27 January 2013

The Challenge of Photographing Bells

This weekend I spent several hours photographing bells at St Margaret's Church, Hinton Waldrist.
So I thought I'd re-start my blog posting with a few comments on the joys and challenges of photographing bells.

St Margaret's is a pretty village church set in the Oxfordshire countryside, with a ring of six bells. Five are on one level, and one (the four - ie. the fourth of the six) is at the top of the tower, behind the clock.

At Hinton Waldrist the ringing chamber is on the ground floor, with the door at the end of the aisle.  So I started by photographing from the aisle back to the ringing chamber.  You can (just) see three sallies hanging down into the room.  The second picture is the reverse.  A 'ringers eye view' from inside the ringing chamber looking down the full length of the church.*

Some towers have quite a bit of space around their bells, and some don't.  Hinton's bells are fairly tightly packed in, and climbing up to the clock platform and the four means squeezing between the other bells.   Climbing two ladders brings you out below the main ring of bells.  In this tower, unlike many others, there's enough space to stand up beneath them, and I took this shot almost straight up into the mouth of the tenor.  

Taken without flash, the strong shadow is cast by light coming through one of the tower windows.  If you look at the lower end of the clapper, you will notice a buckle.  This is holding a muffle to the part of the clapper which strikes the bell.  You can see the silver wear mark where the clapper makes contact with the bell.  The muffle means the sound as the bell strikes on the left of the bell in the picture is muted or 'muffled'.  Because the other side of the clapper is not covered, as the bell swings back the clapper strikes the other side of the bell in the usual way, making the usual loud clang on the metal.  The result is known as ringing 'half-muffled'.  

Half-muffled bells are heard on remembrance day, and are rung for funerals and other memorial occasions.  The bells of Hinton were half-muffled because the tower captain, Dennis Leslie, recently died and his funeral and wake were accompanied by a lot of ringing.  However, after I photographed this, we removed all the muffles ready for the next day's Sunday morning ringing.

So, looking at the underneath of bells can be interesting.  For example, on the bell shown above, you can see the circle made by modern day bell tuning, and the deep scratches made by historical tuning which was done by chisel!

But the tops and outsides of bells are also fascinating, often bearing inscriptions and decorations which most people never see.   These fish, for example!

This is the ladder from which I took the picture above!

At the time, I had one arm wrapped through the rungs, only one foot on the ladder, and another bell directly behind me.  The camera was in one hand and the angle so awkward I had to press the shutter release with my thumb!  The ladder is so narrow and tight that I couldn't carry my camera up with me and had to pull it up after me on a rope!

This is the four, in solitary splendour at the top of the tower.  The bell is 'up' (the mouth of the bell pointing upwards) because we needed to access the clapper to remove the muffle, and this bell cannot be accessed from below.  

Bells are dangerous when they are 'up'**, so I was extremely cautious while moving near it.  Plus I was a long way up on a platform with some serious drops off of it:

This is looking down from the upper platform.  You can see two bells (just about), and the wheel and rope of the left hand one.  If you follow the rope down, you can see the hole through which it passes on it's way to the ringing chamber three floors below.

These are just a few of the photographs I took, and I hope they show a little of why I love to photograph bells.

I am currently working on a photographic project involving bells, so expect to hear more on the subject between now and May, which is 'crunch date'.

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*My favourite ringers eye view in this church was at a wedding for which I rang, when the bride and groom quite literally danced down the aisle after the ceremony!

** Even the small ones are heavy, the big ones are REALLY heavy. They move quickly, are very unforgiving and have seriously injured and sometimes killed people.  You do not mess about with bells.


  1. Amazing!!! Such climbing skills you have! and excellent pics as always. :-)