent the method. This line, which traces that bell’s path is traditionally known as the “Blue Line” (so named because an early book on change ringing has such lines printed in blue) and it is this, particularly for complicated methods that the bell ringer learns. There are other relevant features that must be learnt but the blue line is the most important. To actually ring the method, the bell ringer also develops an intense sense of listening and a peculiar and mysterious ability called “ropesight”, this cannot be forced and develops naturally. This enables him to be able to “see” what is happening around him. Ringing is done from memory, no artificial aid being permitted. Similarly, the ringing must be conducted from memory.


Bell ringing and change ringing is carried out throughout the world wherever the English and British influence has been felt. There is ringing throughout the British Isles including Ireland, in Australia & New Zealand, in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and in Canada and the USA. There is a single tower at Lahore and a private ring at Dordrecht in The Netherlands. There are also unringable bells at Madrid in Spain, at Pune in India, and at St. Vincent, one of the the Windward Islands. We all ring the same methods and all speak the same (bell-ringing) language and are assured of a welcome wherever we go. Truly a Ringing World

Peals and QPs

Here is a link to Peals rung at St. Mary’s Cathedral http://cccbr.org.uk/felstead/tbid.php?tid=1724

Here is a link to Quarter Peals rung at St. Mary’s Cathedral. For QP’s rung since 2014, please see Bellboard. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxfdmAVJ6JRzcnlSUUJVcXFaSzQ/edit

The Bells

The bells of St. Mary’s are named in Latin. Translated into English, they are as follows, starting with the treble (the lightest) and ending with the tenor (the heaviest): Justice, Fortitude, Humility, Faith, Temperance, Patience, Holy Fear, Devotion, Hope, Peace, Joy and Charity. The bells include six of the seven virtues (Justice, Fortitude, Faith, Temperance, Hope and Charity). The missing one is Prudence.

The original bells were the gift of the first Dean of St Mary’s, James F Montgomery and were dedicated  on 29 October 1879. All of the bells were cast at the Loughborough Bell Foundry, the original ten bells by John Taylor & Co in 1879, to weight ratios defined by Lord Grimthorpe, the leading bell designer of his day. This is one of only a few complete Grimthorpe rings still in existence. The bells were refurbished and retuned on the Simpson Principle, and Spes recast, in 1935. Patientia was recast in 1982 by John Taylor & Company (Bellfounders Ltd). The new trebles, Justitia and Fortitudo were cast by Taylors Eayre & Smith Ltd in 2008 and the full ring of twelve was dedicated on 12 November 2009.

The names are cast into the waist of each bell. The treble also carries the inscription

In Loving Memory of

Kate Branson

1912 – 2001

All of the bells are tuned on the Simpson Principle. Headstocks are cast iron with roller bearings. Wheels, stays and sliders are traditional oak & ash. The original (back) ten bells are housed in a freestanding oak frame bolted through to the timber foundation joists and the two trebles in a cast iron low-side frame.

The NW tower holds a single bell, the “Dean Wilson Bell” cast in 1919 by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough and installed in 1920. It is 34 ½  in diameter & weighs 8-2-11 in the note of A#. It carries the inscription

John Skinner Wilson

Dean and Provost of this Cathedral

1897 – 1919

It is hung for full-circle ringing in a cast iron low-side frame, cast iron headstock with plain bearings (Heywood lubricators) and a Hastings stay. The bell is regularly chimed from the verger’s office for weekday services.

© Bill Brotherton 2012

History of the Bells

The first Provost of the Cathedral & Dean of the Diocese of Edinburgh, the Very Rev Dr. James F Montgomery (Dean 1878 – 1897) donated the original 10 Bells. The specification for the bells was prepared by the veteran campanologist, Sir Edmund M S Beckett (-Denison) Bart. QC, &c, &c, 5th Baron Beckett and 1st Baron Grimthorpe. Lawyer, horologist and architect, Beckett was very self-opinionated and always specified the heaviest bells possible for every project. He is famed for, amongst other achievements, designing the clock in St Stephen’s Tower, Palace of Westminster and for the specification and procurement of the clock bells including Big Ben, then, at 16 tons the heaviest bell ever cast in the UK.

Our ring of ten bells was to weigh a total of 9 tons, with a tenor bell of just over two tons, and were cast by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough in 1878 & 1879. They were tuned to the Old Standard and were installed by Taylors in 1879. Bells 1 – 6 were cast with integral canons and bells 7 – 10 with flat crowns. All were mounted on elm headstocks and had plain bearings. The ring was installed in a massive, freestanding oak bell frame 23ft x 20ft x 5ft, with individual beams up to 12 ins square and weighing a total of some 13 tons.

