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Sound of the Bells

Details of the Bells

Key dates

A detailed history of the Bells


Summary to 1798 (1440-1798)

The Briant eight (1798-1912)

The augmentation to 12 (1912-1914)

The re-casting of the front four bells (1920-1928)

Towards a new frame (1931-1962)

Cast-iron frame (1962)

The years of silence (1973-1980)


Belfry - tenor in centre, trebles to leftBelfry - tenor in center, 10th and 11th behind

Sound of the Bells

sound logo Click here to hear Saffron Walden bells (Sunday Service ringing on 18 October 2009).

Details of the Bells










Treble 4 2 12 25.50 A A.M.D.G.d.d.d. Mary Wyatt Gibson, 1914. Make a joyful noise unto God. Recast 1928, Mears and Stainbank, London.
2nd 5 - 15 26.75 G George V. R. et I. 1911. God save the King. Recast 1928, Mears and Stainbank, London.
3rd 5 1 - 27.75 F# J.J. Antrobus, Vicar, J.P. Atkinson & John Gilling, Churchwardens, 1914. L. Hughes, Vicar. H. Potter & P.L. Allen Churchwardens 1928. Lift up your hearts. Recast 1928, Mears and Stainbank, London.
4th 5 1 24 29.00 E Waldensis Posuit me Campania Gilda. Aº DNI. MCMXIIII. Frederick Pitstow, Master. O let my mouth be filled with thy praise. Recast 1928, Mears and Stainbank, London.
5th 6 1 20 31.25 D John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Justice Prudence.
6th 6 2 20 31.88 C# John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Prudence Justice.
7th 6 2 23 33.25 B John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1797.
8th 8 - 16 35.38 A John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Temperance.
9th 9 3 14 38.50 G John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Faith.
10th 10 3 19 41.00   C.&G. Mears, Founders, London 1849. Ralph Clutton, B.D. Vicar. Thomas Frye, Henry Smith, Churchwardens 1849.
11th 14 1 2 45.38 E John Leverett, Thomas Cornwell, Churchwardens 1813. T. Mears of London Fecit.
Tenor 22 2 24 50.88 D This Peal was cast and hung by John Briant of Hertford from a voluntary subscription of Lord Braybrooke and the Inhabitants. Gloria Deo in excelsis Law temporal The Gospel eternal. Memo:- The first four Bells were added in 1914. Wm. Gretton Vicar R Leverett & J Bowtell Churchwardens. AN.DOM. 1798.

Key dates

  • 1440; first record of bells in Walden
  • 1624, 1629 and 1634; tenor recast three times by Miles Gray I
  • 1641; evidence of 6 bells
  • 1654; 5th re-cast and rest re-hung by George Hodson
  • 1679; 3rd re-cast
  • 1702/3; bells recast and probably augmented to 8 by Richard Keen
  • 1710 and 1720; tenor re-cast by John Hodson
  • 1753; first recorded peal (on 8 bells)
  • 1798; bells recast by John Briant
  • 1812; subscription to obtain 10 bells is proposed but falls through
  • 1813; 7th recast by Thomas Mears
  • 1832; upper tower renewed and spire added
  • 1849; 6th recast by C&G Mears
  • 1875; bells cease to be ground floor ring and re-hung by Warner and Sons
  • 1914; augmentation to 12 bells by addition of 4 trebles by Alfred Bowell
  • 1928; front 4 bells recast by Mears and Stainbank and 9th and 10th tuned
  • 1932; tenor re-hung on ball bearings
  • 1935; 10th re-hung on ball bearings
  • 1960; 11th gudgeon breaks on Great Ringing Day - ringing suspended awaiting complete re-hang
  • 1962; bells re-tuned and re-hung in cast-iron frame
  • 1973; spire declared unsafe and ringing suspended
  • 1980; first ringing on the bells following 7-year tower restoration
  • 2008; addition of 6-bell simulator

A detailed history of the bells


For the period up to 1912, this account summarises the material that can be found in Benton and in Deedes & Walters (see reference page for details). From 1912 until the present day, the material is dealt with in some detail - the main source being the extensive minutes of the Society, which from 1881 to 1937 were kept on a monthly basis (along with updates, newspaper clippings and photographs). These present a fascinating picture of the workings of the the Society and the interplay of personalities.

Summary to 1798

The earliest mention of bells in Walden (the prefix of "Saffron" came into use around 1582, due to Walden being the centre of saffron production) is in 1440 as recorded in the Churchwardens’ accounts, which go back to 1439. Lord Braybrooke detailed the following entries in his History of Audley End (1836), an entry for 1440 reads:

For rynggyn wanne ye quene was her a ryc’ Rekfyriiijd pro emendemmentis de deux clap’s le secound & le ters belle....a payment of five shillings for the ringing of the bells when the Queen passed through the town.

