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COVENTRY CATHEDRAL* St Michael 12, 33-3-6 in C# (+6b)

Grid Reference 140/335790 Coventry Cathedral - Not Holy Trinity to the right - Source M Chester
Postcode CV1 5RJ
Recording
Affiliation Coventry DG
Peals Felstead Database
Sunday c.1130 (after main service)
Practice Thursday 1930-2100
Other Information Cathedral Website

History

This is one of the most well known of England's Cathedrals. This is mainly due to the fact that it was fire-bombed in November 1940 during "The Coventry Blitz" and, apart from the tower, largely destroyed. The outside walls, except the clerestory, and the tower are all that remain. Despite some original thoughts of a rebuild based on the floorplan of the current cathedral, new cathedral was built at right angles to the old one and therefore runs North-South instead of East-West. Of modern design, it provokes either like or dislike amongst visitors, but rarely apathy!

St Michael's Church, as it was originally known, is largely late-14th century to early-15th century in date and is in the "Gothic" style of architecture. Side Chapels were added in the 16th century.  Until it was raised to Cathedral status in 1918 it was one of the largest parish churches in the country - its spire rises to 295 feet.

The power struggle between the Earl and the Priory can be seen by the very close proximity of Holy Trinity church to St Michael's.  Holy Trinity would be considered to be a large church in many places, but it is located very close to one that is even larger! This church once had a ring of 8 bells (q.v.)

Until 1675 the tower contained a heavy ring of 6 bells, with a tenor of 30-1-5. These bells were recast into a ring of 8 by Henry Bagley I and his son Henry, the tenor now weighing 25-0-12. These were only the second ring of 8 in a Warwickshire church. Their inscriptions are given in Tilley and Walters' book, "The Church Bells of Warwickshire":

In May 1774 these bells were recast into a ring of 10, tenor 31-1-14, by Pack & Chapman of London and hung by Robert Turner of Whitechapel. However, the tower was giving cause for concern by 1794 and the bells were rehung in a two tier wooden frame that rose from the ground. The 6th cracked and was recast in 1799 by Thomas Mears. In 1802 the tenor also cracked. This bell was recast by John Briant of Hertford, now weighing in at 32-0-9. At the same time the frame was rearranged to have all the bells on one level. These bells had a very good reputation and were said by some to be on of the best ring of 10 in the country - as noted in early editions of Bell News.

Their inscriptions are also given in Tilley and Walters' book:

Before the end of the century the tower was again giving cause for concern. There was a huge restoration of the church in the 1880s and, as part of this, in 1885 the bells were hung dead in the octagonal part of the tower. The Bell News of 19th May 1883 noted, "The fine old church of St. Michael’s, Coventry, so well-known to our readers, having become obviously in need of restoration, the vestry have consulted Mr. J. O. Scott, who has presented a report upon the that a heavy, fall of snow might lead to a failure of the roof. The work state of the building. The chancel roof he describes as in a condition which, in Mr. Scott’s opinion, requires to be done to the church would, he estimates, cost some £12,000, while to properly restore and repai the tower and spire would cost £18,000 additional." Even so, in the edition of 23rd June it was noted, "On Saturday, June 9th, a company of ringers from St. M artin’s, on the invitation of the Vicar and Churchwardens, visited St. Michael’s, Coventry, to attempt a peal on the far-famed bells, which until recently have been in a rather neglected condition, but have now been overhauled by a local bellhanger, and made pealable at an outlay of between £80 and £90".  The St Martin's Guild held their AGM here in 1884 and noted that £19,000 of the projected cost of £35,000 had already been raised. They did not express any concern about the fate of the bells and it must not then have been known what would come about in regards of them a couple of years later.  In the Bell News of 16th Mary 1885 it is stated, 

"The Restoration of St. Michael’s, Coventry.— A meeting of the General Committee for the restoration of St. Michael's, Coventry, has been held at St. Mary’s Hall. Lord Leigh presided. A discussion took place concerning the disposal of the peal of bells, which, if retained, would require the erection of a second tower. The monetary question was the difficulty in the way, and Mr. Woodcock (who is a subscriber of £10,000 to the restoration fund) said, assuming that a good tower could be put up for £8000, he was prepared to give half of it. It was resolved, in order to ascertain the money which would be required, to invite tenders for the work from Mr. Thompson, of Peterborough, and a sub-committee was appointed to select the stone. The Editor was not impressed that the bells were to be removed from the tower and he wrote a scathing editorial in the same edition!

