The Church Bells of the City of London

ST DUNSTAN-IN-THE-EAST, Lower Thames St

Formerly 8 ringing Bells
Tenor: 21-0-14 in E flat
Frame: 1951 John Taylor & Co.
Upstairs Ringing Room
5 transferred to Sterling Winery, Calistoga, California (plus 2 recast) and the tenor scrapped
PEALS
? Recording of Cambridge S Major
(10,863kB)
? Recording of the tenor being rung up
(1,320kB)

The above 2 recordings were made by John Pladdys and have since been enhanced as far as possible. A shorter excerpt from the long recording above will be made and placed here shortly.

DETAILS OF THE BELLS

Bell

Weight

Diameter

Note

Cast

Founder

Treble

5-2-8

29" E flat

1951

John Taylor & Co.

2

5-3-1 30" D

1951

John Taylor & Co.

3

6-2-11 31½" C 1951 John Taylor & Co.

4

7-2-17 34" B flat 1951 John Taylor & Co.
5 9-2-7 37" A flat 1951 John Taylor & Co.
6 11-0-13 39" G 1951 John Taylor & Co.
7 14-1-17 43" F 1951 John Taylor & Co.
Tenor 21-0-14 48½" E flat 1951 John Taylor & Co.
1. WM: STRENGFELLOW D. D. RECT: I: SHARP S: KING CH: W: R: PHELPS MADE ME (14 fleurs-de-lys) 1718

RECAST 1951
2. T. LISTER MADE ME 1740 (28 rosettes)

RECAST 1951
3. GOD PROSPER THE CHVRCH OF ENGLAND A: R: 1700 %% (6 fleurs-de-lys)

RECAST 1951
4. PEACE AND GOOD NEIGHBOURHOOD A: R: 1700 (16 rosettes)

RECAST 1951
5. GOD SAVE THE KING AND THE CHVRCH A%R 1700 (19 fleurs-de-lys)

RECAST 1951
6. ROBERT CATLIN FECIT 1715 (40 rosettes)

RECAST 1951
7. THE REV. EDMUND BATEMAN, RECTOR. JOHN SMITH, JOHN WILLIS, CHURCHWARDENS. R. CATLIN.
  1750

RECAST 1951
8. MR WM STRONGFELLOW \ RECTOR A. R% 1700 (19 fleurs-de-lys)
  MR PETER ?/font> DELAMOTTE: MR THO SHERLEY CHVRCHWARDENS (50 fleurs-de-lys)
SPRIRTUS SANCTUS A PATRE ET FILIO
SUAVITER SONANS AD SALUTEM
REFOUNDED 1951 BY TAYLOR, LOUGHBORO.
ARTHUR G. B. WEST RECTOR

F. CLYDE JEAVONS
E. CLEVELAND STEVENS

}

CHURCHWARDENS

The following pattern numbers appear on the respective bells: 195; 213; 276; 236; 201; 188; 249; 223.
Note that the following errors crept in:
2nd: the name LESTER is replaced by LISTER and the date 1740 is incorrect;
6th: The date 1715 is incorrect.
Much of the ornament is different, and a great deal of the lettering is not a facsimile of what was there before.

These bells were hung with cast-iron headstocks, fixed steel gudgeons, ball bearings, traditional type wheels, Hastings stays and sliders, and Ellacombe hammer on the 5th and a clock hammer on the tenor. The frame was cast iron and had bells 1, 2, 5 6, swinging north-south, the latter pair mouth to mouth, the others parallel; bells 3, 4, 7, 8 swung side by side in the centre, with the tenor at the north side, not in the centre, as it was hoped to reduce thus the thrust on the tower. 3 and 4 were roped opposite; the tenors were unopposed. All the framework (except the support girders) and the fittings were purchased by John Taylor & Co. in 1970.

PREVIOUS RING OF BELLS

Bell

Weight

Diameter

Note

Cast

Founder Comments

Treble

5-0-8

29½" D

1718

Richard Phelps Crown broken out

2

5½ cwt approx. 31" C#

1740

Thomas Lester Broken

3

7-2-24 33½" B 1700 Abraham Rudhall Cracked

4

8½ cwt approx. 36½" A 1700 Abraham Rudhall Broken
5 12-1-20 39½" G# 1700 Abraham Rudhall Cracked
6 12¼ cwt approx. 41" F# 1750 Robert Catlin Broken
7 15½ cwt approx. 45½" E 1750 Robert Catlin Broken
Tenor 22-2-24 50½" D 1700 Abraham Rudhall Sound

The weight of of the metal recovered from bells 2, 4, 6 and 7 totalled 29-3-4.