In 1445 the bells were not rung when Henry VI visited the abbey. The wardens had to pay a fine which is thus entered in Latin:

Sol servis dne Regie p defect p pulsacionis qn vent 1 ad Abbathiam ...... ij s

St Mary’s was re-built between 1450 and 1540; hence both these references must relate to the earlier church.

The warden’s accounts also record that Miles Graye of Colchester cast Saffron Walden’s “greate bell” in 1624. As Benton remarks, the parishioners were exceptionally unfortunate with regard to this bell in that it was recast three times by Miles Graye I within eleven years. A later entry finds fault with Miles Graye because the great bell after being recast did not weigh more than 13½ cwt.

Despite numerous records regarding the costs associated with the bells, the number of bells is unclear until 1641 when we have:

Paid to Thomas Low for helping Georg Hull to trusse up the 4th, 5th, & 6th bells, they being loese in there stocks, and keyes slipte out 10d

And further a record of a Visitation held at Walden in 1686, states that ‘there are six bells in good order’.

The records from 1642 to 1652 detail a catalogue of serious maintenance of the bells especially that of the “great” bell. In 1654 John Hodson of London is paid £37 for the re-casting (probably in a temporary foundry outside the church) of the “ffift” bell and the re-hanging of the rest.

In 1679 “ye 3d Bell” is re-cast at a cost of £11 19s 11d.

It seems likely that the bells where once again re-cast in 1702/3 by a “Richard Cane” who is thought to be Richard Keen from Oxfordshire who had a temporary foundry in Royston, at a cost of some £60. It is thought most likely that the bells were augmented to eight at this point.

In 1709 the accounts make mention of the purchase of a “Rope for the Seventh Bell”, implying a ring of 8 bells although there remains doubt as Morant, the celebrated Essex historian, mentions “a good ring of 6 bells".

In 1720 the tenor is re-cast at a cost of around £40. The weight of the new tenor is recorded as 25cwt – a very close match to today’s tenor.

In 1754 we get final confirmation of 8 bells with the earliest record of a peal (Henry Stear collection of news cuttings, Saffron Walden Museum) being rung at Walden of Grandsire Triples on Christmas Day and second peal of Grandsire followed again on New Year’s Day 1755.

The Briant eight

All 8 bells were then re-cast by John Briant of Hertford in 1798 from a voluntary subscription of Lord Braybrooke and the inhabitants of Saffron Walden. These bells form the core of today’s ring of 12 (bells 5,6,7,8,9 and Tenor). Stacey, records that the bells"were opened on the 6th July, 1798 by the Ringing Company from Chelmsford."

The Briant Eight (as per framed details in archive)

[in all probability the bells were always in D and not Eb as stated here]





cwt (approx.)

Treble 6 Eb John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Justice Prudence.
2nd 6½ D John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Prudence Justice.
3rd 7½ C John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1797.
4th 9 Bb John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Temperance.
5th 10½ Ab John Briant, Hertford, Fecit 1798, Faith.
6th 11½ G ?
7th 16 F ?
Tenor 24 Eb This Peal was cast and hung by John Briant of Hertford from a voluntary subscription of Lord Braybrooke and the Inhabitants. Gloria Deo in excelsis Law temporal The Gospel eternal.  AN.DOM. 1798.

A subscription to obtain 10 bells was proposed in 1812 but this fell through, although the seventh was re-cast by Thomas Mears of London in 1813 (today’s 11th). A peal of Bob Major was rung on 15 December – “on occasion of the opening of the seventh bell”.

The sixth bell (today’s 10th) was recast in 1849 by C&G Mears of London.

In 1832 the upper section of tower was renewed and the 193ft spire designed by Rickman added. At this time it is assumed that the tower staircase was blocked up and access to the bells changed to be via the staircase south of the chancel arch and over the south aisle roof. During this period the bells were unringable and the ringers purchased a set of handbells partly funded by public subscription.

Until 1875 the bells were rung from the ground floor and access to bells was via the SE chancel stairs and over the south aisle roof. In late 1875 the lower half of the tower staircase was unblocked and repaired, and a new ringing floor erected. The bells were rung from the ground floor for the last time on November 9th 1875. On the next day they were taken out, and after necessary repairs to the wheels and fittings were re-hung by Warner and Sons. The bells were first rung from the new ringing room on the evening of 3rd December. For some time, the Society continued to use the walls at the base of the tower to commemorate their exploits - nine stone peal boards remain in situ.

