Newspaper article printed in the Colchester Gazette 21st December 2015
We all hear church bells ringing out on a Sunday morning or chiming the hours and quarters as their clock hands move. However there is more to a bell’s story than you may realise and although many churches contain bells that have been cast fairly recently, like the bells at St. Leonards in Lexden which were cast by John Taylors of Loughborough in 1899, other bells are far older. Colchester has four old bells which are of particular historic interest.
The first and youngest of these is the John Darbie bell cast in 1679 which used to reside in the tower of St. Marys at the Walls being used as a Sanctus bell. This bell was installed in 1714 after the reconstruction of the church following its destruction during the siege of 1648. The bell is inscribed with the initials of CR (Carlos Rex) for King Charles 11 (1660 – 1685), and is 37.75″ in diameter and is tuned to A flat.
When the church was made redundant in May 1978, the bell was removed and taken for storage at St. Leonards at the Hythe where it remained for 32 years before being taken to St. Mary’s Church in Prittlewell in 2010. The bell resides in the corner of their bell chamber again used as their Sanctus bell.
The third oldest bell which is 24″ in diameter, weighing 152 kg, can be found resting on the floor inside the south wall of St. Peter’s Church. The bell is thought to have been cast in Bury St. Edmunds by one Reignold Chirche, sometime before he died 1498, again used as a Sanctus bell. The bell originally hung in the central cupola located in the centre of the church before being sold to help pay for roof repairs in 1758. This cupola was demolished and a new tower constructed at the western end which is the tower we all see today.
The second oldest is located in the tower at St. Leonards Church at Hythe, which was cast by William Chamberlain of Whitechapel and dates from circa 1440. This is 36.63″ in diameter, tuned to A, and has the Latin inscription Benedictum Sit Nomen Domini (Praise is the name of the Lord) written on the side.
The oldest bell in Colchester was cast by John Langhorne and dates from between 1380 – 1405, currently hanging in the tower of Colchester Town Hall. The bell is made of bronze with a diameter of 20.5″ and although the bell is preserved within the tower, it now remains silent. This bell is believed to have been in the Moot Hall which stood in the high street also used for a while at the castle, although the exact history is unclear.
The town hall bells that we here every day, are attached to the clock’s chiming mechanism and chime the hours and quarters. These were cast by John Warners of London and were installed in the tower in 1901.