Mini History and Photos of Emmanuel’s Bell

The saga of how Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Norwich, New York U.S.A. obtained the old carillon quality bell from England covers about a twenty year span of time. The story according to The Rev. Robert (Bob) Deacon who served as Emmanuel’s rector from 09/04/88 until 10/1/95 when he retired to Bellows Falls, Vermont is as follows.

THE BELL SAGA

by

The Rev. Robert Deacon

The saga of the English bell for Emmanuel Church began before I became the Rector (Before 1988. Ed.) of the Parish. Nearly twenty years ago the Vestry responded to a letter from the Rev. Michael Mountney, who was trying to raise money to rehang a bell in St. Julian’s Shrine in Norwich, of which he was the Guardian. His parish also included a closed church in which there were two
bells. It was thought that if one of these bells could be sold funds could be secured to rehang the St. Julian’s bell. Of the several churches in Norwich in the U.S.A., Emmanuel was the only one that expressed interest. The parish sent a down payment of £250.00 to St. Julian’s to begin the process of acquiring the bell.

Marta (Fr. Deacon’s wife. Ed.)and I traveled to Norwich in the summer of 1989 and met with a number of people who were involved in the bell project. As it turned out, the bell that Fr. Mountney had in mind for Emmanuel was not available, as the Diocese of Norwich had other plans for it. There was another bell, however, in St. James, Pockthorpe, a small church near Norwich Cathedral, that had been closed and was being used as a puppet theatre. We met with representatives of the city council, as St. James was now in the care of the council.  Several people in England had been working on the project, including Mrs. Betty Distell, who had grown up in St. James, Dr. Paul Cattermole, the Bishop’s advisor on bells, and Jocelyn Gardiner, one of the leaders in the diocesan Guild of Bell Ringers. It turned out that the bell at St. James was not available either.

The manager of the puppet theatre was not about to let it go. There were even articles in the Eastern Daily Press against sending an English bell to America. It looked as if the search for a bell for Emmanuel would come to nothing.

As the years rolled by, the idea of an English bell for Emmanuel was just about forgotten by everyone that is except Mr. Gardiner. He made sure the money Emmanuel had sent to England was put in safe keeping by the Bell Ringers Guild, while he continued the search for a bell. From time to time he thought he might have a bell, but events proved otherwise. Still he would not give up the search. Finally, this year a bell was found in an ancient church in Tasburgh. The church was built about 1050 A.D. and has a Saxon round tower.

Over the years we visited the Gardiners a number of times and were always entertained most graciously. Jocelyn has operated an 800 acre farm outside of Norwich for many years. His son, Nigel now has taken over the main operation, but Jocelyn still keeps his hand in. We spent a day with him when we were in England last April. He told us about the Tasburgh bell, and was as delighted as we were at the good news. One sad note is that a number of people involved in the bell project have now passed on, including Jocelyn’s beloved wife, Jean, and
Betty Distell and her husband Geoff. They will be remembered in our prayers on All Saints Sunday.” (eMail R.Deacon to Chris Brunner, 10/23/2007)

Thank you Fr. Bob for sharing this story with us. It will serve well to preserve the history of how Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Norwich obtained in August, 2007, its splendid, rich sounding, B-toned carillonic bell, cast in 1613 from England.

The inscription on the bell is what indicates that it was cast in 1613. The dates of installation in and removal from St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Tasburgh, England, the casting foundry, and other details are not known.

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Figure 1. St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Tasburgh, England. The church is located in the east side of England just a few miles south of the City of Norwich in Norfolk County.

Then in 2006, The Reverend Glenn G. Mahaffey, Rector of Emmanuel Church, was contacted and told that a bell had been found and could be sent prepaid by ship to the U.S.A. contingent that expenses to move it from the point of entry (Newark, New Jersey) to Norwich would be paid by Emmanuel and also that the bell would be installed and used by Emmanuel Church.

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Figure 2. The 1613 B-bell as Received on a Pallet and Set in the Narthex of Emmanuel Church, Norwich, during August, 2007.

These terms were agreeable to Emmanuel’s Vestry. Warden George Denning and Vestryperson James Everard volunteered to serve as an ad hoc committee to plan and oversee the bell’s installation. The condition of the bell tower was a concern. The tower had probably housed a church bell and subsequently, a set of carillonic bells given in 1952 as a memorial. The specifications and dispositions of the foregoing bells are not known. However, the wooden post and beam framing in the rectangular belfry over a room accessible through a trap door with a bell rope hole from the narthex leave no doubt but that Emmanuel had bells in the past. The committee contracted with Eugene Rood, Oxford, NY to serve as the project engineer and with Dennis Schlafer, general contractor, to prepare the tower and to install the bell per the recommendations of the engineer. The preparation of the tower was to include removal of pigeons and their excrement and sealing the tower to prevent the return of the pigeons as well as augmenting the existing post and beam framing as necessary to mount the 1613 bell.

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Figure 3. An Electrical Winch Hoisted the 800 lb Bell About 60 ft to the Belfry

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Figure 4. The Steel Head Yoke, which included a Pillow Block Bearing on Each End for Swinging the Bell, had Chain and Rope Attached for Hoisting the Bell to the Belfry.

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Figure 5. The 1613 Bell Installed in Its New Home.

Two vertical columns previously used for hanging bells were almost perfect for the new bell. Two steel shelves were fabricated. After bolting a shelf to each column, the bell was lowered until the pillow block bearing on the ends of the head yoke rested on the shelves as shown in Figure 5 and were held in position with bolts.

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Figure 6. Swing-Lever Extending from the Bell’s Head Yoke with Rope Attached for Ringing Bell from the Narthex.

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Figure 7. The Bell with Its Internal Clapper and External Tolling Hammer

The bell may be rung by two methods. First, it may be rung by pulling and releasing the foreground rope in Fig. 7 (attached to lever in Fig. 6) to swing the bell to and fro until it hits the black clapper shown hanging down from within the bell.  Ringing the bell by this method is some what physically demanding. Moreover, to obtain an exact number of rings or to synchronize the ringing with an event requires some practice. Second, a large carillon bell may be easily rung by striking it with a heavy hammer. Toward this end, the brownish lever in Fig. 7 was designed and fabricated by Jim Butterfield in loving memory of his father, Louis B. Butterfield. Pulling the rope in the narthex attached to the left end of the lever causes the heavy steel ball on the right end of the lever to rise upward and strike the bell.

The bell installation project was completed on October 22, 2007. It is anticipated that the bell will be tolled routinely to announce services and at specific times during some special services.

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