To Make A Noise - The Story of Bells

The word bell comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "to bellow" or to "make a noise."

Bells in war and peace, fire and flood, have long been useful because their voices could be heard far and wide. However, bells can make something besides noise. They can make music.

When they are placed high in a tower, their clear notes float out and down so beautifully that poetry and song are full of praise for them, as in the line:

"Think, when bells do chime, 'tis angels' music."

 

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell | Source

Bells of some kind were known in China more than two thousand years before the Christian Era, but it is quite certain that bells as we know them today, were the product of the Christian Church.

The earliest that have been found were not cast in one piece, but made from plates riveted together. Such bells were rectangular in shape.

A very old bell is preserved in Belfast, Ireland. It is known from its inscription as "the bell of Saint Patrick's will."

Tiny, as bells go, it is only six inches high and five inches wide. It is decorated with gems and with gold and silver tracery. The dates on it are 1091 and 1105.

African Bell Maker

The underside of the Liberty Bell, showing the metal support structure. The clapper appears not to be attached to the actual hinge of the bell. Concentric grooves appear to remain from the creation of the mould used in the bell's founding. Taken in t
The underside of the Liberty Bell, showing the metal support structure. The clapper appears not to be attached to the actual hinge of the bell. Concentric grooves appear to remain from the creation of the mould used in the bell's founding. Taken in t | Source

The Largest Bells

In the thirteenth century, bell founders, many of them in monasteries, began to make large bells and place them high above the ground in towers. Such bells were sounded by striking them with a rod or with a metal clapper hung within the bell and left free to swing back and forth with its motion.

The year 1400 saw the casting in Paris of a successful bell that weighed more than six tons. It was thought enormous at the time, yet it does not cut much of a figure among the world's big bells today.

The ;largest bell known of old days is the Russian "Tsar Kolokol" of Moscow, weighing more than thirty-two times (about two hundred tons) as much as the big bell of Paris just mentioned.

The history of the "Tsar Kolokol" is disappointing, however, since it was never rung, has a big piece weighing eleven tons broken out of it and is used as a public building, instead of as a bell.

Resting on a special base, it forms a good sized room, nineteen feet high and twenty-one feet wide.

A pagoda in upper Myanmar houses a bell of eighty-seven tones. Also, in the city of Peking, China there is a great bell weighing fifty-three tons. Other bells of the world are perhaps better known, such as Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament, London. However they are nowhere near these giants in size.

Russia also possesses the biggest bell in actual use, a brazen monster of one hundred and ten tons.

Cologne Cathedral, The Bell dedicated to St Peter, patron of the Cathedral, known as Petersglocke, one of the largest bells western world
Cologne Cathedral, The Bell dedicated to St Peter, patron of the Cathedral, known as Petersglocke, one of the largest bells western world | Source
The Liberty Bell hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, with Independence Hall visible through the glass.
The Liberty Bell hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, with Independence Hall visible through the glass. | Source

Famous Bells

The most famous bell in America, the Liberty Bell, is a mere pygmy in comparison. It was originally cast in 1751 in England by Thomas Lister, of London. It weighs about a ton. The Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania directed that the following words be cast on the outside of the bell:

"By order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in the City of Philadelphia. Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. XXV, 10."

The bell arrived at Philadelphia late in August 1752, and was cracked in testing. It was melted down and recast bypass and Stow of Philadelphia, who added one and a half ounces of American copper for each pound of the original metal in order to make it less brittle.

In spite of this attempt, the bell cracked again on testing and was recast a second time by Pass and Stow.

The second attempt was successful, and the bell was hung in the tower of the State House on June 7, 1753.

On the new bell, the quotation from Leviticus was placed above the other inscription instead of under it, as the original. Also the name and date, "Pass and Stow, Philadelphia, MDCCLIII," were added.

The bells most historic ringing was on the occasion of the formal proclamation of the Declaration of Independence, July 8, 1776.

In later years the bell was rung on every festival and at the time of every important event until July 8, 1835, when it cracked as it tolled while the body of Chief Justice John Marshall was being taken from Philadelphia to Virginia for burial.

Gold Bell at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Gold Bell at Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand. | Source

Golden Bells

As mentioned previously, ancient bells, were made in pieces and then riveted together. However, the bells of modern times are cast in one piece from molten metal. This metal is known as "bell metal" and is a form of bronze.

It consists of a mixture of copper and tin in the proportion of about three parts copper to one part tin.

There is more tin in bells of high pitch. Bell metal not only gives a fine, full tone, but also withstands hard usage and bad weather conditions indefinitely.

It is commonly thought that the presence of gold or silver in a bell gives it added beauty of tone. This is not a fact. A solid bell of gold, for instance, would sound about as well as one of solid lead.

