History of the Bells

Bells Project – A Brief History

A Church has existed on this site for well over 1000 years. The current Church was built c1300 on the site of the previous Norman Church.

The original oak bell frame was made in the early part of the 17th C and originally contained 4 bells. Dr. John Eisel considered this frame to date from about 1620 and likely to be the work of the Purdue’s. We believe, from the article below that the frame was later modified (in 1649) to accommodate a fifth (treble) bell. (see Drg.No. 002)


Original Frame - No. 3 Well
Original Frame – No. 3 Well

To view the original frame contact the Tower Captain (see Bell Ringing)




This information relating to the Horton Bells was discovered in April 2013 amongst papers relating to the Partition of the Horton Estate (1854-57).

Glos archives: D6267/2/1

Horton Terrier dated 15th Nov 1683 (a copy of) 

Extracted from the Registry of the Lord Bishop of Gloucester

Horton  Dioc Glour     

                       Concerning ye Order and Direction for the Execution

                       of the Order requiring an Account of such things as

                        have been and are in or Parish given for Charitable.

                        Now These Testify:

                                               That wee know not nor ever heard

                        of any Person that ever gave any thing, unless what

                        hath been to be and presently was bestowed according

                        as the Donors appointed, but we have in or Parish Church

                        Five Bells wch formerly where but fower but the great one

                        being broken and was cast, of it then was made,

                        Ano Domo 1651, the new Tenor and Trible. And belonging

                        to or Church wee have One Acre of Land in the

                        Castle Field, One Acre and a half of land in the In

                        Fielde, and an antient Pay called Cowe hire (but wee know

                        not the reason for we have no kine belonging to or Church)

                       and payed now by Thomas Came and Jane Woolworth, Wid.

                        six pence a piece. Besides, we have One Pulpit with a fair

                        cloth and cushion, one Communion table cloth, one Sarge 

                        Carpet with Fringe, one Silver Cup with its cover, one table

                        Napkin, one Pewter bottle (wch wee intend to change), one

                        Saucer, One Surplice, one Large Bible, two Com[m]on Prayer

                        bookes, one book of Homilyes By Jewell and Harding,

                        One Beire with its cover, one Font with its cover, One


                        Regd booke, one booke to keep or accounts, and Two Chests,

                        all bought wee beleive by ye Parishioners as occations

                        required.  Witness or hand this fifteenth day of November.

                        An[no] Domn 1683      Thos Gwynn Rect Ecclesiae

                                     Thomas Butler

                                     Roger X Morley’s mark           Churchwardens

Andrew Bull comments that the extract from the Horton Terrier is a most interesting find. It confirms that there were indeed four bells, as we originally thought, prior to 1649. It had previously been assumed that in 1649 the old treble had to be recast and a new one added at the same time to make a ring of five. However, the Terrier states that “…the great one being broken of it then was made, …1651, the new tenor and trible.”

The date is obviously two years out, but it is still reasonably close, especially as the Terrier is referring to something that had happened 34 years previously. However, it is obvious from the present bells that it could not have been a new treble and tenor that were cast; in any case there would not have been enough metal. Rather, it seems more likely that a heavy four with a cracked tenor was remodelled into a lighter five by breaking up the cracked tenor and using the metal to cast two trebles (present Bells 2 and 3) to add to the three remaining sound bells (the present Bell’s 4, 5 and the now static cracked Tenor). A survey of the old frame confirms this in that the old cracked tenor could have been rung in the position of the original tenor without the cut-outs now present in the bell frame.

The notes of what would have been the treble and second of the heavy four were recorded before the retuning; these bells certainly fit as such. It is unfortunate that we cannot determine the note of the disused tenor, however we can surmise that the heavy four might have been as follows:

No.  Date     Founder          Diam.  Weight    Note

  1. c1420-80   Bristol foundry 36.25” 9-0- 8    Ab [present 4th]
  1. c1430-90   Bristol foundry 42.5” 14-1- 4    G   [present 5th]
  1. c1400-1500 Exeter foundry? 44.5” 16-1-11    F   [present disused tenor]
  1. pre-1649   unknown         c48” 19 approx  Eb   [cracked bell recast 1649]

(the musical notes of 3 and 4, and the details of 4 are educated guesses)

When the ring was increased to five in 1649, the western side of the frame was moved eastwards by almost 300mm to accommodate the

Original Mortice Position
Original Mortice Position

new treble and the existing bell’s moved up one position; a reduction in the size of the tenor would explain why this could be done. The original weights of the 1649 bells were 7-0-5 and 8-0-15, so with a combined weight of just over 15 cwt, there would have been enough metal in the old cracked tenor to make the new treble for five.