On Wednesday 29th October 1879, the bells were solemnly dedicated to the service of Almighty God, in the presence of a large company who had assembled in the belfry. At 4.30pm, the Dean, accompanied by his Chaplain and the Succentor of the Cathedral, with the Organist and Choir (in cassocks), occupied the bell chamber and read the special service.  After this, an invited band from Leeds and York raised and rang the bells for the first time to a touch of Grandsire Caters. A short report of the event appeared in “Church Bells” dated 8th November 1879. Details are:

1     James Lockwood       Leeds

2     William Pawson       Leeds

3     Peter Snowden        Leeds

4     Thomas Lockwood      Leeds

5     Thomas West          Leeds

6     William Morell       York

7     William Whittaker    Leeds

8     Charles Underwood    York

9     William Walker       Leeds

10    George Breed         York


The next day, 30th October was the official opening of the Cathedral. Several short touches of Grandsire Caters, Plain Bob Royal and Kent Treble Bob Royal were rung and the day was concluded by firing many volleys with the bells.

When the Cathedral was first opened, whilst the eight belfry “windows” had been soundproofed with tight fitting shutters, the four very large lancet windows in the spire were left open so that the full volume of the bells could be heard outside. As the Cathedral stands in what at that time was the most fashionable part of town, this caused noise problems and a Seage’s Dumb Practice apparatus was installed very soon after the dedication and in time to prevent a whole legion of injunctions being set in motion. This apparatus was an arrangement whereby as each bell is swung (the clapper being clamped so that the bell does not sound) a trigger mechanism activates one of ten small hand-bells within the ringing room. As far as we know, this was used for practices thereafter and certainly it was still in use in the 1950’s. During the 1960’s the N and S lancet windows in the spire were bricked-up and as a result, the problem of excessive noise was considered solved and the Seage apparatus became obsolete.

At the time of dedication, an Ellacombe chiming apparatus was also fitted and was played by a rope clavier in the ringing room. There is no record of its intended or actual usage and this too became obsolete in the 1960’s and both this and the Seage apparatus were disassembled.

The first peal on the bells was on Tuesday 31st August 1886 and rung by a band of people from London, Oxford, Birmingham and Wrexham. It was of 5003 Grandsire Caters especially composed by Henry Johnson Sen. of Birmingham (of The St Martin’s Guild fame) comprising 109 bobs and two singles & was conducted by Francis Edward Dawe of London (later to become Master of the Ancient Society of College Youths 1888-1890 and 1891-1893 and first Hon Secretary of the Central council of Church Bell Ringers in 1893). The peal was rung in 3hr 29min and was the first 10-bell peal rung in Scotland. It was credited to The Ancient Society of College Youths and The Wrexham Society

Details are:

1  Joseph Field       Oxford

2  Richard W Evans    Wrexham

3  Alfred Thomas      Birmingham

4  Joseph Williams    Wrexham

5  John Ellis         Wrexham

6  Francis E Dawe     London

7  Edward Rowland     Wrexham

8  Thomas Newell      Wrexham

9  Edward Evans       Wrexham

10 James Kendrick     Wrexham

This peal had taken over a year to organize, as it required the consent of the Dean and Chapter, the Lord Provost of the City, the City Council and other officials almost without number. Further, powerful influence had been bought to bear on the Chief Commissioner of Police to instruct his men to ignore complaints during the event. As it was, numerous messengers and constables turned up to enquire what was up. It was reported that “these obnoxious visitors came however, only to be told by a special man at the door, that full permission in every way had been obtained, and the ringers were not to be interfered with.”! Francis Dawe’s account of the first peal later appeared in The Bell News and Ringers Record page 217 and continued in further editions on p 231 and p243. It is a remarkable and amazing account of what Dawe describes as “a brilliant affair”.

On one night in 1897(?) after the bells were left up overnight, a crack opened up in the headstock of the ninth bell, and sometime during the night the headstock broke into two pieces and the bell was cast into its pit. Fortunately the bell was undamaged. The headstock was cut away from the bell and was found recently in a corner of the belfry and put on display in the ringing room. A new cast iron headstock with roller bearings was fitted in its place. It is not known what other fittings were damaged, but it is likely that a new wheel was fitted.