In 1893, Mr John Gray of Stortford was engaged "for thoroughly repairing the bells, but he did not begin the work until August 14 which consequently stopped the ringing to a large extant through the summer. The work was completed satisfactorily by Aug 30 and the Company rang touches that same evening, finding that the work had been carried out in a workmanlike manner."

In 1909; when contributing to The Church Bells of Essex, “Mr Taylor, Master of the Guild of Ringers, notes that the third bell ‘is not only in tune with the others but in tune with itself’”!

Alfred Bowell of Ipswich "repaired" the tenor in 1910 and the minutes report that is is "now in through going order".

The augmentation to 12

First mention of an augmentation comes from the Ringing World (Nov. 17, 1911):

Sir,-In your Association Notes last week, in commenting upon the condition of the Bishop's Stortford bells, it is stated that Saffron Walden bells also require about £80 spent upon them. This, doubtless, arises from a remark made at the meeting of the North Western District of the Essex Association, held at Bishop's Stortford lately, that it was very desirable that two bells should be added to the existing eight, the cost of which would be about £80. We are pleased to say that the bells of Saffron Walden are in excellent condition and the "go" good, having been thoroughly overhauled by Mr. Bowell last year. J. F. PENNING.

The monthly minutes of the Society outline the discussions and progress towards the 1914 augmentation to 12 (initially 10) bells by the addition of 4 trebles:

May 28, 1912; A lengthy discussion took place regarding the means of raising the money for the proposed two new bells and Mr A. James proposed, seconded, by Mr N.J. Pitstow, that 50 subscription cards be printed. The wording was left to Mr J. Penning and Mr N.J. Pitstow.

Sept 24, 1912; A lengthy discussion took place as to the subscriptions towards the two new bells and it was the general feeling of the meeting that a special effort should be made to get the required money. It was proposed by Mr. F. J. Pitstow, seconded by Mr. G. Sparrow that Mr. Penning be asked to personally interview known residents. This Mr. Penning readily agreed to do so and Mr James proposed, seconded by Mr Sparrow that if Mr Penning was successful in obtaining the required money he should receive ten percent as collection commission (carried).

Oct 29, 1912; The subscription for the two new bells was again discussed but Mr Penning reported that owing to the illness of Mr. N.J. Pitstow he was not prepared to make a statement.

Nov 16, 1912; The new bells were again discussed but nothing further was discussed as Mr. Penning was not at the meeting.

May 27, 1913; Mr A James proposed, seconded by Mr Parish that the money collected for the two new bells be handed over to the Treasurer at the next monthly meeting of the ringers (carried).

Sept 30, 1913; The new bells were the chief topic of discussion at this meeting. Mr F Pitstow reported that we had seen Mr Luke (???) on the matter and the Miss Gibson had agreed to give one bell value - £50. Mr F.J. Pitstow said that a banking account had been opened at Barclay’s Bank and the majority of the outstanding subscriptions had been paid into the account amounting to about £25. It was proposed that Mr F Pitstow call on Dr. Atkinson and see what he could do in helping towards the new bells and to report on the following Tuesday.

And from the Ringing World (Oct 3 1913) we have:

"Speaking of Saffron Walden reminds us that the scheme to provide this tower with two trebles to make a peal of ten is well under weigh, and it is hoped that the church will be in procession of its augmented ring in a very short time now. They will doubtless make a magnificent peal, and there will be a fine scope for the band, which the Pitstow family have made famous. The other 10-bell towers in Essex are Walthamstow, West Ham and Prittlewell."

Oct 23, 1913; Mr F.J. Pitstow reported (in connection with the new bells) that he had received the sum of £5 from Mrs E.B Gibson & paid it into the account at the bank. He also had seen the Vicar who had promises of about £30 and the matter was now awaiting further estimates before the notices were sent out.

The augmentation, at this point changed from being an augmentation to 10 bels to that of 12 – one assumes due to the success of the subscription efforts. This is confirmed by news items in the Ringing World (Oct. 31, 1913):

"Chelmsford Cathedral will not long be the only church possessing a ring of 12 in the county of Essex. Tenders have been invited and received for four trebles to be added to the ring of 8 at Saffron Walden.", and in Bell News (Dec. 13, 1913) which reads "...Mr JF Penning said when they made the appeal at Walden for funds for enlarging the ring of ten bells they did not think money would be forthcoming so quickly. They had now decided to follow Chelmsford and have a peal of twelve, which would be an accomplished fact in a few months time."

