The Bells

The present red brick west tower was built in 1758 to replace an earlier central tower which had to be demolished as unsafe. There is no history of any bells in the old tower, though there may well have been a complete peal. The first definite record of bells in St Peter’s is in 1763 when Messrs Lester and Pack of London cast a ring of eight bells, with a tenor bell of 20¾ cwts (1054kg). They were tuned and re-hung by H Bowell & Son, Bell & Brass Founder, Ipswich, in 1893, and continued in use until the early years of the 20th century when some of them became cracked. In 1913 it was decided to have them all recast. The work was entrusted to Messrs John Taylor of Loughborough who provided the present fine toned octave in the key of E flat.

Details of the present bells:

Treble 28 in (711mm) 4cwts 3qtrs 4lbs (243.1kg) E flat
Second 29 in (737mm) 5cwts 1qtr 5lbs (269kg) D
Third 31 ½in (800mm) 6cwts 0qtr 17lbs (312.5kg) C
Fourth 34 in (864mm) 7cwts 1qtr 7lbs (371.5kg) B flat
Fifth 37 ½in (953mm) 9cwts 1qtr 19lbs (478.5kg) A flat
Sixth 39 ½in (1003mm) 11cwts 1qtr 5lbs (573.8kg) G
Seventh 44 in (1118mm) 15cwts 1qtr 2lbs (775.6kg) F
Tenor 49 3/8in (1254mm) 21cwts 0qtr 17lbs (1075kg) E flat

The inscription on the tenor bell reads:

“This peal of eight bells cast in 1763 by Lester and Pack of London. Rev’d Wm Smythies, Vicar, Robert Duke, James Robgent, Churchwardens, was recast in 1913, C. Triffit Ward, Vicar, A Polley, T M Loyd, Churchwardens.”

The wooden bell-frame in which the present bells hang is probably the one which was installed in 1763 for the older bells. The original bell founders, Lester and Pack, were based at the foundry in Whitechapel.

Before the bells were recast they were slightly different:

Tenor 20 cwt 3 qrs 0 lbs (1054 kg)
Seventh 14 cwt 3 qrs 23 lbs (759.8 kg)
Sixth 11 cwt 3 qrs 13 lbs (602.8 kg)
Fifth 9 cwt 1 qrs 18 lbs (478.1 kg)
Fourth 8 cwt 0 qrs 26 lbs (418.2 kg)
Third 7 cwt 1 qrs 4 lbs (370.1 kg)
Second 6 cwt 2 qrs 5 lbs (331.6 kg)
Treble 5 cwt 3 qrs 23 lbs (302.5 kg)

The original inscription on the tenor bell read:

“This peal of 8 bells cast in 1763. rev Wm Smythies, Vicar, Robert Duke, James Robgent, Churchwardens. Lester & Pack of London.”

In 1938 the bells were quarter turned and rehung on cast-iron headstocks, fitted with modern ball bearings, and are noted for their easy running. In 1972 it was recorded that the tower also possessed a disused ringing frame for chimes, by H Bowell & Son, bell and brass founders (1893) of Ipswich.

A considerable number of full peals have been rung on both the old and new bells. Two peal-boards of 1840 are in the belfry. There is a record of a peal of Colchester Surprise Major (the first in this method) rung in October 1954.

There is a smaller bell on permanent display in the south aisle of the church. The history of this bell is given in a notice on the wall which reads:

The Essex Association of Change Ringers
St Peter’s Colchester
This Bell
Thought to have been cast at the Bury St Edmunds foundry by one Reignold Chirche, who died in 1498. It originally hung in the “cupola” on top of the church tower and was used as the “sanctus” or clock bell until being sold to help pay for roof repairs, probably in 1758, when the central tower was demolished, and rebuilt in its present position.
T. G. Binney Esq. of Guisnes Court, Tollesbury, purchased it and kept it there for about 100 years.
In the 1970s, it came into the possession of Mr [Bob] Robert W. Leavett, Captain of the ringers of St Marys Church Tollesbury. Following his death in 1993 the bell was passed to the Tollesbury bellringers, who in turn, presented it back to us here at St Peters.
The bell is 24″ (600 mm) in diameter and weighs about 3cwt (152 kg).
The inscription appears to be quite untranslatable.