At this time or early in the 1890’s J Taylors overhauled the whole installation.

The second peal on the bells was rung in 1895 by a band of ringers from the Newcastle area. It was 5040 Kent Treble Bob Royal composed by Wm Holme; it was rung in 3hrs 47mins and was the first peal of Royal on the bells and in Scotland. It was credited to The Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Association and was conducted by Charles Routledge, at this time a student at Edinburgh University and member of St Mary’s Society.

Details are:

1  Charles L Routledge

2  Robert S Story

3  Henry H Lindsey

4  Robert C Hudson

5  Hugh D Dall

6  Emmett W J Lincoln

7  Alfred F Hiller

8  William Story

9  William Holmes

10 Fredk J Harrison


A letter by Charles Routledge describing the affair appears in the “Bell News” of 17th August 1895, p134. There is a photograph of the band in the ringing room.

There were three other peals rung early in the 20th century. Two were rung in 1902 by Scottish-based ringers and the third, of Grandsire Caters was rung by St Mary’s Society in 1904 and was the first 10-bell peal rung by a Sunday-Service band in Scotland. Details of this peal appear on the Society Peal board in the ringing room and are accompanied by a photograph of the band.

The five peals described, plus a further peal rung in 1927, were the only peals rung on the bells as installed in 1879, that is to say with a tenor of weight 42-2-21 and plain bearings. That the peals were rung is such good times demonstrated the excellent “go” of the bells and can be taken as a compliment, not only to the ringing participants, but also to John Taylor & Co. for a first-class installation, and to the Society for a high level of maintenance.

Dr Montgomery died in office in 1897 and was succeeded by the Very Rev Dr John Skinner Wilson who was Dean & Provost for 22 years. On his retirement, aged 70 years, a bell was cast and installed in the newly completed NW tower of the Cathedral in his honour. The bell, by Taylors of Loughborough has a weight of 8 ½  cwt and a note of A#. It is hung on a cast iron headstock for full-circle ringing in a cast iron low-side frame with plain bearings (Heywood lubricators) and a Hastings stay. It is chimed regularly for weekday services.

In 1935, the bells had a major overhaul managed by John Taylor & Co. The bells & fittings were removed from the tower & taken to the foundry workshops for retuning on the Simpson Principle. The canons were removed from the front six bells and cast-iron headstocks with roller bearings fitted to all bells. Whilst at the workshop the seventh bell was found to be cracked and was recast. The retune resulted in an overall loss in weight of over half a ton.

Since this time there have been no major changes. In 1982, during a routine inspection, the fourth bell was found to be cracked and was recast at Loughborough. The business of removing the cracked bell from the tower and subsequent installation of the new bell was handled entirely by the bell-ringers with the help of a gallows-jib erected by The Royal Navy using telegraph poles!

Subsequently the clappers of the sixth bell and tenor well were replaced and three headstocks re-gudgeoned at Loughborough.

At the turn of this century, the ten bells at St Mary’s were the heaviest ring of bells in Scotland and the second heaviest ring of ten bells in the world. The tenor bell was the deepest toned bell of all rings of ten bells in the world.

In 2008 after a long fund raising effort to raise £50K, two trebles were added to the original ten bells to create a ring of 12 bells. They were cast at Loughborough and installed in a low-side cast iron frame. They are the first such ring in Scotland and are the most northerly church-tower ring of 12 in the world – fittingly they are in the largest ecclesiastical building in Scotland.

The first ringing on the 12 bells is detailed below.

On Saturday 6th December 2008

A Touch of 110 Grandsire Cinques

1  Frances Cunningham

2  Helen M Brotherton

3  Angela H Deakin

4  Fiona Wheater

5  Christopher Frye

6  Peter Sanders

7  William A Brotherton (C)

8  Neil Ballard

9  W John Grainger

10 Peter Williamson

11 Robert J Hancock

12 W David Roskelly

This bob course of Grandsire Cinques marks the completion of the Augmentation Project. Rung by members of the Cathedral Band and the Scottish Association of Change Ringers.The first changes  on 12 bells in Scotland

Full details of the Augmentation Project appear in an article in The Ringing World Issue No 5155, Feb 12 2010.

The first 12-bell quarter peal was 1320 Plain Bob Cinques on 16 July 2009 and the first peal on 12-bells was 5016 Plain Bob Maximus on 7 October 2009. The new bells were dedicated & the original 10 bells rededicated on Thursday 12 November 2009 commemorating 130 years ringing at St Mary’s.

