The Bells of St Mary the Virgin, Penzance

Picture of St Mary's tower from the churchyard

St Mary the Virgin, Penzance, Cornwall has a glorious ring of 8 bells (tenor: 23-3-23 in E flat), cast by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough in 1930. These replace an earlier ring of eight, on which in 1883 was rung the first peal in Cornwall.

Unfortunately the metal frame has suffered over the years from exposure to the sea air so considerable works have been required. Taylor's have recently completed the work and the bells are ringing again but we still have a great deal to do to the ringing room. The bill for the rehanging and the associated works will be huge. A large amount of money has already been raised thanks to the generosity of many donors, but we still need help with the last few thousands of pounds, so are appealing to fellow bellringers for help.

If would like to help, please contact Christine Northeast (firstname dot lastname at, indicating whether you would like a Gift Aid form sent to you. We should be very grateful indeed for any donations.

Sunday Service ringing is normally from 09:30 to 10:00.

Practice: a general practice is normally held once a month on Saturdays from 18:30 to 20:00. For the date of the next practice, please contact the Tower Captain or the Secretary.

Tower Captain: David Parkin (tel. 01736 793065)

Secretary: Mary Jones (e-mail; tel. 01736 794750)

Visiting Bands: Please e-mail the Secretary.

Peal requests: Please telephone the Tower Captain.

Many of the following notes are taken from the cover article in The Ringing World of 30 May 1975 by Malcolm Bowers (FMB), the then Tower Captain; grateful thanks are expressed to the Editor for permission to quote from the article. Most of the remaining information comes from an article by former Tower Captain Chris Venn in The Westerner, the newsletter of the Western District of the Truro Diocesan Guild of Ringers. William Willans (RWW) of Bath has contributed some interesting information, too.

The church and bells

The present church was built in 1833-5, the architect, Charles Hutchens, being a native of St Buryan, a few miles west of Penzance. The Church replaced a chapel which had been on the same site, and when it was completed it was still actually a chapel as it came under the parish of Madron. St Mary's became a Parish Church with a Vicar of its own on 24 March 1871, the Bishop of Exeter being the patron, although he still had to consult the Vicar of Madron before he appointed a priest to the living.[FMB]

The original eight bells at St Mary's were installed in 1865; the details are as follows:

No. Weight  Diameter Inscription
Treble6-3-430"  Peace and Good Neighbourhood AD 1865
 Taylor and Co. Founders
2nd7-0-1032"  Taylor and Co. Founders
 Loughborough AD 1865
3rd8-0-1034"  The Gift of Philip Hedgeland M.A.
 James Aldridge Devenish Asst. Curate
 Walter Edmonds Junr. Chapel-warden
 Samuel York Sidesman AD 1865
 Taylor and Co. Founders Loughborough
4th8-2-19 36"   Taylor and Co. Founders
 Loughborough AD 1865
5th10-1-2240"  The Gift of Caroline and
 Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne AD 1865 
 Taylor and Co.
6th11-1-340"  Taylor and Co. AD 1865
7th14-2-1744"  The Gift of the Corporation
 Francis Boase Mayor AD 1865
 J. Taylor and Co. Founders Loughborough
 late of Oxford and Buckler Brewer Devon
Tenor 20-2-6 50"  Bolitho 1865
 J. Taylor and Co. Founders
 Loughborough Leicestershire

From Loughborough Foundry records (many thanks to Andrew Bull of Dursley for supplying this information):
Ring of eight bells supplied by Taylors. Cast April to August 1865. Left Loughborough 19 September 1865. Hung in a two tier frame with nos. 1 and 3 over 2 and 4. All swinging in same direction. Lower frame arranged with two rows of three, viz: 2, 4, 5 and 8, 7, 6.

Like the present ring, these were clearly well thought of; the 1870 Catalogue of John Taylor & Co. quoted the following testimonial dated October 1866 from the Rev. Philip Hedgeland, incumbent of St Mary's:

"Dear Sir, - I am instructed by our Bell Committee to express their entire satisfaction with the peal of eight bells which you have recently placed in the tower of St Mary's, Penzance. It is our unanimous opinion that the peal is a thoroughly good one, musical, in perfect tune, and excellently hung. Residents and visitors are alike struck with the pure quality of the tone; and after twelve months experience, we are glad to find that the more the bells are heard the better they are liked."

