Bells and Bell Frames

In some places of worship the tower area is the least modernised part of the building. This often means that the bells, bell frames and floors are near contemporaries which add greatly to their historical significance.

Bell ringing is an important part of the life of many historic places of worship and Historic England is keen to encourage the continuation of this tradition.

Bell frame and bells in St Mary, Pakenham, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
Bell frame and bells in St Mary, Pakenham, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich © Graham Pledger

Historic Bells and Bell Frames

If your place of worship is historic, the bell-frames may be of considerable antiquity. Many exemplify important stages in the development of structural carpentry, bell-frame technology and bell-ringing practice. In some important cases, medieval or 16th century bell-frames have been adapted and re-used for change-ringing.

We recognise that the purpose of bell-frames is to facilitate change-ringing. Where they become decayed or unsuitable for modern arrangements, it is often possible to repair and adapt, rather than replace them. Foundation beams, for all their utilitarian appearance, may pre-date the bell-frame and be of considerable historic interest.

Making Changes

In many older places of worship, the tower is among the least ‘restored’ part of the building. Making changes can therefore be highly sensitive and we normally recommend the retention of historic bells and their frames.

If you are making changes, careful repair is preferable to replacement. Even if you install a new frame, it is often possible to leave the original frame and its supporting foundation beams in the tower. If you do need to remove or adapt historic fittings or fabric, any plans should minimise the damage and record anything that is removed.

In partnership with the Church Buildings Council we have set out guidance for recording bell frames.

Your proposals for upgrading or replacing bell installations may include the creation of a new ringing floor, which requires new access. We recommend the provision of a safe ladder or stair access within the tower wherever possible, rather than the formation of a new opening from the existing tower stair.

Consultation

Any alteration to bell frames, foundation beams or tower floors is likely to require consent under the ecclesiastical exemption and, in many cases, consultation with Historic England and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings will be part of the application process.

When should you consult us?

Most bells and bell frames are in places of worship and may therefore be subject to the Ecclesiastical Exemption. In situations where bells and frames are in buildings not used for worship, or in non-exempted places of worship, listed building consent will be required. We would wish to comment on the following.

For Grade I and II* places of worship:

  • Removal or alteration of the bell frame
  • Removal or alteration of the bell frame floor or foundation beams
  • Removal or alteration of other floors in the tower
  • The insertion of new foundation beam arrangements
  • Alterations to the layouts for bells, especially two tier augmentations, likely to affect the structure or historic fabric of the tower
  • New access arrangements to tower floors, especially modifications to spiral stairs
  • Infill to belfry openings

For Grade II places of worship:

  • Total removal of the bell frame
  • Total removal of the bell frame floor or foundation beams
  • Total removal of other floors in the tower

For all places of worship we would not normally wish to comment on the following:

  • Any work to the bells, (e.g. new bearings, new headstocks, taking out of service, removal of canons, crown staple removal, drilling for bell bolts and tuning)
  • Any work to the clock including the weights shaft
  • Rope Guides

We would also expect to comment on works associated with bells and bell frames in listed buildings in addition to and independently from the works to the bells and bell frame, e.g.

  • The relocation of a font or memorial stones from within the tower as part of a wider scheme to accommodate a new ringing floor or other facilities
  • Structural repairs to the tower
  • Insertion of a new ringing gallery

For further information, please contact one of our local offices.

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