Details of the last "peal" on the bells is given in a letter published in The Ringing World on June 7th 1940:

"COVENTRY BELLS.
To the Editor. Sir,— Sunday next, June 9th, is the 57th anniversary of the last peal rung upon the grand old bells at St. Michael’s, Coventry, and perhaps the particulars of it will interest some of your readers.
'On Saturday, June 9th, 1883, the St. Martin’s Society, Birmingham, rang in 3 hours 33 minutes a peal of Stedman Caters, 5,063 changes: Henry Bastable 1, Job Joynes 2, Amos Cresser 3, Henry Johnson, sen. 4, John Dunn 5, Thomas Miller 6, John Buffery 7, Francis II. James 8, Henry Johnson, jun. 9, Thomas Reynolds 10. Conducted by Henry Bastable.’
Tom Miller is the last survivor of this band and also one of the few living ringers who have rung on Coventry old bells, which were destroyed in 1927.
Henry Johnson, sen., in speaking of (his peal, referred to the "bells as ‘ that masterpiece of the founder’s art — the ring of ten at Coventry.’
INTERESTED"

Sadly, this peal was later proved to be false.  The last true peal on the bells was Grandsire Caters, rung on April 2nd 1877.  Details of the false peal were given in a letter, published on June 27th 1941 and clarified in the Jul 11th edition - sadly, it would have been a true peal if the band had rung the shorter option:

The bells were last rung for the final service before the church closed for restoration, held on June 29th 1885. The opening up of the tower arch to the church would have made the wooden structure holding the bells visible to the congretation and, perhaps, this might have been another reason for removing the bells as a ring? 

The main proponent of building a new tower, Mr George Woodcock died before anything could be done, not making any provision for his offer of half to cost in his will, and the tower was never built. There are many letters and articles in "Bell News" of the time reporting on the arguments for and against rehanging the bells that are worth reading. Indeed, there is an editorial of July 26th 1890 that implies that the decision to build a campanile had been taken, but to no avail. The bells remained on the church floor for several years, apart from the treble, it being hung for chiming in a temporary campanile in the north-west corner of the church. The Bell News of 26th April 1894 notes that an estimate had been acquired for hanging them in the tower again, but as a chime. This produced a flurry of angry letters wanting the bells to be kept as a ring! The bells were finally hung for chiming by Taylors in 1896.

An article about the bells was published in The Ringing World of May 28th 1915 and is an interesting read:

(Click to enlarge)  

An educated guess as to how the bells might have sounded has been produced by Bill Hibbert from data taken from the old 10 prior to them being broken up. It is an interesting read, (and listen!), and can be found here.

The first report I have found in The Ringing World about recasting the bells is from their "Belfry Gossip" section of June 12th 1925:

"There is a scheme afoot to recast the famous peal of ten, which used to hang in the tower of St. Michael’s, Coventry, but which were taken clown some years ago, into a carillon of 14 bells, and to hang them as a fixed carillon. We don’t know whether it is too late, but we suggest the Central Council might do something here to endeavour to get this scheme reconsidered. Coventry bells have the reputation of being one of the finest rings of ten in the country, and, we are informed, with a little tuning could be made, to fit into a carillon without going into the melting pot. Moreover, if a restoration scheme is to be carried out, cannot the Towers and Belfries Committee get to work and show the Coventry folks how these ten bells might be hung for ringing with safety to the fabric?"

The following edition carried a front page editorial!:

"COVENTRY’S FAMOUS BELLS.
Are the famous bells of St. Michael’s, Coventry, now the Cathedral Church of the new diocese, to be lost forever to ringing. The question is prompted by the announcement that it is proposed to recast them into a carillon of 14 bells, as we briefly intimated in our last issue, and unless something is done quickly one of the finest rings of ten bells in the world will disappear, to give place to a lighter set of bells of extremely limited capacity for tune playing. It is a difficult matter for outsiders to intrude themselves into the domestic affairs of any church, but here, we think, the Cental Council might with justification endeavour to induce the Coventy people to hold their hand until furtherinvestigation has been made.

The position at Coventry is a unique one. Towards the end of the eighteenth century apprehensions as to the stability of the beautiful steeple, led to the bells being taken down and rehung in a wooden frame rising from the ground and unconnected with the steeple walls. When the church was restored in1885 the western arch was thrown open and the bell cage, being considered unsightly, was ordered to be removed, and with it the bells had also to go. They were last rung exactly forty years ago this month, and, after being stowed away for a time, were re-erected in the Octagon, where they have since hung dead for chiming. From time to time schemes for the building of a separate campanile have been mooted, but have never matured, presumably for want of funds.