© Bill Brotherton 2012

Details of the bells

Number           Name  Meaning          Note    Nominal           Height*            Diameter         Weight Wheel Diameter         Date

Treble  Justitia             Justice F#        1525    33.5     29        7.3.08  62.25  2008

2          Fortitudo          Fortitude          E          1360    35        30.5     8.1.27  63       2008

3          Humilitas         Humility           D#       1282    25.5     31        6.2.27  65.75  1879

4          Fides   Faith    C#       1141    27.75   32.25   7.3.11  66.75  1879

5          Continentia      Temperance   B          1014    28        34.5     8.1.04  68       1879

6          Patientia          Patience          A#        953      28.75   35.5     8.3.21  70       1982

7          Reverentia      Holy Fear        G#       851      32        38.5     11.0.11            72       1879

8          Pietas  Devotion          F#        759      33.25   42.25   14.0.04            73.25  1879

9          Spes    Hope   E          676      37.25   47.5     19.3.07            76.75  1935

10        Pax      Peace  D#       636      39.88   49.75   22.1.16            81.75  1879

11        Gaudium         Joy      C#       571      43.5     54.5     28.0.10            86.75  1879

Tenor   Caritas Charity B          507      48.25   61        41.1.15            92       1879

The keynote is 45c sharp of B4.  Dimensions are in inches. Weights are in cwt-qr-lb. Total weight 184-3-21. (20,713 lb)

* The height is vertically from the lip of the bell to the shoulder


Augmentation to twelve bells at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh

by Bill Brotherton, Project Leader and Tower Captain

After many years of effort, Scotland has at last got its first ring of twelve bells. At the end of November 2008 two new trebles were installed in St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh to create a 41cwt twelve and to bring to a close serious fundraising efforts started ten years ago.

When I first came to the Cathedral 36 years ago there was already talk of “doing something with the bells” and the schemes being bandied about ranged from a simple re-hang with possible  augmentation to lightening the ring by removing the tenor bell and augmenting to make a ring of 12 with a tenor of 28cwt. However, the foundries thought that the necessary retuning for the latter scheme was not viable and further the Cathedral and congregation felt that whatever we did, we should retain all of the existing bells. Any future plans therefore would embody the retention of the existing bells. However at this time nothing was done and it was another 15 years before any serious thought was given to the issue.

John Taylor & Co. cast the original bells in 1879. All were mounted on wooden headstocks and plain bearings, the front six bells having canons and the four heavy bells having flat crowns. At some time within the next 50 years the ninth headstock broke in two and was replaced with a cast iron headstock and modern bearings. The old headstock, in two pieces was recently found in a dark corner of the belfry and is now kept on display in the ringing room. In 1935 the bells were refurbished, canons removed, fitted with new cast iron headstocks and bearings and Simpson tuned. Whilst at Loughborough the seventh was found to be cracked and was recast free of charge by Taylors. The front bells have deeper bell-hangs than normal and to compensate have larger wheels; it is not understood why this is so but, the overall effect is to give the bells a “meatier” feel. In 1982 the fourth bell was found to be cracked and was recast by John Taylor & Co. (Bellfounders) Ltd. The removal of the cracked bell and installation of the new bell was carried out by the bell ringers using a gallows jib built of telegraph poles by the Royal Navy. The disused poles now clutter the space to the west of the bell frame. At this time the complete ring represented the second heaviest ring of ten bells in the world and had the deepest toned tenor of all rings of ten bells. The go of the bells was fair and peal times were typical of ten bells with a two-ton tenor.

A 1980s Vision

In the mid 1980s the then Provost of the Cathedral, the Very Revd Philip Crosfield OBE instigated a programme of “Vision Building” in preparation for the new millennium, this involved the various groups within the Cathedral creating a vision of how they would see themselves in the future and to create a programme aimed at achieving that vision. At this time we had been experiencing a longstanding problem with the bad going of the ninth bell and the problem had been blamed on the frame so our vision centred upon the re-hanging of the bells because of the shortcomings of the frame. Our vision was extended to include augmentation and we instigated inspections. Whilst we did get an up to date idea of the costs involved in re-hanging and augmenting the bells, all inspections passed the frame as in excellent condition – “good for another 100 years” being a typical comment. Anyone who has seen the timber frame will appreciate why this should be so. The frame is rectangular and of huge proportions, almost completely spanning the 30ft tower in the N-S direction and made of timbers up to 14in square. There is no lateral bracing needed via the tower walls and the whole construction is merely through-bolted to the timber foundation beams – it does of course need regular maintenance to keep the joints tight. Whilst new bearings were fitted the problem with the ninth bell was later shown to be as a result of a misaligned plummer block and this was quickly remedied in a matter of minutes!

