The Bells

FRIENDS OF ST. JOHN’S CHURCH, KEYNSHAM

        A tour of St John the Baptist

The Bells

If you get the opportunity to climb the 52 steps (recently repaired with help from ‘The Friends’) up to the bell ringing chamber, take the chance.  Take care though the steps are steep and narrow, not an easy climb.
In the bell ringing chamber, apart from the bell ropes, most obvious in a large cage is the clock; bend down to see daylight at the face, note the various plaques and hear the sounds of the mechanism when it chimes - it is not quiet!
On the walls are a variety of framed and unframed pictures and notices. Above the door a picture of Queen Victoria recording the fact that on her death (Feb 2nd 1901) a muffled peal of 2000 Grandsire Triple Changes was rung in 2 hours and 7 minutes (without cessation) i.e. they did not make any mistakes which might have caused them to stop. 
Nearby two plaques record long serving ringers; Fred Day died in 1956, a ringer for 52 years and Tom Harris rang for 50 years 1936-1986.

The rules for Keynsham Church Bell ringers dated 1916 states:

1.The Company of Ringers shall keep of nine men of good character and conduct…… clearly no longer applicable today from the men only angle for photographs show women have been in the team for a long time.
6. Bells shall be rung on Easter Sunday, Whit Sunday, Christmas day, Kings, Ascension Day and at least once a month provided there is no death or sickness in the Parish or other special cause.  
A notice from 1947 which most certainly applies today says ‘Speaking Strictly Prohibited while the Bells are Ringing’. It takes too much concentration, watching and listening to the bells to think you could have a conversation whilst ringing. There are several photographs of ringing teams, the oldest appears to be 1919 or just after.

A book keeps a record of the ringing and several special events are given more prominent display with the particular scheme of ringing used, for example on 9th October 2011 the peal “Cambridge Surprise Major” was rung which involved 5056 changes - a lot of concentration. Thank you to Martin Pearson and his ringers.

On the wall to the left of the clock are the Ellacombe chimes. Installed in 1910 replacing an earlier keyboard based system from 1873; the newness of the ropes indicate a recent updating. A plastic sleeve at the point of pulling protects the hands of the ringer. When being rung George Colbourne has devised his own music score positioned behind the ropes - it is more usual to follow the tune by numbering the bells.  

Four large panoramic photographs taken in November 2017 give the view that can be seen if one ventures up the extra 66 steps to the top of the tower.  Taken by Colin Pearson they show the new development at the Fry’s/Cadburys site. On the way up you will pass the bells themselves and the frames which hold them. The last major work was done on them in 1987 and should keep them in good order for many years yet.

The view over the town from the top is very special and well worth the effort. Please wear flat shoes so that you don't damage the roof and notice the safety wires installed recently by ‘The Friends’. Barbara Lowe in her book about Keynsham Abbey wonders if the trellis work came from the Abbey. The ruins were certainly still in evidence when, in 1632, the old tower fell down, for some Abbey stone was used in building the new tower. Look out over the roofs of the church and at the left end you can see the void where the old tower used to be, and close at hand the cockerel weather vane with the date of completion of the tower - 1655 - on its tail.

Now take extra care as you come back down.                       

Edmund Prideaux