St Laurence in Reading

St Laurence in Reading

History of the Bells

The tower of St Laurence’s contains the only ring of twelve bells in the county of Berkshire.

The first record we have of bells in the tower is in the churchwardens’ account roll of 1433 when “little”, “middle” and “great” bells are mentioned. Some work was carried out in 1458 when probably another bell was added. There was certainly a ring of four in 1493 when Henry Kelsall left money in his will for the addition of a new tenor bell to augment the bells to a ring of five.

Apart from various recastings and rehangings the bells remained a ring of five until 1662 when at a vestry meeting it was “agreed that the five bells in the steeple be made into eight tuneable bells and that the Churchwardens doe take care to see it done provided that noe tax be layd on the parishe towards the charge of altering the said bells and provided that the Churchwardens doe bring and secure the said eight bells in convenient tyme into the said steeple without charge to the pishe.” The new bells were cast by Henry Knight of Reading.

There must have been an active band of ringers at the time who were well in touch with developments in change ringing at the time as in 1734 the first peal in Berkshire was rung on the bells. It is recorded on a board in the tower as follows:

July ye 8th 1734 The whole peal of Grandsire Triples 5,040 Changes was rung in three hours & ten minutes by them whose names are here mentioned. Henry Samples, Treble. Gyles Newbury, Second. Joseph Philip, Third. Robert Booth, Fourth. Thomas Shurfield, Fifth. Henry Peaty (Bob Caller) Sixth. John Wells, Seventh. William Ford & Abram Biship, Tenor.

Several of the bells were recast over the course of the next decades until in 1748 the whole ring was taken down and recast and was augmented to ten by the addition of two trebles. This work was carried out by Robert Caitlin of London and provided Berkshire with its first ring of ten bells. In the Reading Mercury of 26th November 1748 it is recorded that “The Reading Youths rang at St Laurence’s Church on the ten bells cast and hung by Mr Caitlin of Shoe Lane, London, a compleat peal of 5040 Cators, in 3 hours and 29 minutes.”

The Reading Youths were very active at this time. Their greatest achievement is recorded in the Reading Mercury of 1756: “Last Monday, being the Birthday of his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland, the field-pieces attending on Col. Jordan’s Regiment, quarter’d here, were several times discharg’d, and the Soldiers fired three Vollies in the Market Place; whilst the famous READING YOUTHS were ringing at St Laurence’s Church, in honour of the Day, Ten Thousand and eighty Quadruple changes, otherwise Grandsire Cators, which was performed in Six Hours and Thirty Minutes, being the first Time of their attempting the Peal”.

The bells remained unaltered until 1881 when they were restored by John Taylor of Loughborough. The sixth, seventh and tenor were recast and all the bells rehung in the existing wooden frame.

Nothing more was done to the bells for almost fifty years. By this time the bell frame had outlived its usefulness and the bell fittings were again in need of renewal. Therefore, in 1929 the ring was restored and the opportunity was taken to augment the ring to twelve. The money for the two new trebles came from an appeal made in The Ringing World. The new bells were dedicated and formally opened on 20th December 1929.

The first peal on the twelve was rung on 21st April 1930 and was the first peal on twelve bells in Berkshire. The twelve bell peal by the local band was rung on 22nd February 1933.

Since that time the bells have proved popular with both local and visiting ringers. Over 450 peals have now been rung in the tower and there is an active local band who ring at both St Laurence’s and at St Mary’s.

Views of St Laurence in Reading

St Laurence in Reading seen from the top of Market Place

St Laurence in Reading seen from the middle of the Market Place

The Bells of St Laurence in Reading

The bells, which comprise the only ring of twelve in Berkshire, hang in a cast-iron side-pattern frame mounted on a double set of rolled steel joists. The bells are fitted with cast iron headstocks having fixed steel gudgeons, self-aligning ball bearings, and other traditional-type wheels and other gear.