In the forty years which have passed since the bells were rung, however, great advances have been made in the engineerring side of bellhanging, and it seems to us that there is opportunity here for a reinvestigation of the ability of the tower to carry the bells at a low level; or , if this project should be impracticable, to raise once more the question of anothrt campanile. To melt up this grand old peal of bells seems almost like sacrilege, when the only object is to get out of them four more. We believe that with a little tuning to bring the bells in to line with prresent day scientific ideas, these ten bells would be as fine as any in the land, and if eventally they are to fulfil no greater purpose than to be played upon by mechanical means, it is still to be hoped they may be preserved, and any extension of their number provided by entirely new metal. While one admires the generosity which has prompted a parishioner to defray the cost of the present proposals, there is very little information available as to whether any consideration has been given to a scheme to restore the be lls to their original purpose, or whether any independent advice was sought. We admire carillons (when they have sufficient scope) as very beautiful instruments, but as ringers we must guard against the sacrifice of bells, which might otherwise be rung in English fashion, to a desire for mechanical tune playing. Admittedly, the position at Coventry is unusual, but before it is too late we hope something will be done to get the scheme, at least, reconsidered." 

As series of letters were published supporting what the Editor had printed. I have collated just some of the articles and letters:

(Editorial Dec 1925
Click to enlarge)
 (Letter in the same edition)
(A report of the Consistory
Court Ruling- Jan  9th1926
Click to enlarge)
(Editorial - Jan 16th 1926
Click to enlarge)
(Letters Feb 19th 1926
Click to enlarge)

A detailed report of the Consistory Court was published in The Ringing World of January 22nd 1926 - click images to enlarge

There followed a whole series of articles and letters about this - some arguing the case for and against Simpson Tuning - they are worth a read. I will leave the last word to Cyril Johnston himself. It is interesting to note that state that he put much effort into getting the bells hung for ringing, even after the order had been placed:

 

The Pack and Chapman bells were indeed recast by Gillett & Johnston in 1927, following the donation that is mentioned in the articles to cover the whole cost of a chime of 12 bells plus 2 semitones.  E. H. Lewis, a witness mentioned here, was a great opponent of "Simpson" tuning and he spoke out vehemently against it at the Consistory Court hearing. The court's decision was that the bells would be recast to ringing weights, just in case a new detached tower was ever built. While it never was, the story was not over.

The new bells were dedicated on Easter Eve, April 16th 1927 and reported in The Ringing World of April 29th:​

(click to enlarge)  

There were a few "false dawns" about getting the bells rehung for ringing. For instance, at the 1965 Guild Dinner the Provost is recorded as saying:

"...Replying, the Provost said that he thought the reason he had been invited to this dinner was to give him the opportunity of saying what was to happen to the bells of their Cathedral. The reason that nothing had been done was because of the many calls on their finances at this stage of the Cathedral de­velopment. He was now prepared to consider having the bells made in to a pealable ring once again, providing the necessary money could be raised, and suggested that the Guild might make itself responsible for raising it. He pointed out that one very important factor in having the bells ringing again was the question of noise control, as the Cathedral was surrounded by public buildings which were in constant use during the week. He had been assured that the noise could be controlled satisfactorily, and he trusted that this was so.
NATIONAL APPEAL
He said that he regretted that the bells could not have been hung for ringing in time for the consecration of th e Cathedral, but he had so much to contend with at that time that he could not possibly face up to another project, a
lthough he realised that that was the right time to have had them done owing to the tremendous interest that was then being taken in the new Cathedral development. However, he was sure that if a national appeal was made the money would be forthcoming. He thanked them for inviting him and giving him the opportunity to address them.

The Guild Secretary reported at a meeting in January 1966 that the Provost would support a scheme that did no damage to the tower, included sound control and which put no charge on the Cathedral. This did not happen and things drifted somewhat. The Guild expressed its disapointment that nothing was being done at the 1969 AGM. 


The Proposed Campanile as it appeared in "The Builder".

A further report of the Consistory Court hearing in Thje Ringing World in September 1981

(Click to enlarge)

This brought about an anonymous letter in the edition of October 16th 1981 suggesting that the Coventry DG get the bell hung for ringing and implied that the Guild was doing nothing about it. This provoked a response from the Guild and the Diocesan Secretary, himself a ringer, in the November 30th edition that revealed that the Guild had indeed been discussing this matter in the background with the Cathedral Architect.