Now that the frame was shown to be good the project had lost its raison d’etre and there was no further progress.

The Millennium

When the CC Millennium Project was first mooted we were one of the original 97 towers who spent a tremendous amount of effort seeking information and completing the various application forms on which the CC made their application for £3m to the Millennium Commission. We had an ambitious scheme involving a complete re-hang and augmentation to 12 plus semitones. We also included a new ringing floor 15ft higher than at present to obviate the dungeon-like character of the present room and a sound control floor 25ft above the bells. It was here when getting the various estimates that, because of the size of the tower the cost of the “extras” were going to constitute over half of the total project cost. Lifting beams were coming in at £28k, completion to a sound control floor, an additional £20k and a new ringing floor at £45k; masonry work alone was £24k. The cost of this scheme was in the order of £200,000 and we felt that with the right backing and partnership funding that this was achievable and that if there were any funding problems along the way we could phase the scheme and target the re-hang alone. This was a huge project and we felt that when we made our formal application for partnership funding it would be later rather than sooner. We were also concerned about an appropriate portion of the £3m grant coming back to Scotland. We  than once expressed these concerns to the Administrators who assured us not to worry and that all would be OK! However, when we made our partnership application for a phased scheme, part one costing ~£100k as described, there was no money left! And ultimately less than 1% of the Millennium Funding found its way back to Scotland. So we were left with a project in disarray and an augmentation fund for a scheme that without partnership funding was unachievable.

When, three years later, the CC tried to resurrect the scheme with unused Millennium Fund money we were able to respond within two weeks for a re-hang and augmentation with all monies in place. However the CC were awarded no further funding and the rest is history.

So, back to square one. We had a (limited) bell-fund, with not enough for a re-hang and the main fund-raising impetus lost and in order to utilise the money (most of the fund had been gift-aided and it is not allowed for such a fund to stagnate), various minor schemes were considered. These included a sound control system and another, a bizarre scheme to build a new ringing floor with materials brought in by helicopter!

A New Start

Soon after the collapse of the second CC Millennium funding scheme came the project to re-hang the derelict bells at St Andrew’s & St George’s. I had been involved here twenty years earlier when a group of us tried to determine the requirements and problems in the way of re-hanging the bells and reestablishing ringing here. After some little effort the church and incumbent became involved and were interested but no money was available and after the uninvited intervention of others they became disaffected and no progress was made. The new project was to refurbish and re-hang the existing bells in a new frame lower in the tower and it was whilst I was helping with the removal of the bells and later re-installation that new possibilities for augmentation at St Mary’s became apparent to me. Lifting gear, for example might be anchored to a scaffold built over the bells and there might just be space tothe N side of the timber frame to take the two new trebles, in a cast iron frame of minimum dimensions to make the ring a twelve. And so began a series of technical discussions via letter and email with Jed Flatters of Taylors. In a nutshell, yes, we could use a suitably designed scaffold as a lifting anchor but no there was not enough space to the side of the frame for the two new bells. However, by removing the louvre shutter and by cutting the louvre back by six inches a suitable frame could be installed there to house the two new bells. So the project to augment to twelve was on! There was space of about eight foot between the tenor and treble ropes so two extra ropes could easily be accommodated. An early layout had the new bell ropes falling well outside the existing rope circle and needing to be drawn sideways by 12° to bring them in. This would have required flap-boards, ceiling and guide pulleys resulting in a high degree of drag and would not have been a very satisfactory design. So, if the new ropes cannot be made to satisfactorily fit the circle, could the circle be made to fit the new ropes? Yes, this was possible. The old treble would need to be roped on the present stay side of the bell and other ropes re- drawn to create a smooth circle and this scheme was adopted.

