St John’s has a total of 9 bells; 8 bells operated by two Ellacombe Chimes frames and an individual 9th bell operated by rope and conventional pulling.
The 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th bells were hung between September and November 1868 and the 1st, 2nd 6th and 7th in 1878 and were cast and installed by a Loughborough firm, believed to be John Taylor & Co. The 8th bell is the heaviest weighing 19 cwts 2qrs 24 lbs.
The 1st – 8th bells, in the key of F, are dedicated to various saints:
1st bell: St Agnes & St Helen
2nd bell: St John & St Julia
3rd bell: St Clement & St Valentine
4th bell: St James, St Aloysius & St Norbert
5th bell: St Joseph, St John the Evangelist & St Ester
6th bell: St John & St Joseph
7th bell: St Helen & St Elizabeth
8th bell: Blessed Virgin Mary & St Anne
Each of these bells is inscribed with the words “Orate pro nobis” (Pray for us), which accords the Litany of the Saints, a formal prayer of the Roman Catholic Church.
There is no record information detailing the origins, dates of casting or hanging of the 9th bell although we know it is inscribed “Long Live Pius IX, Pope and King”. Pius IX was head of the Catholic Church from 1846-1878 (the longest-reigning verifiable pope), and so it is assumed that this 9th bell was hung post-1878. This bell is independently operated by swinging from a single rope located to the rear of the church, with the ringer afforded visibility to the Sanctuary and Altar. It is for this reason that this 9th bell was traditionally used during Mass at the Elevation of the consecrated bread and wine and at the Blessing at Benediction.
The 1st – 8th bells are operated by two Ellacombe chiming apparatuses located approximately half way up the bell tower and situated one level below the level of the bells. One frame is normal apparatus and the other is with wood-headed hammers for muffled ringing. Two chimers could work alternately and chime half-muffled if desired.
Until recently the bells at St John’s were chimed infrequently but over the last year and with other forms of church music unable to be performed due to the pandemic, chiming has taken place each Sunday. This has been met with a very positive response from parishioners and visitors alike.
Sources: Keltek Trust, St John the Evangelist Parish Archive