Feb 24, 1914; Mr F.J. Pitstow referred to the proposed inscription on the four new bells and pointed out how unfair it would be, after the Company’s untiring efforts in obtaining the bells if they were not recognised by having a Ringer’s Bell. He proposed, seconded by Mr James, that the Secty. write to the Vicar asking if he would kindly receive a deputation of ringers with regard to the inscriptions on the four new bells. This was the unanimous wish of all present. In the event of the Vicar granting the request Messrs. F Pitstow, A. James and R.A. Strong were asked to represent the ringers.

Mar 31, 1914; The Secty. reported that there had been no need for the deputation of ringers, as proposed last Club Night, as the Vicar had written saying that he & the churchwardens both agreed that one of the bells must bear an inscription stating that it was made owing to the exertions of the Walden ringers. The proposed inscription was “the Walden Guild of Ringers placed me here”.

The ringer’s inscription was inscribed on the 4th as follows:– “WALDENSIS POSUIT ME CAMPANARIA GILDA Ao DNI MCMXIIIIO FREDERICK PITSTOW, MASTER. O LET MY MOUTH BE FILLED WITH THY PRAISE.” At some point Alfred Bowell of Ipswich was given the order for the four new front bells. It is believed that he was the only bellfounder who stated that he could accommodate the new bells on the same level as that of the existing eight.

April 28, 1914; Mr Bowell was now altering the frame work of the bells to accommodate twelve & had taken the Treble away [to ensure correctly tuned] in order to cast the four new ones.

May 26, 1914; The Secty. reported that a Special meeting had been called on May the 19th to make arrangement for the augmentation of the new bells on June 27th. At the meeting it was resolved that (a) Bills be printed advertising the same for use on the Great Eastern Railway, cheap tickets being issued by that company to Saffron Walden on June 27th. (b) That advertisements be inserted in the Bell News & Ringing World advertising the event. (c) That a free luncheon would be provided by the Walden Ringers to all ringers who notified the Secty. by Tuesday, June 23rd. It was proposed by A. Everett, seconded by G. Sparrow that “Dinner Tickets” be obtained. This was carried and the Secty. was requested to obtain the same. Tenders for a ‘cold luncheon’ were presented at the meeting from Mr Taylor, and Mr Scotney and the latter was accepted who agreed to provide an unlimited number of 1/6 per head....At a Special Meeting held on June 16th the Secty. was requested to write to Mr E Pitstow asking him to help the Company on the Opening Day June 27th as it was the unanimous wish that the Bells should be opened by the local band. He was also asked to write the Weekly News Office, Cambridge asking for a reporter on June 27th – and explaining how matters stood.

The Cambridge Weekly News of 3rd July 1914 carried a full page report (in archive along with copy of the Order of Service) of the dedication service and sermon (given by the Bishop of the Diocese), the Great Ringing Day celebrations along with details of the bells, the donors and a picture of the bells on the steps outside the west door.

Details of the four trebles of 1914










Treble 3 2 - 23.0 A A.M.D.G.d.d.d. Mary Wyatt Gibson, 1914. Make a joyful noise unto God. A. Bowell, Ipswich.
2nd 4 - - 25.0 G George V. R. et I. 1911. God save the King. A. Bowell, Ipswich.
3rd 4 1 - 27.0 F# J.J. Antrobus, Vicar, J.P. Atkinson & John Gilling, Churchwardens, 1914. Lift up your hearts. A Bowell, Ipswich.
4th 5 1 - 29.5 E Waldensis Posuit me Campania Gilda. Aº DNI. MCMXIIII. Frederick Pitstow, Master. O let my mouth be filled with thy praise. A Bowell, Ipswich.

The re-casting of the front four bells

With the end of the Great War, an issue regarding the tone of the treble came to the fore:

Feb 24, 1920; It was also proposed by F.J. Pitstow, seconded by A.E. Pitstow that the Secty. write to Mr A Bowell with reference to the Treble bell asking him if he could improve it’s tone etc. as he promised as in it’s present state it was most unsatisfactory.

Mar 30, 1920; A letter was read from Mr A Bowell of Ipswich regarding the recasting of the Treble Bell.

The original, and seemingly pathetic (but this might be an accurate reflection of reality post 1918), letter is in the archive dated March 9th and reads:

Dear Mr Strong, I regret to say that I am in such a muddle with my work that I cannot do anything yet. I am getting in sad disgrace all round. I am shorthanded and cannot get the right sort of help. Material is also difficult to obtain, whatever I order it is all alike, have to wait six month or they can’t supply it at all. I wish I had done it at the time as it will cost me a lot to take it down and recast it now. I hope to be your way before very long and will call and give you a look. With kind regards to all, I remain, in haste, Yours faithfully, Alfred Bowell”.

