Dunstable Priory Society of Bell Ringers
Charity No: 278438

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A Brief History of the Bells

Dunstable Priory has had a long tradition of bells. One of the earliest known records is in the ‘Chronicle of Dunstable’ of 1277 when we are told that ‘The Master (or Leader), Michael, gave to this Priory Church two larger bells’ and that his son, Henry, gave another bell upon the death of his father. This implies that there was at least one bell prior to 1277.


In the ‘Glebe Terrier’ of 1708, the Priory is listed as possessing five medieval bells, so we may assume that there were two original bells prior to 1277 - although this can not be confirmed.


By 1714, the Priory is known to have had five bells. A survey by Edmund Steele recorded that: two bells were dated 1414, two bells were dated 1623 and one cast by Chandler of Drayton Parslow was dated 1664. How many of the existing bells were recast in 1414 is unknown, as are the details of the bells replaced in 1623 and 1664.


In 1776 the existing bells were scrapped and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in  London (then known as ‘Pack & Chapman’) was commissioned to reuse the metal to cast a new ring of eight bells, with the tenor weighing 20 ½ cwt.


However, by 1896 four of these bells (treble, four, seven & tenor) had become cracked and the whole installation was in a poor state of repair. A decision was taken to award a contract to John Taylor & Co of Loughborough to recast the four cracked bells, retune the complete ring of eight bells, re-hang the bells with new fittings and strengthen the existing bell frame.


By August 1982 the condition of bell frame had deteriorated to such an extent that the bells had become virtually unringable and its movement while the bells were being rung was in danger of causing damage to the tower itself. All ringing was suspended by the Church architect. In response to this, the ringers put forward a scheme to replace the bell frame and after many hours of hard work the new installation was dedicated in April 1983 by the Bishop of Bedford.


Listen to the bells

Bells20000219.mp3