BECAUSE it is irreversible, the tuning of a complete old ring of
bells is a serious matter, and should not merely be accepted "on
the nod", Deputy Chancellor Mark Ockleton has said in the
Consistory Court of Hereford.
He made the comment when excluding the tuning of the bells from
a faculty issued for the carrying out of other work at St
Michael's, in the village of Michaelchurch Escley.
The bells are from the Rudhall foundry, in Gloucester, and were
installed in 1732. They appeared to be untouched, except for the
loss of the canons on the third, and a crack in the tenor.
The former made no difference to the sound of the bells, and the
latter was to be repaired by welding, which would not materially
alter the original sound. If the bells were then restored for
ringing, they would make the same sound as when they were
installed. That was "something to be valued and to be proud of",
the Deputy Chancellor said.
The diocesan advisory committee said that it recommended tuning
"to improve the musical relationship" of the bells, as indicated by
the bell-founder, and the diocesan bells adviser said that he had
The Deputy Chancellor said that he found it "a little troubling"
that the DAC proceeded simply on the basis that "if an old thing
can be 'improved' by being modernised, it should be."
Tuning bells was irreversible, and, in the case of a complete
ring by a single founder as yet untuned, the tuning destroyed an
artefact: namely, the original sound of the bells, the Deputy
There were not many sounds preserved from before the days of
sound recordings, and those that survived were "a valuable part of
Tuning was also a matter of taste and fashion, and the present
conventions of the tuning of individual bells derived from work
carried out in the period after about 1890.
There was no right or wrong, and when the bell-founder said that
the tuning was "distinctly old-style", that was "not necessarily a
criticism", the Deputy Chancellor said.
He would not rule out tuning if a case were made out, he said,
particularly if it were shown that the bells sounded so bad that
the mission of the church was affected (including a disinclination,
if there was one, among ringers to ring them), or a feeling that
they let the church down in some way. But there was no suggestion
of that in the present case.
All that was being said was that the bell-founder could
modernise the sound, although it was not said that there was
anything horrible about the historic sound that the bells currently
had. Indeed, it was not apparent, the Deputy Chancellor said,
whether the parish even realised that it had an early-18th-century
sound that it proposed to destroy.
The mere fact that the bells were not listed for preservation
was not a reason for not preserving their sound, where the work was
not shown to be necessary.
Where a good case was made, there might need to be a balance
struck between the asserted needs of the present, and the
desirability of preserving the past. But, where no case was made
out at all, there could be no reason to destroy the heritage, the
Deputy Chancellor ruled.