And there the matter seems to have rested for some seven years, although by now, it is clear that it was not just the tone of the treble that was deemed less than satisfactory but also the tuning of the treble and second and indeed the tone of all four new bells. This must have been a huge disappointment to the Society.

April 26, 1927;The Secretary reported that Mr A. Bowell of Ipswich had been here on the previous day & had examined the 2 trebles with a view of re-tuning or re-casting the same, asking that the carriage both to and from the foundry would be paid by the Company. After lengthy discussions, it was proposed by A. Everett seconded by Mr Parish that the matter be left over for open discussion at the next monthly meeting. This was carried.

At this point it appears that Fred Dench took the initiative and approached Mears and Stainbank for a second opinion....

May 31, 1927; The Chairman read a report from Messrs Mears and Stainbank with reference to the retuning or recasting of the four new bells. This firm had on the previous Saturday sent Mr Hughes, their representative to our Tower, following a letter from Mr Dench with regard to the same. The report states emphatically that the bells cannot be retuned, as there is not sufficient metal in them, and says the only remedy is to recast the 4 bells, adding sufficient metal. He estimates the cost to do same guaranteeing that the recast bells will be in tune with, and the same tone as the old eight bells, would be £132 13s 0d, not including inscriptions at 6d per letter. Mr Everett thought the letter to Mr Hughes should have been sent by the Secretary, but the feeling of the meeting was that Mr Dench acted for the good of the cause, Mr Hughes being a personal friend of his. The Chairman said that after examining the bells, both Mr Hughes and Mr Dench saw the Vicar and explained everything to him. He said that the Parochial Church Council was meeting on the following Wednesday evening and asked for 2 members of the Society to be present to explain the matter to the Council. He (the Chairman) would like the members present to give their opinion on the subject and if they decided to go through with the matter, that they would appoint 2 members to meet the Church Council the following evening. After a long discussion it was decided to go on with the matter and Messrs A.E. Pitstow & F. Dench were appointed to meet the Council on the next evening. Mr Everett asked that Mr Bowell’s offer with regard to the 2 Trebles should be put to the Church Council before the report of Messrs Mears & Stainbank. This was agreed to and the discussion then closed.

June 25, 1927; Mr Dench then gave an account of the meeting with the Parochial Church Council on June 1st. He said that both he and Mr A. Pitstow met the Council on that date & that Mr Pitstow put the matter re retuning or recasting the bells before the Council in a very excellent manner & that the reception was most encouraging. They were told that the Council agreed that the matter needed attention & that they would discuss it & forward their decision to the Secretary. The Hon. Secretary then read the following letter received from the Secretary of the P.C.C.: “June 27th 1927. Dear Mr Pitstow, The Council decided to support the movement of recasting the four bells and will be prepared to pay the cost of the faculty. Yours truly Walter H Scott, Hon. Secty.”. This was greeted with applause. Mr Everett asked whether the offer of Mr A. Bowell to retune the 2 trebles was put to the Council before the report of Messrs Mears & Stainbank. Mr Dench replied that it was but the Council were in favour of having all the bells done.

July 26, 1927; The re-casting of the four Trebles was again discussed. The Chairman said this matter could not be left for discussion from one monthly meeting to another, as no business would be done between, and in his opinion the best was to form a sub-committee, who could talk the matter over & draw up a scheme which they could bring before the Society at the next Monthly meeting. H. Sketchley proposed & G. Sparrow seconded that a sub-committee be formed (carried). G. Sparrow proposed that the sub-committee should consist of Messrs F. Dench, A. James, the Hon, Treasurer and the Hon. Secretary. This was seconded by H. Sketchley and carried.

Sept 27, 1927;The Secretary then gave an account of a meeting of the Sub-committee held at 45 High Street on September 25th. At this meeting: (1) F.J. Pitstow suggested that before anything was done to the four trebles, Miss Gibson should be approached to see if she would be kind enough to pay for the re-casting of the Treble as this bell was given by her in 1914. (2) A. James suggested that the Vicar should be asked to insert a notice in the October “Parish Magazine” to the effect that the Society was about to launch an appeal for subscriptions & hoped that all Church-goers & bell-lovers would subscribe. (3) F. Dench proposed that good, strong cards be printed, similar to those used by the Company in 1914, so that each member of the Company could collect small subscriptions from his friends. (4) F.J. Pitstow suggested that we might get in touch with a great many friends if at least two advertisements were put in the local papers. F.J. Pitstow then moved the adoption of the Committee’s recommendations. This was seconded by F. Dench & carried.