The bells were again in the news in 1984, this being reported in the edition of Febuary 24th;

"Peal plea
The Solihull Evening Mail noted the possibility of an anagram with the heading above - it was reporting on the Peterborough Cathedral appeal to provide a new peal of bells. The same paper also carried a report on the move to launch a £60,000 appeal to restore Coventry Cathedral’s bell tower and replace the bells. The aim is to have these bells back ringing by 1987 ready for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the building of the new Cathedral. (Coventry Cathedral was flattened during World War II but amazingly the bell tower came through the blitz unscathed)."

There are several further reports after this that things were moving in the right direction. 

This article was published in The Ringing World of July 12th 1985. It shows that real thought was being put into exactly where the bells would be hung in the tower

(Click to enlarge)

There was then a huge boost for the project -as noted in The Ringing World of October 4th 1985:

Great boost for Coventry Cathedral Project
News has just been received that Lady Lyon, widow of Lord Lyon of Jaguar Cars, has offered to meet the entire cost ofthe Coventry Cathedral Bells Project. We understand that Lady Lyon has stipulated an upper limit of £80.000, but that this amount should be sufficient for the work on the tower which is necessary. It now seems that hopes that bells will ring out from Coventry Cathedral on 25th May, 1987, to mark the 25th anniversary ofthe new Cathedral will be realised.

The Ringing World of July 25th 1986 reported that the chime of bells had been removed from the tower, starting the project to hang them for ringing full-circle.  There was also an article about their removal published on August 15th 1986:

Progress was noted in the Foundry Focus Article that was published in The Ringing World of January 23rd 1987:  "Coventry Cathedral, Warwickshire, where Taylors have been contracted to hang the 1927 Gillett & Johnston 12 for full-circle ringing. The plan is to house the ring of 12, plus a new flat sixth, in a cast-iron frame, whilst the original semitone bell - a sharp ninth - will be hung as a service bell. The weight of the tenor prior to any machining work is 33-3-12 - a few pounds different from the previously published weight."  (The "new" Flat 6th was actually an existing bell in the chime).

The bells were rehung ready for ringing in May of 1987, much lower in the tower than had been the ring of 10.  They form a fine ring of 12 with a flat 6th. The hang in a cast iron "lowside" frame. A new ringing room was constructed, above a shop. Glass windows filling the eastern tower opening mean that the ringers can be seen from the ruins. Additionally, hung dead in corner of the frame, is a "sharp 9th" bell. From 1987 the bell was unused, but after a donation for the purpose it has been chimed electronically for services since 2008.

The announcement that the bells had been hung appeared in The Ringing World of May 8th 1987:

the rededication of the bells was reported in the edition of June 19th 1987:

(Cick to enlarge thses images)

The first peal on the new ring was rung in 1988:

Shortly after the bells were installed, curtains were hung on three sides to reduce the amount of reverberation in the ringing room. These work well and this magnificent ring of bells are a joy to ring.

An analysis, by Bill Hibbert, of the 12 can be found here. The frequency of the tenor equates to C#-18c

Visiting ringers of all experience are actively made welcome.

The entrance is via the gate to the left of the tower as you look at it from the west end of the old cathedral, (visible to the right of the tower on the photograph). If the tower gates are locked wait until the ringing has stopped and make yourself heard!

Details of the Bells

 1 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   4-1-00  25.50"   1638.0Hz (G#-24c)
 2 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   4-3-24  27.00"   1466.0Hz (F#-16c)
 3 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   5-1-05  28.00"   1379.5Hz (E#-22c)
 4 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   5-2-16  29.375"  1230.5Hz (D#-20c)
 5 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   6-0-05  31.00"   1097.0Hz (C#-18c)
 6 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   6-1-22  32.00"   1032.0Hz (B#-24c)
 7 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   7-3-23  35.00"    916.0Hz (A#-31c)
 8 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  10-2-21  38.50"    820.0Hz (G#-22c)
 9 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  14-2-16  42.875"   732.0Hz (F#-19c)
10 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  18-0-14  46.00"    689.5Hz (E#-22c)
11 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  24-1-22  51.00"    614.0Hz (D#-23c)
12 Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  33-3-06  57.00"    548.5Hz (C#-18c)

6b Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927   7-0-24  33.50"    973.0Hz (B-26c)
9# Gillett & Johnston, Croydon   1927  12-1-17  40.50"    773.0Hz (G-24c)

Inscriptions

The two trebles and the two semitones are inscribed "GILLETT & JOHNSTON CROYDON 1927 (foundry mark) / Border around bell". The back 10 are inscribed "RECAST BY......" They then have a foundry bell number, then an inscription - the back 10 being a reproduction of the previous ring's incriptions, but not in fascimile, finally the number of the bell in the chime.

