The Priory Bells
A history of the Priory Bells (not including the 2 new trebles added in 2015)
In the tower there are ten bells, being a ring of eight with a flat 4th and a Sanctus bell.
The list of bells is as follows
Lets start with the oldest bell (4b)this is without doubt one of the Priory's finest possessions It was cast somewhere between 1350 and 1380 by possibly John of Gloucester who was known to be casting bells at that time. When you think Columbus only discovered America over one hundred years later in 1492 it always astonishes me. Inscribed on the bell in Latin is "I am called the Virgin Mary's bell" This bell almost certainly was first hung in the church of St Thomas which stood in the Priory grounds in the area were the Post Office is now. When it came into the Priory I don't know, there is also a bell at Little Malvern Priory by John of Gloucester.
The next oldest bells in the Priory are numbers 6 and 7 dated 1611 they were given by Ann Savage and her son John of Elmley Castle. I don't know the founder of these bells the initials EH and IH are inscribed with the date. IH was once thought to refer to John Higden of Reading, but the dates of these two bells at Malvern Priory do not tally with the known dates of John Higden. These bells are rare there are few bells in the country dated in the early 16 hundreds probably the Reformation had something to do with it.
Then we come to what we call the three Queen Anne bells. They were cast by the famous Rudhall family of Gloucester. The three bells in the Priory numbers 2, 3, and 4, were cast one in 1706 and two in 1707.by Abraham Rudhall I. Rudhalls were the first real business company of bell founders. Producing bells on a large scale. Advertising for work and doing jobs in a big area around the country. They even exported a ring of 8 bells to the Church of the Advent, Boston, Mass, in America at about the same date as the Priory bells. The company was bought out in the early 1800s and has now become the Whitechapel Foundry in London. They did a lot of very good work around the country, but they probably got rid of some interesting old bells and frames at the same time. (English Heritage would not have been around to stop them ).
We move now to Queen Victoria's Jubilee 1887 when three more bells were added, An unusual thing was done instead of two small bells being added. One treble bell and a excellent large tenor bell weighing just over a ton. This meant a new number 5 bell was needed, to give a true octave. Mary Dixey's family donated two of these bells. The other bell was given by the Archer family, As far as I know they had a wine selling business somewhere in the town.
The frame was designed and made by the same firm who cast the 19th century bells - John Taylor & Co of Loughborough. It is a high-side frame (i.e. the bells swing entirely within the height of the frame), the horizontal beams being wood and the vertical components cast iron "A" shaped frames. Unfortunately this was not a particularly successful design though over the 10 years or so that Taylor's used it about 80 examples were made. A large proportion of these have since been replaced.
John A G Clements
There are additional articles to read on the history of the church and its bells:
- The History of the Bells, by Chris Pickford (a renowned ringer, and by profession an archivist for bells, and church buildings)
- Ringing World Magazine April 24th 2009 about the Priory Bells (front page)
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