Construction of the moulds for casting of a church bell at the Glockenmuseum Gescher (Geschger Bell Museum). Showing the stages in construction of the outer mould (the cope).
Construction of the moulds for casting of a church bell at the Glockenmuseum Gescher (Geschger Bell Museum). Showing the stages in construction of the outer mould (the cope). | Source

The Construction of a Bell

In bell casting, two molds of baked clay are constructed -- one solid, to form the open interior of the bell, the other hollow, following the curved shape of the outside surface.

The bell metal, heated until it will flow, is poured between the two molds. After the metal has cooled enough to set, the molds are removed.

A really big bell will need several weeks to cool completely.

Changes

When bell founders had mastered their art sufficiently, it became possible to make bells not only of good quality, but of accurate pitch.

Then, the custom developed of hanging groups of bells in the towers of churches and important public buildings. On these groups of bells, simple tunes could be played as could a system of musical figures called "changes."

Changes are not so much tunes as musical patterns, one pattern differing so little from another that it is possible to ring many changes on a very few bells.

For example, only six changes are possible on three bells. However, on five bells, one hundred and twenty changes can be rung. On seven bells, a staggering five thousand and forty bell changes are available.

A set of twelve tuned bells may not seem very large, but it is the maximum number used in change-ringing. The reason is that 479,001,600 changes can be run on twelve bells, requiring thirty-seven years and three hundred and fifty-five days of continuous ringing.

Of course, this is merely a theoretical possibility and has never been tried. Nevertheless, in the UK, where change-ringing has been developed into a national specialty, expert ringers require many hours to run through an elaborate set of changes.

The Bell Ringers (1890)
The Bell Ringers (1890) | Source

The Art of Change Ringing

While the art of change-ringing by hand was spreading throughout England, the chiming of tuned bells by mechanical means grew popular elsewhere in Europe, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Tower clocks were furnished with bells to chime the quarter hours in a very pretty style and at the hour quite a tune was played by automatic machinery.

This machinery consisted usually of a revolving cylinder or drum, timed so that it worked a series of wires that were attached to small hammers that struck the bells in proper sequences to give both rhythm and melody.

Return Of Russian Bells

How To Make A Bell

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Comments 21 comments

dianacharles profile image

dianacharles 7 years ago from India

A very interesting and informative hub. Very well researched.

I especially liked the bit about the "Tsar Kolokol"


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

A nice bit of history.One bit of "bell lore" is the bell choir that I have seen at some Lutheran churches.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks dianacharles! I'd like to see that one in person.

Thanks dahoglund! Lutheran and Methodist churches (and some Catholic) often have wonderful bell choirs.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

A lovely and intersting hub. Thank you for sharing these information.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Hello, hello!


Nancy's Niche profile image

Nancy's Niche 7 years ago from USA

Informative, timely and interesting article; the videos enhanced the story. Thanks for sharing the origin of bells and their beautiful sounds…


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Nancy's Niche! Hoping to expand on this subject in another hub soon.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Jerilee, thanks for this well-crafted article on bells. I love the sound of church bells chiming, although I'm not sure why. Bow got very excited watching the video of the African bell maker. He loves to watch people making things!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Aya! Maybe Bow is being to have ideas about creating instead of taking apart? Hope you are all having a great holiday. We are even though we are knee deep in packing boxes.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Jerilee, we're all stuffed and very sleepy. Bow does seem to be getting less destructive with material objects, although he still has to be supervised very carefully. I'm not sure if his interest in bell making was because he wanted to create a bell or just pound on metal! Every act of creation entails some degree of destructive activity.

I hope your move goes off without a hitch!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

An interesting article. A place not to be is in a belfry when they start ringing - absolutely deafening at close quarters!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Paraglider! You are so right about that!

Thanks Aya! I'm sure that moving an entire household is going to be challenging but looking forward to it. We commence moving on Wednesday.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Thank you for an interesting Hub. We have an old church in the town where we live with an old-fashioned 'ring of bells'. Pat lives close enough to hear the bell ringers practice, but not so close as to be deafened.


articleposter profile image

articleposter 7 years ago

Good post this is. What a random read about Bells :d

Informative.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks 2patricias! I used to live in a town like that, it was nice.

Thanks articleposter!


salt profile image

salt 7 years ago from australia

Lovely story - thankyou


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks salt!


Georgina_writes profile image

Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

I'd agree with Paraglider. We're fortunate to live close to a parish Church, which has a peal of bells (I think there are around ten). Every Monday evening, rain, snow or shine, the bellringers practice. It's deafening and goes on for three hours or so. There's no hope of slumming it in front of the TV, so you'll notice how often I'm on Hubpages on a Monday evening. on a serious note - I love it; there's just something so traditional about hearing a peal of bells like that.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Georgina_writes! I always used to remind myself that so few people get to hear the peal of bells.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

Awesome work here. You are a top-notch researcher and writer. I enjoyed learning all about bells from you. Bravo!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States Author

Thanks James A Watkins! I enjoyed researching them.

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