Obstacles to Overcome

So we have a viable and affordable scheme. However, things were not going to be plain sailing. The existing bells were in a security cage that would need to be removed; access platform to the north of the frame were in the way and the staircase giving access to the spire terminated in the new second bell pit, so this would have to be removed and refashioned once the installation was finished. Costing was straightforward as was permission to proceed by Historic Scotland and the Diocesan Office (no Faculty Jurisdiction in Scotland). The project cost was approx £50,000 and much of this money was in place. In March 2008 the Scottish Association was approached for funding and this was granted the following month. With promised funding from the Cathedral we were able to place the order with Taylor’s in May. The target date for installation was giving us six months for preparation. During this time St Mary’s ringers spent a combined 120 hours’ effort in clearing the area and making ready and clearing access to the trapdoor beneath the tenor. Details of inscriptions were finalised and a program to coordinate the efforts of the scaffolders, stone-masons and joiners devised to fit in with Taylor’s plans.

The Trebles are Cast

On October 9th a party of 14 ringers, family and friends travelled to Loughborough to witness the casting of the two new trebles at Taylor’s Bell-foundry. The new treble, JUSTITIA was cast at 12.30pm and bore an inscription remembering Kate Branson, a loyal and active member of the Cathedral and the Bell Ringers from the 1950s until the end of the millennium. After lunch, provided by Neil at his parent’s home, and a tour of Taylor’s workshops we witnessed the casting of the new second, FORTITUDO at 2.30pm. The day finished at a local hostelry after a ring on the foundry bells.

Returning home we made final preparations for the installation of the new bells. The frame area was cleared of all attachments and the huge trap door beneath the tenor made up of two layers of 3in timber took most of a single day to open. The final quarter peal before augmentation was rung on October 25th.

Installation Commences

So came a particularly wet and miserable Monday in the middle of November when at 9am the new bells and most of the frame and fittings arrived at the Cathedral. The lorry was hurriedly unloaded across the pavement by Neil and I and with some help from the Cathedral Workshop staff hauled the two new bells into the Cathedral and along to the Resurrection Chapel. After a short break in Starbucks where we found Chris Frye having his first shot of espresso the three of us returned to clear the pavement and store all the equipment in the church. Later, after Steve Westerman of Taylors arrived we unloaded his van and made the site ready for the start in earnest the next day. The next few days were spent hauling the bells and equipment 75ft up to the ringing room and thence the further 40ft into the belfry. A day was spent assembling the grillage, most of the time being spent on cutting back the foundation-beam anchor plates because of the tight fit and modifying the masonry pockets to take the wall anchors. After this the frame-sides and new bells were quickly installed and all was in place by the end of the week. The second week was spent adjusting the installation and realigning the rope falls of a total of eight bells – the job being completed by Thursday, November 28th. Help with the installation by 18 Cathedral, Edinburgh and SACR members was much appreciated.

Then masonry foundation pockets were backfilled within a week and the bells tested after curing.

Up and Ringing

They were rung for the first time as a twelve and to everybody’s satisfaction on 6th December and then at Christmas.

Since then things have moved a lot slower. There is still much work to be completed in the tower – mostly by the ringers themselves. Whilst the bells are still loud in the ringing room there has been a big improvement in acoustics, with more of the higher frequencies discernable – this work is ongoing. The ringing room is being refurbished; new carpeting has been fitted and furniture ordered. The lighting is to be improved. All this work should be completed within the next few months.

The first peal was rung in October 2009 by a representative Scottish band as shown below. The new bells were dedicated on November 12th using the service format of the original dedication service of October 29th 1879, 130 years ago.

Peal Attempts and Visitors

Because of the proximity of housing and businesses we need strict control of peal ringing. Normally we allow four per year (Saturdays only) but this may be extended to five for the time being but with a strict minimum of two months between consecutive peals. Peal ringing will be available to visitors from June 2010. Many requests for peals have already been made and these will be considered in chronological order – for the others, first come, and first served.

Do come and visit us, the most northerly 12 in the world.

Bill Brotherton

Project Leader and Tower Captain,

St Mary’s Cathedral Society Of Change Ringers, Edinburgh

The first peal on the 12 bells:


EDINBURGH, Lothian, St Mary’s Cathedral

Sat Oct 17 2009 3h34 (41)

5016 Plain Bob Maximus

Comp. John Reeves

1 Tina Stoecklin

2 Christopher J Frye

3 Helen M Brotherton

4 Jennifer Tomkinson

5 Robin R Churchill

6 Stephen A Elwell-Sutton

7 Robert J Hancock

8 William A Brotherton (C)

9 Philip G Ladd

10 Jonathan S Frye

11 Clyde W Wallbanks

12 Michael J Clay

A wedding compliment to James Brotherton & Gayle Bleakley,

married on 12th September 2009.

First peal on the augmented bells.

First peal on 12 bells in Scotland.