Local Tower Information

Bristol Rural Branch

Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association

St Mary, Bitton - click for a larger versionSt Mary, Bitton



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The church here dates back to 1086, with the tower being added in 1377. In 1680 the tower was struck by lightning, demolishing the spirelet above the spiral staircase which wasn't rebuilt until 1828. The foot of the staircase has also seen some alteration as its access door was originally in the ground floor of the tower. However, when the vestry was added to the north of the tower this doorway was blocked up, and a straight wooden staircase built to meet the external door of the new vestry.

The tower almost certainly originally held a ring of six bells cast by Roger Purdue I in 1633, the tenor weighing 18 cwt and measuring 45¼ inches in diameter. Over the years some of these bells were recast, including the predecessor to the present sixth in 1669. It is known that in 1803 the two smallest of three bells at St Martin, North Stoke in Somerset (ST703691) were sold to Bitton to pay for rebuilding the church, but while their size was similar to the bells here, it is unlikely that they were hung in the tower.

Two trebles were added to the ring in 1936, all the bells having their cast-in crown staples removed and being rehung in a new cast iron and steel frame with new fittings including Hastings stays by John Taylor & Co. The new bells had flat crowns, and all except the present third and tenor had their canons removed when they were rehung. The tenor was cast with a Doncaster crown and was rehung with an elm headstock in 1936, whereas the seven smaller bells were given cast iron headstocks. It would appear that the Ellacombe chiming hammers were also moved to the opposite side of each bell at this time. The work was paid for by Frank Henning Taylor, M.A., Vicar of Bitton, in memory of his wife Blanche Ellen Taylor.

In July 2010 the tenor's elm headstock was replaced with a new one of cast iron. To facilitate this the Doncaster canons were removed from the crown, reducing the weight of the bell from 14-2-11 to 14-1-04, all of this work taking place within the confines of the belfry.

Between the Ringing Room and the belfry is an antechamber with its own door off the spiral staircase. There is clear evidence that the floor between this chamber and the Ringing Room below has been raised by two feet, the doorway being similarly raised to match. The reason for this alteration is not certain, though it may have been an attempt to improve the handling of the bells by raising the ceiling of the Ringing Room.

The sixth bell became cracked in 1971. Cast by William Purdue II & Richard Purdue III in 1669, it weighed 8-2-20 and measured 37½ inches in diameter. It was fortunate that at the time the church organ was being repaired and was not therefore in its usual place below the Ringing Room, so the old bell could be lowered and its replacement hoisted up through all of the internal floors of the tower with relative ease.

The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus is in the ground floor of the tower. Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe was Vicar at this church when he invented this instrument, and although his first installation was on the six bells at nearby St Anne, Siston, the chiming apparatus here was almost certainly the first one built for eight bells.

The bells of St Mary, Bitton
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
14-3-16 27¾ inE John Taylor & Co. 1936
25-1-03 28¾ inD# John Taylor & Co. 1936
35-3-22 31 inC# Lewis Cockey 1694
46-2-08 33 inB Roger Purdue I 1633
57-0-06 34 inA Roger Purdue I 1633
69-2-11 36¾ inG# John Taylor & Co. 1971
711-1-02 41 inF# Thomas Bilbie I 1740
814-1-04 45½ inE Mears & Stainbank 1913

Source: Bell data and information from Nick Bowden and old documents in Bitton Ringing Room. Current weights from Taylors' job book, extracted by Christopher J. Pickford; reduced tenor weight from Matthew Higby. Details of previous sixth and tenor from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Further information from the website of St Mary's, Bitton. Inspected personally and diameters measured 12th October 2006.

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.