To substantiate the theory the sizes of the pits in the old frame have been surveyed to inspect the redundant mortice joints in the frame-head of the gallows-end to give an accurate indication of how far things were moved in 1649. From this inspection it is obvious that the frame was reconfigured, possibly around 1649 and either at that time, or originally, the frame members have been ‘butchered’ with extensive cut outs to accommodate the swing of larger bells.

Tenor Well
Tenor Well

Also the cut-outs in the pit housing the tenor are large enough to accommodate a larger 50” diameter Tenor which would support the theory that the new frame built around 1620 was actually built for a 19 cwt four.

Diagrams of the possible configurations prior to 1649, post 1649 and present are shown on Drawings 001, 002 and 003 in the Ringing Chamber.

The ring of 5 had not been rung for well over 100 years and was described in the Parish magazine of November 1939 as being “in a shocking state of repair – impossible to ring or chime”. Various attempts had been made to rehang the bells over the years but had foundered due to lack of funds.

It took the dream of a Grandmother and the persistence of the Parish priest to achieve a new ring of 6 hung for full circle ringing. In 2003 Helen Panes’ last wish was that the bells at Horton should ring when her granddaughters got married and the challenge was taken up by her daughter Tina Hildick-Smith. The whole project would not have seen completion without the total dedication and perseverance of Rev. Gordon Edwards who took on the project and drove it on despite many objections from various august bodies. The great shame is that he died in 2008 and was not here to see the culmination of his work. We are indebted to George Hammerseley who oversaw the project after the death of the Rev. Gordon Edwards, the PCC and the parishioners of Horton for their whole hearted support.

The support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association and the Pilgrim Trust is also gratefully acknowledged. The band of Horton ringers would also like to thank those Towers and Tutors who have given of their time to train them.

In 2010 the original oak frame was removed (the frame is now stored locally and can be inspected by prior arrangement with the Church wardens or Tower Captain and a new cast iron frame installed incorporating the bells 1 to 4 of the post 1649 reconfiguration and adding a treble and tenor bell.

The New Frame
The New Frame

The cracked tenor (weight 16 cwt. 1 qr. 11 lbs.) was replaced with the former tenor bell from the church of All Saints, Whittle; this bell was kindly donated by the Keltek Trust. The existing Treble and second bells (cast in Bristol in 1649 by the brothers William Purdue 111 and Richard Purdue 11), and third and fourth bells (cast in Bristol circa 1420 – 1480, the third older than the fourth) were re-tuned at the Whitechapel Bellfoundry. The new ring of six was completed with the former treble bell from the church of All Saints, Alton, Hampshire. New fittings were provided by Matthew Higby & Co. of Chilcompton, Somerset, consisting of cast iron headstocks for the treble and tenor, canon-retaining steel headstocks for the remainder, double row self-aligning ball-bearings, and all new wheels, stays and sliders. The whole hung in a new cast iron lowsided frame bolted down to a grillage of rolled steel joists

The current ring comprises the following:

Horton, Glos
S James Elder
Bell Weight Nominal Note Diameter Cast Founder Canons
1 5-1-18 1110.0 C# 30.50″ 1885 Mears & Stainbank R
2 6-1-12 992.8 B 32.75″ 1649† William III & Richard II Purdue Y
3 7-1-0 888.0 A 34.50″ 1649† William III & Richard II Purdue Y
4 8-3-15 830.0 G# 36.75″ c1499† Bristol foundry Y
5 13-0-23 742.4 F# 42.50″ c1499† Bristol foundry Y
6 17-0-5 664.0 E 47.00″ 1916 Mears & Stainbank F
Unused 16-1-11 F 44.50″ c1499† Robert Norton Y

as per Doves

The old tenor was cracked beyond repair and is now hung ‘dead’ below the new bell frame.

The bells were tuned by the Whitechapel foundry. They were originally rung from the ground floor but a new ringer’s floor has been installed.

One other foot note of interest:  A tragic accident occurred in the belfry in 1730 and was reported in the St. James’s Evening Post of 9th April 1730 as follows: “We hear from Horton in the County, the following melancholy account, that on Sunday the 29th March (1730) a Gentleman’s servant near that place, being in the belfry among the Bells when the great Bell was standing, which he not observing, unfortunately stepped upon it, by which it gave way, and in the fall, cut the young man almost in two in the middle, so that he died immediately.

Alive in our Community