I took a few minutes out of my day at lunchtime to go and help fit the muffles to the clappers of the bells at Daybrook St Pauls. Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, and so the bells are rung half muffled, a glorious sombre sound as a mark of respect.
To achieve this, you put a thick leather strap on one side of the clapper of each bell. Each time the bells are rung, you get a loud dong and a quiet dong. You can hear some recordings of half muffled bells here.
To get up the tower, you have to climb a few turns of a stone staircase, making sure doors are locked behind you. You don’t want someone pulling the ropes below you while you are amongst the bells, because the bells are bigger and heavier than you, and could kill you. There was a tragedy in the 1960s in this very tower when a bell killed someone.
There are safety procedures – making sure people from the church know you’ve gone up and know when you’re due back; going up in pairs; locking doors and hanging keys from special hooks so you know people don’t have access to the ropes two floors below you.
But for all that, to physically get at the clappers you have to perform all sorts of acrobatic feats to clamber around the frame to get under the bells. At the church I was at, the bells are in two levels in an old rusty metal frame. And you have to remember that half of the apparently sturdy looking features of the tower are in fact bell fittings, which mean they’re well greased and ready to swing if you try and grab hold of them. Sliders, wheels and stays are all large features that you have to avoid. And above the frame, there aren’t so many things to hold onto to steady yourself. I have a reasonably good head for heights – high ladders to get at stage lights certainly feature in my past – but I still have to concentrate quite hard not to get the willies.
You’re not so high above the nearest floor – if you fell, it would not be so bad, apart from crashing through the bells and girders on the way down. But you can see out of the enormous windows and that gives you tremendous views across north Notts, from a perspective higher than the tower on the old Home Brewery building.