 1 1997 / RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW / 1
 2 1974 / RING OUT THE FALES, RING IN THE TRUE / 2
 3 1795 / ALTHOUGH I AM BOTH LIGHT AND SMALL / I WILL BE HEARD ABOVE YOU ALL.  / PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774. / 3
 4 1796 / IF YOU HAVE A JUDICIOUS EAR / YOU'LL OWN MY VOICE IS SWEET & CLEAR / PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 4
 5 1797 / SUCH WOND'ROUS POW'R TO MUSIC'S GIVEN / IT ELEVATES THE SOUL TO HEAVEN /  PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 5
 6 1798 / WHILST THUS WE JOIN IN CHEARFUL SOUND / MAY LOVE AND LOYALTY ABOUND /  PACK & CHAPMAN OF LOONDON FECIT 1774 / 6
 6b 1799 / RING IN THE VALIANT MAN AND FREE / 7
 7 1800 / TO HONOUR BOTH OUR GOD AND KING / OUR VOICES SHALL IN CONSORT RING / PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 8
 8 1801 / MUSIC IS MEDICINE TO THE MIND / THOMAS MEARS OF LONDON FECIT 1799 / 9 
 9# 1802 / RING IN THE CHRIST THAT IS TO BE / 10
 9 1803 / YE RINGERS ALL THAT PRIZE YOUR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS / BE SOBER MERRY WISE AND YOU'LL THE SAME POSSESS /  PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 11
10 1804 / YE PEOPLE ALL WHO HEAR ME RING / BE FAITHFUL TO YOUR GOD & KING / PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 12
11 1805 / IN WEDLOCK BANDS ALL YE WHO JOIN WITH HAND YOUR HEARTS UNITE / SO SHALL OUR TUNEFULL TONGUES COMBINE TO LAUD THE NUPTUAL RITE /  PACK & CHAPMAN OF LONDON FECIT 1774 / 13
12 1806 / I AM AND HAVE BEEN CALLED THE COMMON BELL /  TO RING WHEN FIRE BREAKS OUT TO TELL / STEPHEN CORBET ACT. C. WARDEN 1805. /  JOHN BRIANT HERTFORD FECIT AN ; DOM : MDCCCV. GLORIA DEO IN EXCELCIS. / 14


Details of the Ring of 10

1  Pack and Chapman, London      1774   6-3-02  33.00"  
2  Pack and Chapman, London      1774   7-0-08  34.00"
3  Pack and Chapman, London      1774   8-1-13  36.00"
4  Pack and Chapman, London      1774   9-0-00  37.00"
5  Pack and Chapman, London      1774   9-2-21  38.00"
6  Thomas Mears, London          1799  11-2-16  40.25"
7  Pack and Chapman, London      1774  14-0-26  42.50"
8  Pack and Chapman, London      1774  17-1-23  46.00"
9  Pack and Chapman, London      1774  23-0-26  50.50"
10 John Briant, Hertford         1805  31-1-14  56.50"

Details of the Ring of 8

1  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675   6-1-11  31.00"
2  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675   6-2-26  32.00"
3  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675   8-0-09  35.30"
4  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675   9-3-21  37.50"
5  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675  12-1-07  40.75"
6  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675  14-0-14  43.00" 
7  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675  17-2-12  47.00"
8  Henry Bagley I & II, Chacombe 1675  25-0-12  52.50"

Details of the Ring of 6

1                                      10-3-09
2                                      11-1-00
3                                 1607 13-2-06
4                                 1607 17-3-14
5                                      23-1-02
6                                      30-1-05

Photo Gallery

covstmich1730_small cathedral_interior_small cathedral_1892_small 
The Church in 1730 The Cathedral Interior c.1880 The Interior in 1884 
cathedral_1892_small cathedral_1892_2_small _cathedral6small 
The Church in 1892  The Interior in 1892 The new Cathedral behind
the north wall of the
ruined Cathedral 
cathedral10_small cathedral5_small cathedral9_small
The Cathedral in Ruins The New Cathedral
Under Construction
The New Cathedral
Under Construction 
cathedral7_small cathedral8_small cathedral2_small
The Glass Screen
in the New Cathedral
One of the
Etched Panels
in the Screen
The Ruins, as Seen
Fom the Ringing Chamber
cathedraltreble_small cathedraltenor_small cathedralchimer_small
The Treble The Tenor The Sharp 9th
cathedral3_small cathedral4_small cathedral_ringing_small
The Ringing Room
Ropes 7-9
The Ringing Room
Rope 7 in foreground
The Bells in Action
cathedral_clock_small  
The Clock Mechanism That was Brought to the Base
of the Tower When the Bells Were Hung For Ringing
 

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