Nov 29, 1927; The Secretary reported that the Vicar had informed him that the faculty for the recasting of the four Trebles had been granted by the Chancellor. Members present felt that the Secretary should be notified in writing & he (the Sec) said we would obtain the same.

Dec 31, 1927; The Secretary read a letter from Mr Alfred Bowell in which he stated that his offer to recast the two trebles still holds good.

Feb 28, 1928; The recasting of the 4 Trebles was fully discussed and the feeling of the meeting was that before the appeal was launched, Miss Gibson should be approached to see if she could undertake to recast her bell. Mr James was asked to see Miss Gibson on the matter and consented to do so. It was decided to have cards printed so that members could collect subscriptions from their friends. Mr A.E. Pitstow suggested that there should be a Preface on the front of the card to explain exactly what was being done, and thought that the Sub-Committee could draw this up before having the cards printed. This was proposed by A. Simmonds & seconded by H. Sketchley & carried.

Mar 27, 1928; The Bell Re-casting Fund was again discussed and the Secretary read a letter from Miss Gibson which stated that she was prepared to give the sum of £50 towards the fund. This was greeted with applause. F. Dench proposed that the Secretary should see the Vicar to ask if he would be in favour of drafting a preface for the subscription cards and also ask the Vicar to sign the preface. This was seconded by W. Parish and carried. It was decided to have 20 cards printed.

Apr 24, 1928; The Secretary reported that the Preface for the subscription cards had been submitted to the Vicar and that he had signed it & the cards were in print, as were also the circulars. The Secretary stated that a list of names of all those people to whom the circulars were sent would be hung in the belfry.

May 29, 1928; The Bell Re-casting Fund was again discussed and the Treasurer reported that there was £120 in hand. The Chairman suggested that the book relating to our bells, written by Rev. Montague Benton & now in the procession of Mr Alfred Pitstow should be sent to the largest subscribers to the Bell Fund. It was decided that the matter should be discussed at the next meeting.

June 26, 1928; The matter of sending the Book on our Bells to the subscribers to the Bell Fund was again discussed, but in the absence of Mr Sparrow nothing could be decided. The feeling of the meeting was that it would best to defer the matter until the Opening Day of the recast bells was over.

July 31, 1928; The inscriptions on the recast bells were then discussed. The Chairman said he thought the names of the Rev. Antrobus & Messrs Atkinson & Gilling could not be on the bells again if the year 1928 was put. Messrs Mears & Stainbank had offered to give us 4 bells & to take back our bells in part payment & so the year 1928 must be put in. The Chairman suggested that as our peal of 12 bells dates from 1914, the name of the Rev. Antrobus should go on with 1914 after & Rev. Hughes with 1928 after; - the same with the Churchwardens. After a discussion it was decided that the Sub Committee should see the Vicar on the matter.

And as reported in the Ringing World (Aug. 10, 1928):

"Saffron Walden have never been a satisfactory peal of twelve. The four trebles were added to the old eight just before the war, and they are now to be recast. The work is in the hands of Messrs. Mears and Stainbank."

Aug 28, 1928; The Chairman announced that he, with the Secretary, had seen the Vicar regarding the inscriptions on the bells. It was decided that the inscriptions on the Treble, second & fourth bells should remain as before with “Re-cast 1928” added. The third bell would remain as before, with the names of the present Vicar and churchwardens and ‘Recast 1928’ added. The Secretary reported that since the last meeting the four trebles had been taken down and sent away to the foundry. Mr Sketchley proposed that when the new bells were returned, that the Society should be photographed with the bells on the church steps.This was seconded by Mr Parish & carried...

Sept 25, 1928; The recasting of the four trebles was discussed and the Secretary was instructed to write to Messrs Mears & Stainbank asking them if they could give us an approximate date when the bells would be returned. This was proposed by F. Dench and seconded by G. Sparrow and carried.

Oct 30, 1928; The new Trebles were again discussed & F. Dench proposed & W. Parish seconded that the secretary should write to Messrs Mears & Stainbank asking them to inform us as soon as they are satisfied that the bells are correct so that the Vicar can make arrangements with the Bishop for the Dedication Service. This was carried.

Nov 27, 1928; The Four new Trebles were again discussed. The Secretary read a letter from Mears & Stainbank which stated that the four bells were all cast and tuned and would be sent off the following Friday. The letter also stated that the 9th and 10th bells were both a little sharp and it would be best for the peal that these 2 bells should be flattened. After a long discussion the Secretary was requested to call together the Sub-Committee & make arrangements for the Dedication of the bells & for the entertainment of visitors. With regard to the tuning of the 9th and 10th bells, it was proposed by F.J. Pitstow that the matter be left over until the new bells were hung & the octaves were tested. This was seconded by F. Dench and carried.

