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There are twelve bells in the North West Tower hung for traditional Change Ringing. This is the number of bells normally found in the major cathedrals of England , and other prominent churches in the English speaking world.
St Paul's has the second largest ring of bells in the world hung for change ringing. They were cast in 1878 and were given by the following donors:-
The Drapers Company (Bells 1 and 2)
The Baroness Burdett Coutts and Turners Company (3 to 6)
The Salters Company (7)
The Merchant Taylors Company (8)
The Fishmongers Company (9)
The Clothworkers Company (10)
The Grocers Company (11)
The Corporation of the City of London (12)
The smallest bell (number1), known as the Treble, weighs just over 8 hundredweights, while the largest, known as the Tenor, weighs over 3 tons (61 cwt). Bells are always measured by their weight in hundredweights, quarters and pounds. The St Paul's ring is in the key of B flat.Change Ringing
Except for full peals, which at St Paul's involve approximately 4 hours of continuous ringing, each bell is always rung by one ringer. For full peals there are sometimes 2 ringers on the tenor.
Change ringing requires both physical and mental ability and it takes most ringers several years to become sufficiently skilled to ring on the challenging bells of St Paul's. Although the musical qualities of the sound produced is a consideration, change ringing "music” is based on numerical principles. Each bell is given a number or letter (1-12) and a change is a sequence of these numbers where each bell rings once. The order or sequence is changed and each bell rings again. In a full peal there has to be at least 5,000 changes, every one different. If changes are repeated the arrangement is said to be false and cannot be counted.
Full peals are now normally rung on New Year's Day and Easter Monday each year as well as on special occasions. In the early days, when full peals were rare, they were all recorded on the walls of the ringing chamber. These days, only very special peals are written on the walls but a peal book is maintained.Service Bell
In addition to the twelve bells in the North West tower, there is the original service bell affectionately known as The Banger. This was cast by Philip Wightman in 1700 when the building of the West towers was completed. It remained alone for 178 years until the ring of twelve bells was cast in 1878. The Banger is still regularly rung to this day prior to the 8am Eucharist.
The full ring of bells is normally rung each Sunday at the following times:-
9.45am - 10.15am
11am - 11.30am
2.40pm - 3.15pm
Great Paul and the Clock Bells
The South West Tower houses Great Paul, the largest bell in the British Isles, which weighs 16½ tons. Sadly, Great Paul has not sounded for several years because of a broken chiming mechanism. Also in the South West tower are the three clock bells. The largest of these, Great Tom, was cast by Richard Phelps in 1706 and weighs over 5 tons. As well as striking the hours, by tradition Great Tom is tolled on the death of senior members of the Royal Family, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, the Dean of St Paul's or the Lord Mayor of London. It was last tolled following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 2002.
For more information on the bells, including details of all full peals rung at the cathedral, visit the Cathedral Guild of Ringers website.