Local Tower Information

Bristol Branch

Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association

St Mary the Virgin, Redcliffe, Bristol



The present church is the second building on this site and was founded by Simon de Burton, three times Mayor of Bristol, in 1292. It was built gradually as money allowed until it was finally completed in 1363 by William Canynges Senior. His grandson, also named William Canynges, much improved and decorated the building from 1442. In 1446 the spire was struck by lightning and two-thirds of it fell, the truncated remains being left until a new 292 ft spire was built in 1872. This was the final task in the restoration of the church that had begun in 1848 with the forming of the Canynges Society to raise money for this purpose.

The earliest record of bells in the tower dates from circa 1480 when William of Worcester listed the weights of six bells. The tenor reputedly weighed 7,024 lbs (63 cwt), but when Roger Purdue I recast it in 1622 it was acually found to weigh just 39-0-00. The ring was augmented to eight by Abraham Rudhall I in 1698, to ten by Thomas Mears II in 1823 and finally to twelve by Mears & Stainbank in 1872. Only three bells now remain from this previous ring, the remainder having been recast (not to everyone's approval) by John Taylor & Co. in 1903.

A "flat sixth" bell was added to the ring in 1951 to allow a lighter "middle eight" to be rung using the second and ninth bells as the treble and tenor respectively, and an extra treble (listed in the table below as "0") was added in 1970 to allow the front six bells to be rung. This latter bell was recast from one that hung in the tower of St John the Baptist, Bedminster until 1967, despite the church having been burnt out by incendiary bombs on the night of 24th November 1940. St John the Baptist was the mother church to both St Mary the Virgin, Redcliffe and St Thomas the Martyr in Bristol, the former being a mere chapel-of-ease to it until 1872.

In the Ringing Room is a twelve-bell Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus and an undated birdcage clock movement. The clock may date from 1698 when the ring of bells was augmented from six to eight, but it may also have been built by Thomas Bilbie I and supplied when he recast the middle four of those eight bells in 1763. In 1794 the clock struck the hours on the tenor and played a tune every three hours at one o'clock, four o'clock, seven o'clock and ten o'clock. Cambridge chimes were installed by Langford of Bristol at Easter 1892, probably replacing the full carillon. The setting dial is inscribed by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon and probably dates from a later restoration.

All three trains were originally weight-driven and hand-wound, the weights dropping to the floor of the Ringing Room in the south-east corner of the tower, but in 1969 Smith of Derby converted them to electric motor drive. The clock's single dial is on the north wall of the tower in the lower half of the Ringing Room window.

The bells of St Mary the Virgin, Redcliffe, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
06-0-14 27 inG# John Taylor & Co. 1970
17-0-19 28½ inF# John Taylor & Co. 1903
27-0-11 29¾ inE John Taylor & Co. 1903
37-1-22 30¾ inD# John Taylor & Co. 1903
47-3-15 32¾ inC# John Taylor & Co. 1903
58-3-19 35 inB John Taylor & Co. 1903
610-1-00 37¼ inA# John Taylor & Co. 1903
6b11-0-17 38 inA John Taylor & Co. 1951
712-1-11 40¼ inG# John Taylor & Co. 1903
813-1-16 43½ inF# Thomas Bilbie I 1763
919-3-01 48¼ inE John Taylor & Co. 1903
1020-2-08 50½ inD# Thomas Bilbie I 1763
1125-1-05 54½ inC# Roger Purdue I 1622
1250-2-21 64 inB John Taylor & Co. 1903

Source: Bell data from Dove's Guide. Further information from The Ringing World 4250 (pages 982-2) and 4343 (page 732), About Bristol, ChurchCrawler (Phil M. Draper), the website of St Mary the Virgin, Redcliffe and Will Willans.

Where a bell's exact weight is known, it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is equal to approximately 50.8 kilograms). However, if only an approximate or calculated weight is known, it is given to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.

A bell's diameter is measured across its mouth (open end) at the widest point and is given in inches (to the nearest quarter of an inch), one inch being equal to approximately 2.54 centimetres.