The next entry in the minute book records the “The Dedication of the Four New Trebles” thus:

The four new Trebles were opened on Saturday December 15th at 3 P.M. The Society met at 2.30 P.M. and rang touches of Stedman Triples and Double Norwich. After the bells had been dedicated by the Bishop of Colchester the Society opened the bells by ringing a few “rounds”, the band standing as follows:-

Treble A.E. Pitstow 7th A.L. Simmonds
2nd E.A. Pitstow 8th F.J. Pitstow
3rd A.F. James 9th F. Ridgewell
4th L.E. Pitstow 10th R.A. Strong
5th H. Sketchley 11th F. Dench
6th G. Sparrow Tenor W. Parish

At the conclusion of the service the Society rang a Bob Course of Stedman Cinques, the band standing as above with the exception of Harold Pitstow who took the place of A. James.

Previous to the opening of the bells, Messrs Mears & Stainbank flattened the 9th and 10th bells as they were always very sharp by the Tenor.

The minute book contains reports of the Dedication Service from the Ringing World and local newspapers and details of the subscribers to the bell fund.

Towards a new frame

In 1931 the beams supporting the frame were found to be infested with death-watch beetle and the church was planning to replace them with girders. The Society suggested that Mears & Stainbank should be consulted prior to any work being carried out - the Society agreed to pay the cost. Mr Hughes later reported that "the work was being carried out in an efficient manner and that nothing was being done to interfere with the 'Go' of the bells".

Sept 27, 1932; ...since the last meeting the Tenor has been re-hung on ball-bearings by Messrs Mears & Stainbank, and the 'go' of the bell is considered satisfactory in every way.

Oct 29, 1935; During July the bells were overhauled and the 10th bell re-hung on ball bearings by Mears & Stainbank and all agreed that the work was most satisfactory.

Jul 27, 1937; The Secretary said that in the last few weeks the 9th and 11th bells had been giving trouble....he had therefore written to Mears & Stainbank asking them to come and inspect these 2 bells. This firm had replied saying that they feared both bells would have to be put on ball bearings"

Aug 31, 1937; The Secretary announced that Mr Hughes of Messrs Mears & Stainbank paid a visit on Augurst 10th and examined the 9th and 11th bells. In his report that arrived 2 days later, he recommends that both bells be re-hung on ball bearings, the cost of doing same he estimates will be £37 17s 6d. The Secretary said he had placed the report before the Vicar who said the church could not afford to carry out these repairs as they were at present £150 in debt.

The Society sought the permission of the Vicar for two of the members to examine the bells themselves to see if they could endeavour to improve the 'go' of the bells themselves.

Dec 7th, 1937; It was announced that the 9th and 11th bells were now going satisfactorily and Mr AE Pitstow said the Society's thanks were due to those 2 members who had given up their evenings to do the work (AL Simmonds and R Ridgewell).

This work seems to have then allowed the bells to run reasonably well for some 20+ years.

Cast-iron frame

We now move to the 1960s....the minutes of the Society record that:

Dec 31, 1960; No ringing had taken place since Great Ringing Day owing to the eleventh bell gudgeon breaking. Both Messers Mears and Standbank, and John Taylor had given estimates for complete rehanging.

The then Master, Len Pitstow, volunteered to try and raise the required sum of £2,900 but due to other necessary restoration work on the church, he was asked by the PCC not to appeal for donations in Saffron Walden itself. However, thanks to appeals to those with connections with the bells on three continents, and to one very generous anonymous donation in particular, the money was duly raised.

...in November 1961 the 12 bells were lowered to the ground and the frame dismantled. The bells were taken to Messrs John Taylors' at Loughborough for tuning, rehanging in new fittings on ball bearings in a new cast-iron frame. The rehanging has been fixed for June 30th 1962 - Great Ringing Day... the Chairman said that the Society would ring the first touch on the bells on Opening Day.

It would seem that the re-hanging was delayed and did not happen until the autumn of 1962...

Our peal of 12 bells were rededicated by the Bishop of Colchester on Saturday October 20 1962 after being rehung, tuned by Messrs J. Taylor & Sons of Loughborough. The service which was choral, commenced at 11 A.M. conducted by the Vicar, Canon M.R. Sinker. After the Bishop had blessed the bells rounds were rung on the 12 bells by the local ringers. At the end of the Service Stedman Cinques was rung as the congregation left the church.

