St Mary’s Church Bell Cage
Suffolk CO7 6TA
Beside the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in the Suffolk village of East Bergholt stands an ancient wooden building housing five massive bells. The amazing thing is that these bells are swung by the pure force of a hand applied directly to the wooden headstock and not with the aid of a rope and wheel.
The total weight of the bells is 4.25 tons (4,318 kilos). Although other Bell Cages exist, the one in East Bergholt is the only place where the bells are rung this way.
In 1525 the local Cardinal, Thomas Wolsey promised to finance the building of a bell tower at St Mary’s. Work began but was unfortunately cut short in 1530 when Cardinal Wolsey fell from power. The bell cage was erected as a temporary measure in 1531 and the bells have been in regular use ever since.
Traditionally, each bell has its own name.
East Bergholt has five bells tuned to produce the notes:
A (The Treble or First)
G (The Second)
F Sharp (The Third)
E (The Fourth)
D (The Tenor)
The Treble has a diameter of 3 feet 4 inches (101.5 cm) and weighs 12cwt 0qr 9lb (613.7 Kg). This bell is a modern piece of work; it was recast in 1887 by Warner and Sons. The original bell weighed 8cwt and had the inscription "Ricardus Bowler 1601". The present bell bears the inscription "Warner and Sons me reficit in anno Jub. Vic Reg. 1887". There are impressions of eight coins of 1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee year.
The Second has a diameter of 3 feet 5 inches (104 cm) and weighs 12cwt 3qr 23lb (632.76 Kg). This bell is probably the most interesting of the five bells as it still in its original form. Its date is approximately 1450. The inscription reads "Hecce Gabreelis Sonat hec campana fidelis" - Here sounds the bell of faithful Gabriel.
The Third has a diameter of 3 feet 8 inces (111 cm) and weighs 15cwt 1qr 5lb (777 Kg). This bell has inscriptions "Ricardus Bowler me fecit 1601" and "Sum Rosa Pulsata Mondi Maria Vocata" - "My name is Mary; for my tone I am known as the Rose of the World".
The Fourth has a diameter of 4 feet 1 inch (124.5 cm) and weighs 19 cwt 1 qr 5lb (980.21 Kg). This bell shows coins of Charles II and was cast in 1688 by Christopher Hodson, a London founder.
The Tenor has a diameter of 4 feet 6 inches (137 cm) and weighs 1 ton 6 cwt 0 qr 8 lb (1328 kg). To raise this bell to the upright ringing position by hand is equivalent to lifting a modern car 4 feet in the air! This fifth bell was cast by John Stephens, a Norwich founder, in 1727. Repairs were made in 1749 by Messrs' Hayne of Ipswich for £1 4s 6d.
Ringing Tower Bells
Normal church bells are suspended from a timber frame in a belfry. They are attached to a wheel the same size as the bell and a rope attached to the wheel runs down through the loft floor to the bell ringer below. The bells are suspended with their mouths pointing downwards.
Before the bells are ready for ringing they have to be raised to a vertical position. This is done by pulling on the ropes until the bell is balanced upright. The bells are then swung through an arc of nearly 360 degrees producing the peals we know so well.
How East Bergholt’s bells are rung
Visitors will notice that the bells appear to be hanging upside down. Actually they are not, but they are left in the upright position because of their immense weight and the fact that they are not counterbalanced.
The bells website states
At East Bergholt, the bells are hung in the same way [as tower bells] but without a wheel. They are rung by holding onto the blue headstock and pushing.
With the centre of gravity of the bell lying well outside the pivot, the bells swing like a pendulum, moving very rapidly through the lower part of their swing.
We heartily recommend visiting the Web: East Bergholt website to learn more about these unique bells and watch the video of how they are rung.
Plan your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Expedia here:
Bell Ringing Times
Practice - Wednesdays 20:00 to 21:00 (Summer time only)
Morning service - Sundays 09:30 to 10:00
Special celebrations such as weddings.
East Bergholt is an almost equal distance between towns Colchester (in Essex) and Ipswich in Suffolk.
- By Road From the A12 take Exit 31 signposted 'East Bergholt' and B1070. From the slip road turn left onto the B1070. The entrance to the village is approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) further on.
- By Rail The nearest train station is 4 miles (6.5 km) away in Manningtree on the London Liverpool Street to Ipswich/Norwich line. Alternatively, there are major stations at Ipswich and Colchester, both 10 miles (16 km) away. Taxis are available.
Manningtree and Ipswich also link directly with Harwich International port.
Google Maps - St Mary the Virgin Church