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Eynsham's church bells

early days

Bells were used extensively in ancient oriental religions, but until Christianity was made the Roman state religion (313AD) it would have literally death to use them to publicise Christian services. Later Christians used them increasingly widely.

Until around 1400 AD their quality was pretty low, but after that bells were cast (instead of hammered) and made of bronze (instead of iron), so the quality got better.

Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (which included Eynsham abbey) in 1536, church bells were rung by monks or clergy to tell people the time for prayer. From then on, secular people rang them, and after 1600 they developed change-ringing, the style of bell-ringing now standard in England.

The Treble bell (highest note), smallest bell). The part of the inscription you can see refers to W Nash Bricknell, the Vicar and Alfred Blake and Henry Green, Churchwardens.
Change-ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called "changes", without attempting to ring a conventional tune. It uses one ringer per bell - and there are normally 6 or 8 bells - though there can be as many as 16. It is popular, and most widely practised in England; in the rest of Europe carillons are more popular; they consist of more bells, can play tunes, and be operated by one person. More on change-ringing.
the church bells in Eynsham

The first written reference to church bells in Eynsham is in a will of 1583, leaving money for the bells. We don't know how many there were then, but 70 years later, in 1652, there were 4.

Either the ropes weren't very good, or the bells were rung a lot, because the ropes had to be replaced each year.

In the Eighteenth Century most of the vicars of Eynsham were absentee vicars, and the bells (amongst other things) were seriously neglected. In the Nineteenth Century things got worse; the Churchwarden had to prohibit ringing the bells they were so dangerous. In 1893 (the year the paper mill closed, throwing 100 people out of work), the new Vicar appealed to his parishioners for funds: "The Bells have fallen into a lamentable condition, being cracked and practically useless, 3 only being available for use."

His appeal was successful, and four of the present 6 bells date from 1895 (the 3rd is 1653, the 5th 1673).

More on this in The Bells of St Leonard's, Eynsham, Lilian Wright, Eynsham Record No 10, p 36, available from either Brian Atkins (Editor), 8 Thornbury Rd or Fred Bennett (Publications Manager) 68 Witney Rd.

The Tenor bell (heaviest and deepest)