1. + WM: STRENGFELLOW D. D. RECT: I: SHARP S: KING CH: W: R: PHELPS MADE ME 1718
 
2. T: LESTER MADE ME J746
 
3. (Border) GOD PROSPER THE CHVRCH OF ENGLAND ?/font> A: R %% 1700
 
4. PEACE AND GOOD NEIGHBOVRHOOD % A: R %% 1700
 
5. GOD SAVE THE KING AND THE CHVRCH A%R 1700
 
6. (Illegible until) ROBERT CATLIN FECIT J750 (6 bluebells)
 
7. THE REV. EDMUND BATEMAN D.D RECTOR (bluebell) IOHN SMITH ?IOHN WILLIS CHURCH
(same line) WARDENS RT CATLIN FECIT J1750 (bluebell)(3 bluebells)
 
8. MR WM STRONGFELLOW RECTOR 1700 (border) A R (border)
  MR PERSE DE LA MOTTE v MR THO SHELLEY CHURCHWARDENS (border)
 

HISTORY

1382

Church built.

1543

Churchwardens paid the enormous sum of ?500 for "A change of bells and ye underweight of ye same".

1552

Record of 5 bells, a sanctus bell and a clock bell ("Item v greate Bells and a saunce bell. Item a clocke bell".

1683

Church rebuilt.

1666

Church partially destroyed in the Great Fire.

1668

Church rebuilt by Wren.

1699

Spire completed to the height of 180?".

1700

Ring of 8 cast by Abraham Rudhall.

1702

25th Jul.

A notice in the Post Boy says "Whereas Mr. Abraham Rudhall of the city of Gloucester, bell-founder, was lately employed to cast 8 bells for the Parish Church of St. Dunstan's in London. This is to give notice that he has performed his contract to the universal satisfaction of the gentlemen of the said Parish, and in the opinion of the ablest judges has made them the best peal of bells in all England."

1718

Treble recast.

1718

12th Sept.

The first ever peal of major was rung, at this church.

1746

Second recast.

1750

6th and 7th recast.

1817-21

Body of church taken down and rebuilt.

1817

Bells restored and hung in new timber two-tier frame by Thomas Mears II.

1821

Church clock supplied by Moore of Clerkenwell with two 5 foot dials.

1824

Record of 8 bells.

1836

26th Feb.

The Times described the bells as "A very iron-toned peal of eight, a disgrace to the beautiful piece of architecture they occupy, tenor 24 cwt., in E. Sextoness the steeple-keeper, appoints a deputy, who some time back was a femail, a Mrs. Spranger, and she had a deputy. The appendages of these bells have been often damaged."

1859

Mention of a clock bell or a priests bell (Tyssen).

1904

Bells rehung in a cast-iron frame all on one level by Mears & Stainbank.

1941

10th May

Church gutted during a bombing raid. The bells were seriously damaged and three crashed to the ground. The rest were taken down and stored in a vault until 1951.

1951

New ring of 8 bells cast for the preserved tower. Clearly there were 2 goes at casting the 2nd as the discarded bell (30") was put into stock and ended up at St Vincent de Paul, Southmead, Bristol in 1955. All inscription was chipped off apart from the Taylor foundry mark.

1953

Bells hung in the tower. Since the rest of the church was not rebuilt to buttress the tower, there was significant oscillation when the 8 bells were rung. Therefore, after the initial try out, the bells were only rung singly each year pending the rebuilding of the church. This was not to happen, so the octave remained silent for many years.

1960

Parish united with All Hallows, Barking by the Tower.

1966

10th May

Permission was finally given to ring the octave, and ringing took place in the tower on several occasions from this date. No peals however were ever rung on them, and the only quarter peal to be attempted was lost.

1970

26th Nov.

Their fate decided by the church authorities, the bells were rung for the last time on this date. (The last touch was Stedman Triples.)

1970

27th Nov.

The dismantling of the bells began.

1970

6th Dec.

The dismantling was completed and the fine tenor was smashed up in the tower as it wouldn't go through the bell hole in the plaster vault which was ?" smaller and circular. A day or two before, a lorry had hit a bollard and clipped Taylor's truck, catching the headstock of the 5th and tipping the bell off on to the cobbles breaking it into pieces. The bells were sold back to their founders for ?2,544. Shortly afterwards, the bells were moved to Sterling Winery, Calistoga in California, USA (the treble and 5th were recast and a new treble added).

DETAILS OF THE OCTAVE AS THEY NOW HANG IN
STERLING WINERY, CALISTOGA, CALIFORNIA

Bell

Position 1951

Weight

Diameter

Note

Cast

Founder

Treble

-

4-3-14

27?" F

1971

John Taylor & Co.

