Bells of St Paul’s to fall silent for first time since Second World War as they are removed for cleaning and repairs

The bells of St Paul’s are to fall silent for the first time since the Second World War so they can be cleaned and restored. A successful funding campaign raised almost £400 000 to pay for the work amid concerns that the bells could fall from their mounts if they were not repaired.

The 12 bells will be returned to the foundry of John Taylor & Co in Loughborough, where they were cast in 1878, so specialists can remove grime and fit them with new moving parts.

The bell frame will also be strengthened to avoid any risk of fall and better lighting will be added to the ringing room.

St Paul’s Cathedral in London

It will also be furnished with records of peals rung at particular historic moments, including new ones for the Olympic and Paralympic marathons and the Queen’s golden and diamond jubilee.

The bells are normally rung three times on a Sunday following services but last rang on New Year’s Day and have been silent since to allow for work to prepare them for removal.

The restoration marks only the third period when the bells will be silent for a significant period, following the two world wars and a period between 1925 and 1930 when the cathedral was shut for building work. They are due to be replaced in time for the 140th anniversary of their creation on November 1 this year.

The cathedral has two other sets of bells, including a service bell, dating from 1700, which chimes to let worshippers know a service is due to begin and a set of clock bells, which chime every quarter of an hour, which will not be removed.

Great Paul and the clock bells: The south-west tower houses Great Paul, the largest bell ever cast in the British Isles, which weighs 16½ tons. Sadly, Great Paul has not sounded for several years because of a broken chiming mechanism. There are also three clock bells. The largest, Great Tom weighs over five tons, and as well as striking the hours, 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

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, precentor of St Paul’s, said: “The call to worship of bells is a sound that threads itself through the history of western Christianity and is part of the fabric of the British nation.”

“This exciting project will ensure that the bells of St Paul’s continue to signal the Church’s presence to the City and to the world.”

Taylor’s foundry of Loughborough, Leicestershire have produced many bells over the years and are world renowned for the quality of its bells, whether for use in change ringing in church towers or for bell music in carillons. The town itself has a wonderful 152ft-high war memorial carillon, containing 47 inscribed Taylor bells.

One of the company’s most prestigious contracts came in 1878, when the foundry supplied a heavy ring of 12 bells to the nation’s main church, St Paul’s Cathedral, in London.

Great Paul starts on its journey to London from Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough in 1881

By November of the same year, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s were persuaded to consider the possibility of acquiring a bourdon bell, similar to those found in some continental cathedrals.

Sir John Stainer, the well-known composer and organist of St Paul’s, was asked to look into the issue and forwarded the proposals for a low-pitched bell to the Taylor foundry.

This was the beginning of Great Paul, one of the most famous bells in the world and its fascinating story is told in a book by Trevor S Jennings.

The bell weighed over 16-and-a-half tons and was the largest ringing bell cast in England. It was one of Taylor’s most impressive achievements and its manufacture required a lot of innovation and expense. However, it brought great acclaim to Taylor’s business.

Once Great Paul had been cast, it was put on display in the foundry over Christmas week 1881. People came in their hundreds from miles around to view this amazing sight.

One of the most important aspects of the bell’s story was its transportation from Loughborough to London.

It was placed in the cathedral’s south-west tower. The bell was a vast structure over 10ft-high and with a diameter of more than 11ft and consequently, very careful planning was necessary.

St Paul’s from a distance

Hauliers, boat owners and railway companies were consulted and various ideas were put forward including a quite serious suggestion of “harnessing several elephants to heave the bell” to which Mr Taylor replied: “Such animals are difficult to acquire!”

If taken by rail – the normal form of transporting bells – the width of the bell would necessitate closing the down line to accommodate it. Bridges and tunnels were also a possible problem. The solution came via a firm of Coventry engineering contractors who were engaged to provide two Fowler agricultural steam traction engines.

Thus the bell began its ponderous 11 day journey to the City of London.

Behind the man with the flag came the leading engine, which pulled the bell on its specially constructed trolley. Then, the second engine drew a tool cabin and a mobile shelter for night time use by the hauliers! The journey attracted great interest, being a lead feature in both local and national press.