The years of silence

The spire under restoration in two prints by local artist Edward Bawden.

Saffron Walden Festival poster (1975)

Edward Bawden - Saffron Walden poster (1975) Church & Thunderstorm (1980) Edward Bawden - Church and Thunderstorm (1980)

With the 1970s we reach a low point in the history and a very difficult period for the Society. In November 1973, the church spire was declared as being unsafe - the Cambridge Evening News reporting that "Half an inch of highly brittle steel is all that has been holding up the 200-foot spire". Ringing was suspended and the bells shrouded in plastic. The cost of restoration work was estimated to be in excess of £100,000. Society practices continued to be held initially at Radwinter before moving to Ashdon - both eights. Restoration progress was slow as detailed in the minute book:

Dec 31, 1974; The Master reported that the repairs to the steeple were progressing very slowly and it is unlikely there will be any ringing at Saffron Walden during the coming year.

Jan 6, 1976; Unfortunately the news regarding Saffron Walden tower was not good and he [the master] did not foresee any ringing there in 1976.

Jan 10, 1978; At Saffron Walden the bells were now being chimed regularly for services and weddings and it was very pleasing to see the tower surrounded by scaffolding and repair work once again underway.... L.Pitstow pointed out the need for the bell frame to be cleaned and painted now that the restoration of the steeple was complete. However it was thought that as there is still considerable amount of dust in the bell chamber, caused by work on the tower [that] painting should be delayed.

Jan 23, 1979; The Rector said that two men were working on the spire as fast as funds would permit. Two cupolas had been restored and it was thought that a further £55,000 would be required to complete the work on the lower spire, assuming government grants of 50% of the cost and current cash flow of £10,000 per annum were maintained, this would mean that ringing could not begin before late 1981 at the earliest.

Feb 12, 1980;The Rector mentioned that a 3rd man has started work on the tower in an effort to gain the maximum benefit from the D.O.E. [Department Of Environment] before their fiscal year ends on 31st March. It is hoped that the major work on the tower will be completed by July 1980 and the District Church Council hoped to arrange a large celebration to mark the £200,000 phase of the restoration work on 27th September 1980. If possible it is hoped that the bells will be rung at that time although obviously this can only be ascertained nearer the date.....During the early part of this year a spire light fell in and smashed the eleventh's wheel. The Rector pointed out that the church's insurance policy covers damage to bells and their workings.....John Read suggested that we engage in some sort of publicity before we commence ringing at Saffron Walden again. Tracey Matthews thought it would be a good idea to try and persuade the Saffron Walden Weekly News to feature Bellringing in their Picture Parade. Bob Mitchell said that while he was at Hertford they opened the tower to the public to demonstrate ringing and generally show off the bells and their workings and this proved very successful. They decided to discuss these [ideas] further at an extraordinary meeting to be held later once we know when ringing can definitely commence at Saffron Walden.

May 17, 1980; Sponsored Peal of Bob Triples rung at Ashdon (photograph) to raise funds for the church restoration.

Sep 23, 1980; During August this year the Rector advised Roger [Master] that the work on St Mary's was nearing completion. An Extraordinary General Meeting was arranged for Tuesday 23rd September....The Master was pleased to say that Graham Knight of John Taylor & Co. had inspected the bells and their fittings the previous day and given the go ahead for ringing to commence.

Ringing re-commenced at Saffron Walden on 9th November 1980 with half-muffled ringing for Remembrance Service - the first ringing on the bells for seven long years, with the first quarter peal being rung a few weeks later.

The bells have not required any major work in recent years and the continue to be a very easy-going and pleasing ring of twelve bells. In 2008 a six-bell simulator was installed as a teaching aid - there are plans to expand this to eight bells in the near future.

Details of the bells - as found at the foot of the tower stairs and created in 1989 as a memorial to Ruth Mumford, a ringer at Walden for over 30 years (click on the picture for larger version).

Details of bells


  • The Bells and Ringing Annals of Saffron Walden – Rev. G. Montagu Benton (1921) – ringers' archive [Coll 1b]
  • The Church Bells of Essex – G. Deedes and H.B. Walters (1909)
  • Churchwardens' Account – Essex Records Office and Saffron Walden Museum
  • The history and antiquities of the county of Essex – Phillip Morant (1768)
  • The Saffron Walden Society of Change Ringers – H.C. Stacey (1976) – ringers' archive [Coll 1d]
  • Society Minutes (from 1881) – ringers' archive [M 1-4]
  • The Ringing World
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