2

Treble recast

5-1-0

28?" E

1971

John Taylor & Co.

3

2

5-3-1 30" D

1951

John Taylor & Co.

4

3

6-2-11 31½" C 1951 John Taylor & Co.

5

4

7-2-17 34" B flat 1951 John Taylor & Co.
6 5 recast 8-2-17 36" A 1971 John Taylor & Co.
7 6 11-0-13 39" G 1951 John Taylor & Co.
Tenor 7 14-1-17 43" F 1951 John Taylor & Co.

The inscriptions on the new (1971) bells are as follows:

 

1. [ JOHN TAYLOR & CO [ FOUNDERS [ LOUGHBOROUGH [ ENGLAND [ 1971
 
2. WM: STRENGFELLOW D. D. RECT: I: SHARP S: KING CH: W: R: PHELPS MADE ME 1718.

RECAST 1951
RECAST ANEW 1971
6. GOD SAVE THE KING AND THE CHVRCH A%R 1700
 
RECAST 1951
RECAST ANEW 1971

GALLERY

One of Wren's most notable and loveliest spires soar from the church he restored after the Great Fire.
Picture: John Pladdys collection ASCY collection
DLC collection 1930
Floodlit in 1930 Church in 1911 (from Spitalfields Life)
Church in 1910 (from Spitalfields Life) In 1910 (from Spitalfields Life)
Interior. Engraving
(with thanks to John Pladdys)
On 10th May, 1941, the church was destroyed by bombs leaving only a shell. Fortunately the tower and spire survived, although there was structural damage and the bells were damaged.
dunstan-in-the-east09.jpg (56651 bytes) DLC collection 1950 DLC Collection 1949
Work on the spire nears completion in this picture, taken in 1951. This was the year that the new ring of bells for the tower was cast. The spire was taken down and rebuilt as part of the rennovation of the church. This unusual picture, taken in 1950, is of the church without its celebrated spire. The bombed out church as it appeared in 1949.
July 1941 DLC collection Photo John Pladdys collection Photo John Pladdys collection
Following the blitz, the bells lay forlornly at the base of the ruined tower. The metal was saved and earmarked for a new ring of bells to be cast in Loughborough. This picture was taken in July, 1941.    
New York Bureau: "Because many of the City's churches remain filled with debris and buried treasures as municipal demolition workers must concentrate on business and residential bombed areas, the Revd Dr Frederick C Oliver, of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, is organising a brotherhood of clergy for voluntary service in clearing the bombed churches. The Rev is shown hard at work in the ruins of his church, destroyed in one of the big German raids on the British Capital." (Photo marked 7/5/1941).
Photo provided with thanks to John Pladdys.
New York Bureau: "In the bomb-scarred ruins of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, Idol Lane, London, services are held as part of the National Day of Prayer." (Photo marked 9/8/1942)
Photo provided with thanks to John Pladdys.
New bells were installed in the tower.
Photo DLC 10th May, 1966 Photo DLC 1966 Photo John Pladdys
This photo was taken on the occasion of the first ringing on the new eight bells since the time of their installation. It is 10th May, 1966 and David Cawley is seen here inspecting the belfry. The 4th is in the foreground and the second behind. The tenor bell in 1966 Bells 1,2,5,7 and 8.
There was to be no rebuilding of the church and the authorities decided that the bells had to go.
1970 Photo DLC 1970 Photo DLC Photo John Pladdys collection
The bells were taken out of the tower one by one. While 5 of the bells were saved, the treble, 5th and tenor were smashed up. The 7th being lowered through the vault.
The bells ended up at Sterling Winery, Calistoga, California.
Photo BP Diserens Photo BP Diserens Photo BP Diserens
In the mean time, St Dunstan's has been turned into a commercial property.
Photo John Pladdys collection Photo DrL 2007 Photo DrL 2007
The empty belfry. The bell hatch as it is now. The door to the former ringing room.

"The Last Word"

Those who rang on these bells agree that they were one of the finest rings of eight in London. Their demise was an act that would surely not be sanctioned these days. I have already collected some recollections from some of those who were fortunate enough to ring here, and I would like to publish more here in due course. All submissions to the Web Master would be most welcome.

Richard Offen writes (May 2001):
I well remember the great anticipation of arriving at St Dunstan's, having heard much about these infrequently rung, but exceptionally fine bells. I well remember walking up Lower Thames Street and Wren's masterpiece of a steeple rising out of the roof tops as we approached. Of course, once one arrived at the site of the bombed church, there was a great feeling of disappointment, because the site was in such a neglected state.

