Heavy metal and leather straps

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.

Bells at St Paul's Daybrook

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.

Bells at St Paul's Daybrook

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.

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3 comments on “Heavy metal and leather straps

  1. […] as I have done some basic maintenance on them in situ, including botch repairing to shrouding and fitting muffles. In their frame, when they are hard to access and you have to do a lot of clambering to get to […]

    • Will Fox says:

      I remember doing lots of maintenance work on those bells, frames and netting at the windows. I have replaced stays, renewed the leather at the top of the clappers and built a temporary (which probably turmed out to be permanent) wheel for the 2nd. And much more of course – new ropes, muffles, painting etc. etc. With a friend of mine (Pete) we would climb the tower twice a week to wind the clock. and plenty more…

  2. Will Fox says:

    I was taught to ring at st Paul’s Daybrook in the 60’s. I think the “someone” who was killed by a bell was Harold Palin. The news was already old when I started so I think it was more likely in late 50’s when it happened. Apparently a rope broke and the bell set itself. It was either the 6th or 5th (just above or just beyond the trap door) and Harold went up to push the bell off. He slipped and the rest is a tragic history.
    On a different note – it was my great grandfather who first gilded the cross which is now on the very top of the spire.

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