The belfry chimes of St Mary’s church, Bridgwater

Extracts from the belfry chimes

St Mary’s is known to have had church clock from 1375, and it is most probable the full story of the clock and the chimes mechanism will be found in the church and borough archives in the Heritage Centre, Taunton, so will require further research.

Little seems known about church clock chiming mechanisms of this period, and very few seem to have survived. This is in contrast to chiming domestic clocks, musical boxes and church organs provided with sets of interchangeable tune barrels. These were mainly used in small country parishes which did not run to a proper organist. They were also used by itinerant musicians from the mid C19, who trundled very small mechanical organs round the streets playing the latest music hall tunes to the passers-by.

It is mostly likely the mechanism was made at the Bridgwater bell foundry. In 1765, Thomas Bayley cast six bells for St Mary’s church Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. The churchwardens instructed him to set three tunes, including Psalm 113, and any two others within the compass of the six bells.

The church acquired an Ellacombe apparatus which is a mechanism devised for performing change ringing on church bells by striking stationary bells with hammers. It was devised in 1821 by the Reverend Henry Thomas Ellacombe of Gloucestershire, who first had such a system installed in Bitton in 1822. He created the system as an alternative to using his local ringers and did not have to tolerate the behaviour that he saw as unruly. However in reality, it required very advanced and rare expertise for one person to ring changes, which most churches did not have. In towers where the apparatus remains in working order it is often still used to play simple call change sequences, hymn tunes and carols at Christmas. The apparatus is also used when insufficient full circle ringers are available. The apparatus was disconnected as part of the major bell refurbishment project in 2020, and will not be reinstated. The console remains an historical relic.

This video shows the principles of the belfry chimes mechanism:

For the refurbishment of the bell tower, see here.