Lost Rings

Bristol Branch

Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association

Holy Cross, Bristol - click for a larger versionHoly Cross, Bristol



See a photo of this tower: 320 x 240 or 800 x 600 pixels.

This church, known locally as the Temple Church, was founded shortly before 1147 by Robert of Gloucester (the natural son of Henry I) and the Knights Templar. The original building was circular in plan and was replaced with the present structure during the 14th and 15th Centuries. According to Matthew's Directory in 1793-4 it was the largest Bristol church after St Mary the Virgin, Redcliffe.

The 114 ft (35 m) tower was built in two parts - the lower two stages were completed circa 1390, but work then halted when the structure began to lean. This was probably due to compression of the soft alluvial clay on which it was built. Once the leaning appeared to have stopped circa 1460 the upper stages were added, deviating from the lean of the lower part to the vertical. However, the extra weight caused the tower to lean even more, so it was left with neither a parapet nor pinnacles. It is now approximately 5 ft (1.6 m) out of vertical at its west wall.

Nevertheless, a ring of eight bells was hung in the tower by William Purdue III & Richard Purdue II in 1657-8 with a small Medieval Sanctus bell in a tiny wooden frame above the main ring. There was a clock that chimed the quarters and struck the hours - Matthew's Directory records that in the 18th Century it also played a tune every four hours from midnight - and later an Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus was installed in the Ringing Room. There is probable evidence of the clock's dial on the west wall of the tower.

As with many other churches' bells, Llewellins & James' book "Bells & Bellfounding" (X-Y-Z, 1879) was most critical of this ring. The seventh and tenor were described as "cracked", the fifth as "a poor bell" and the treble as "unduly heavy"; indeed, they went on to suggest no less than two options for replacing the ring with a lighter six, either by using the present second, third and sixth as the new treble, second and fifth, and recasting the fourth into a new third a semitone lower, the fifth into a new fourth and the seventh into a new tenor (in E); or by exchanging them all for a new ring of six two-thirds of the present total weight (giving a tenor of about 15 cwt). Neither of these options was ever realised, but eight years later in 1887 the four heaviest bells were recast by John Taylor & Co, the other four had their canons removed, and all eight were rehung in a new cast iron frame. This probably coincided with the first of two major restorations of the church in the 19th Century, the second taking place in the 20th Century. The weights of the bells when they returned were: (1) 8-3-22, (2) 9-0-07, (3) 9-0-18, (4) 8-2-26, (5) 10-2-12, (6) 11-1-10, (7) 14-1-12, (8) 21-1-24.

Unfortunately, the church was gutted by incendiary bombs on 24th November 1940, although the outer walls and tower survived. The tower in fact had a second lucky escape when the British Army were called in to make safe the remaining structure. The story goes that on seeing the "dangerous" lean of the tower they set explosive charges around it and were about to demolish it, until an elderly Bristolian stepped in and explained that it had stood like that for nearly 500 years. English Heritage ended up taking on the site, and the layout of the original Knights Templar church was later laid out within the ruins.

The bells were removed from the tower for safety in 1941. Following the destruction of the church it was found that the tower had been weakened so it was decided not to rehang them there. Instead, in 1952 they were offered to Christ Church, Clifton who turned them down despite its tower being more than fit for the purpose. Bristol Cathedral however was much more welcoming and in 1958 the bells were hung in its north-west tower. Probably around the same time the Sanctus was transferred to Holy Cross, Inns Court Green (ST588692) where it now hangs dead alongside a slightly larger but higher pitched bell that was cast by Mears & Stainbank in 1959 (1-0-00 in Eb, 15¾ in diameter). The walls of the Ringing Room at Holy Cross have since been stripped bare: the Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus has been dismantled and even the coathooks have gone. But the 1887 bell-frame - complete with Ellacombe chiming hammers - is still in the belfry, along with the tiny wooden frame for the Sanctus.

The bells of Holy Cross, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
19-1-26 33½ inEb Thomas Bilbie I 1726
29-0-12 33½ inD Thomas Bilbie I 1726
39-2-00 34½ inC William Purdue III & Richard Purdue II 1658
49-0-04 36½ inBb Thomas Bilbie I 1740
510-0-00 37½ inAb William Purdue III & Richard Purdue II 1657
611-3-00 40½ inG William Purdue III & Richard Purdue II 1657
715-1-00 44 inF Thomas Bilbie I 1721
820-1-20 49½ inEb Thomas Bilbie I 1721

Additional Bells

Additional bells at Holy Cross, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
Sanctus0-3-03 16 inC Bristol Foundry c.1380

Source: Bell data from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881) with additions and corrections from Dove's Guide (under Bristol Cathedral) and weights and diameters from Nick Bowden. Details of the Sanctus bell from Nick Bowden and George Dawson. Further information from Dove's Guide (3rd edition, 1962), "Bells & Bellfounding" (X-Y-Z, 1879), ChurchCrawler (Phil M. Draper), English Heritage, and The Ringing World 4250 (pages 982-3), 4368 (page 36) and 4407 (page 1047).

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.