We ascended the tower and raised the bells individually, checking for any potential problems as we went. If I remember correctly, when I first rang there (I rang on the bells three times before they were finally removed), on 27th July, 1970, it was the first time they'd been rung for several years. The sound of individual bells was most impressive, the tenor, needless to say, making a particular impression, but when we first rang then as a peal, wow! They were spine tinglingly good and, frankly, in my opinion, knocked Chewton Mendip, St Lawrence Jewry and every other grand eight you can think of into a cocked hat!

I remember them as being very tricky to ring however. The unsupported tower swaying and kicking quite alarmingly when they were rung, making them extremely unpredictable to handle. Boy, were they worth the effort though.

It was a great tragedy that one of the first War replacement rings, and certainly one of the best, was also the first to disappear. I don't think I've ever exactly understood why the church was not completed or why some compromise was not established that would allow the bells to continue to be rung on an occasional basis. But this was not to be and [some of] the front seven now adorn a vineyard in California, with the tenor, tragically, broken up in the tower to get it out! what a waste!

John Pladdys writes (Jul 2004):

I went to London University in 1965 at the same time as David Cawley (now Vicar of St Mary de Castro, Leicester). Within a short time we were both fascinated by the ruined church of St Dunstan in the East. Not just that here was a brand new one ton Taylor eight unrung since their installation in 1953. There was a strange, mysterious atmosphere surrounding the place and we were drawn to it. Many a night one of us would call at the other's room in our college hostel and ask "Shall we pay our respects?", and off we would go by tube from St James Park to Tower Hill, knowing every intervening station by heart. We would listen to the solemn, wistful notes of the tenor chiming the hour, and then return home via refreshments at the "Golden Egg" in Fleet St or Victoria.

Officially the bells were unringable, the tower being deemed unsafe without the church to buttress it. Many had tried to get a ring, or even just view them through contact with the mother church of All Hallows, but had always met a firm rebuttal, mainly in the form of "Tish" (Charles Tisshaw) the well-meaning but intransigent verger of All Hallows,a nd an equally intransigent churchwarden. However, David was very knowledgable and qualified in steeplekeeping matters, as well as being very persuasive and persistent, and he was soon appointed steeplekeeper. Within a short time we were given permission to ring the bells singly, and eventually David persuaded the authorities to let us try out all 8 bells in the presence of a Towers and Belfries representative (I believe it was Alan Frost). The upshot was that the bells were considered safe for ringing for short periods, and this indeed happened, notably for a London University Dinner Day.

Unfortunately, soon afterwards, David's parents became ill and he was compelled to leave University, returning in 1970. During my remaining time at college I arranged a couple of short rings, usually on the anniversary of the destruction of the church, May 10th,1941. Even this was done with considerable difficulty, as in David's absence the old attitudes returned to the powers that be, and once again the tower was "unsafe". I remember one long vac being unwilling to return to my home in West Hartlepool, and taking up residence (unofficially) at St Dunstans. I had a summer job in a printing firm in Victoria St opposite Westminster Abbey. It was a happy time living and sleeping in the ringing chamber to the sound of the clock ticking, the tenor striking the hour, and the whole atmosphere of the room with the ropes hanging down and the memories of departed ringers long gone and forgotten. Morning ablutions took place in Billingsgate Fishmarket alongside hundreds of stallholders plying their wares to the accompaniment of raucous laughter, crude oaths and the ever pervading smell of fish. One frightening incident that will be forever in my mind was awakening at 2am to hear an intruder in the clock room above, possibly a tramp or homeless person who lived in the churchyard. His footsteps on the wooden floor, followed by what was obviously the sound of my suitcase containing my belongings being dragged down the stone stairs was, at the time,a terrifying experience. I have other memories of my period of residence in the tower,but modesty and discretion prevents me from going into detail.
Eventually after completing University and working in the City for a time I left to go to Teacher's Training College in Bristol. David returned, but by then the fate of the bells of St Dunstan in the East was already sealed. A vicarage was to be built, incorporated into the tower, and the bells were to be removed. (David has told this story elswhere).

As to the bells themselves, I must disagree with my friend Jim Hedgcock. Lost bells do acquire cult status as he has said, but my memory and that of most of those who were fortunate to ring there is that they were the finest bells we have ever heard. (I am prepared to concede that unique tower accoustics may have played their part, and that out of that particular tower they may have been surpassed by the Jewrys and the Chewton Mendips.) On one occasion I made a tape recording which has since been digitally remastered and put on CD. Although it does not do the bells full justice, it brings back the memory of their wonderful sound.

There is talk of them being restored and hung for ringing again.I really hope I will be able to ring on them in their new home, but for me they will always be "the bells of St Dunstan in the East".

John Pladdys ringing at St Dunstan's

John Pladdys ringing at St Dunstan's.