A very brief history of Castle Bromwich bells

The flag is that of the Diocese of Birmingham.Bells first came to English churches during the Anglo-Saxon period. Medieval parish churches vied with one another to increase the number of bells they had.

Change ringing developed during the 17th century and is a uniquely English creation. Each bell is fixed to a wheel and turned full circle every time the rope is pulled. This allow the control necessary to alter the order in which the bells are rung enabling complex patterns to be rung.
The flag is that of the Diocese of Birmingham.

English-style bellringing can be found in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and in countries of British heritage: the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. However, the majority of the world's change ringing takes place in England, where today some 40,000 ringers serve nearly 5000 towers.

The bells of St Mary & St Margaret’s church have rung out across Castle Bromwich for over 800 years since Norman times.

Encased within our church’s Georgian exterior the massive timber-frame of the medieval building still stands. And in the roof is evidence of the 15th-century bellcote which would have held a single bell. Two more bells were later added, though where and how they hung is something of a mystery.

On the succession of Sir John Bridgeman II as lord of the manor in 1710, Castle Bromwich Hall was extended and the gardens laid out in the style to which they are now restored.

Seven years later Sir John had the three old bells recast and the ring augmented to five. This was before the church was encased in brick. It may be that a new tower was built to accommodate them.

Joseph Smith of Edgbaston was paid £12 and 16 shillings for the work, equivalent to over £20,000 by present standards. The new bells were inscribed with the names of the church wardens and trustees, the 5th with the name of John Bridgeman, Baronet.

In 1725 the bells were hung in a new brick tower and the whole timber building was encased in brick to its present appearance. The frame was made with six pits although only five bells were hung. It is presumed Sir John intended to add a new tenor bell in the future. 

A new tenor cast by Charles Carr of Smethwick was added in 1893 to celebrate the marriage of the future George V and Princess May, a friend of the Bridgeman family and a visitor to the hall and the church. A new third was cast (The old No.3 was sold to the railway locomotive works at Derby where it still hangs) and the frame rebuilt to accommodate six bells. Presumably the pit left in the old frame for a new bell was not big enough. Unfortunately, Carr's frame was not of the best construction when it was made and has caused problems to generations of ringers since 1893.

Finally, in 1952, the bells were recast by the now defunct bell founders Gillett & Johnston of Croydon thanks to a legacy of Lucy, wife of Castle Bromwich bell ringer, John Williams. Gillett & Johnston’s bells are renowned for their fine tone.

Ours were the last bells cast by the company which was then in financial difficulties and which declared bankruptcy shortly after their completion. Although the fine quality of the firm's bells is beyond dispute, the fixtures and fittings were inadequate for the job. It may be that the church's funds did not allow more than was provided, or it may be that Gillett & Johnston skimped on the job because of their financial problems. Whichever, the  fixtures and fittings never were really up the mark and they have certainly not stood the test of time. 

Castle Bromwich bell ringers set up a charitable trust in 2013to restore, improve and maintain our church’s historic ring of bells and successfully raise £100,000 to finance the project.  

We refurbished the bells and fittings and installed two new treble bells, completing the ring of eight intended 60 years ago. We have set the bells in good order to take them forward for the next 300 years.

(Left: the newly-cast bells at Gillett & Johnston's foundry in 1952.

Below: the old refurbished six bells and two new trebles at Taylor's bell foundry in August 2017. )

Photographs of Castle Bromwich 
Take a look at William Dargue's collection of photographs of Castle Bromwich Church on Flickr
For images with more information and more Castle Bromwich pictures see Bill Dargue's collection on Flickr.