Merrily on high
Although not directly part of the community thrust of the Discover deCrypt project, some work is being done in the central tower to install fire protection equipment and to upgrade the lighting in the stairway and ringing chamber visible through a grill in the ‘bellhole’ sixty feet or so above the transept crossing in the nave.
The ringing chamber gives access to a ‘silence’ chamber, then finally the bell chamber. Gloucester has seen bellfounding as an industry for over 700 years, but the first mention of bells in St Mary de Crypt is in 1459. Richard Manchester, a burgess of Gloucester, in his will of 18th September 1459, gave
“his largest brazen pot and 3s 4d in forgotten tithes” towards the purchase of
“five great bells of one concord”.
In the north aisle of the church there is also a brass memorial to the wives of William Henshawe, who was Mayor of Gloucester several times during the early 16th century, and who made his living as a bellfounder.
The tower now contains a ring of eight bells cast by the Rudhall family of Gloucester. The 6 oldest of the ring date from 1710, coinciding with the formation of a ringers’ society known as The Ancient Society Of Crypt Youths, with its zealous ringers and strict rules including:
“Loud talking or jesting or disputing must not be, in the tower or in the church”
– far less draconian than some rules which even imposed fines for such heinous crimes as:
“the wearing of spurs while ringing”.
The Rudhall family was the most famous and prolific of Gloucester’s bellfounders. Such was their success that their fame extended not only across Great Britain and Ireland, but also to the New World. Still hanging in Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts is a ring of eight bells cast in 1744 by Abel Rudhall, the very bells once rung by Paul Revere (the noted American patriot) and his fellow bellringers. A memorial to Abraham Rudhall in the Cathedral describes him as
“a bellfounder famed for his great skill, beloved and esteemed for his singular good nature and integrity”.
Significant ringing feats or ‘full peals’ rung to commemorate special occasions are often recorded for posterity by ‘peal boards’ hung proudly in ringing chambers wherever ‘change ringing in the English fashion’ takes place. The author of these notes confesses to a keen sense of history whenever he enters the ringing chamber of St Mary de Crypt and sees the large, imposing, but curiously matter-of-fact record of a Peal (5040 different changes) in a ‘method’ called Grandsire, rung in the year of the Battle of Waterloo! And NO, I did not ring in it (even though I do ring).
Churchwarden St Mary de Crypt Church