The bells were overhauled, and new crown staples fitted, in 1885.

But in the 1904 Report of the Truro Diocesan Guild of Ringers, the following appeared:

"PENZANCE. - In June, Mr I.W. Taylor, Junr., of Loughborough was desired to inspect the 'go' of the bells, with the result that he considered the ringing of the fourth and fifth was dangerous to the safety of the peal; whereupon the Church authorities decided that all further ringing should be discontinued, much to the regret of the band, and, it is to be feared, greatly to the detriment of the latter's exemplary interest and practical enthusiams in endeavouring to promote the aim and objects of the Guild in its beneficial work.

"...Since the first week in August, there has been no ringing, and there is apparently little hope of an early restoration being contemplated, owing to the apathy and indifference of the Church authorities in this which may be considered one of the most important branches of Church work."

This ring of bells remained unringable until, in 1929, the Town Council took the initiative to have the bells recast and rehung. The bells were recast in 1930, the job being completed on 6 July 1930.

The details of this, the present ring, are as follows:

No.Weight Diameter NoteInscription
Treble5-1-2029"E flat  Peace and Good Neighbourhood
 William Coulson Tregarthen
2nd5-2-1330"D  Prosperity to this Borough
 George Poole, Howell Malbott Aldermen and
 Members of the Committee 1930
3rd6-3-2133"C  To the Glory of God
 The Gift of Philip Hedgeland M.A. Vicar
 James Aldridge Devenish Asst. Curate
 Walter Edmunds Junr. Churchwarden
 Samuel York Sidesman AD 1865
 Canon Frederick Robert Carr M.A. Vicar 1930 
4th7-3-2135" B flat   Prosperity to the Church of England
 Walter Howard Frere Bishop of Truro 1930
5th10-1-1638"A flat  The Gift of Caroline and
 Elizabeth Catherine Thomas Carne AD 1865
6th12-1-2341"G  Fear God Honour the King
 John Symons Ringing Master
 Truro Diocesan Guild of Ringers 1930
7th16-0-245"F  The Gift of the Corporation
 Francis Boase Mayor 1865
 William Gage Goodfellow Mayor 1930
Tenor 23-3-23 51"E flat  God Save the King
 Bolitho 1865
 Richard Foster Bolitho 1930
 This octave recast in 1930
J. Taylor and Sons Founders Loughborough is inscribed on each bell

Arrival of the new bells

This photograph shows the arrival of the present bells with Fr. Carr and Arthur Williams who at the time was Curate but who later returned to St Mary's as Vicar and Archdeacon of Cornwall in the 1960s.

The bells are hung on two levels, with five bells in the lower frame, and three in the upper.

Owing to the very close proximity of the sea, the top frame housing the treble, third and fifth had by 1999 become severely corroded. Chris Venn, when Tower Captain, installed weather boarding and sound proofing against the sound openings to help prolong the life of what is left but felt that a major rehang would soon be needed. With this in mind, a new tower roof was built in 1998 with a trap hatch large enough to pass the tenor through, as a fan-vaulted ceiling prevents the bells from being lowered down the tower.

Ringing at St Mary's

The most successful band was between 1870 and 1900. This was mainly due to the efforts of two men, Col. Trelawney and Dr John Symons. Between 1865 and 1872 the ringers made rapid progress and the following appeared in Church Bells on 26 October 1872:


The Penzance Band of Scientific Change-ringers on October 17th rang on the bells of St Mary's Church a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples containing 1260 changes, with 30 bobs, which was accomplished in 59 mins. This musical touch, taken from Hubbard's selection, is in three parts with 4, 6 and 7 at home at the part ends, comprising the twelve 7-4's and 6-7's together with the Queen's and Tittum changes, and is regarded as a composition of much merit. The band was stationed thus: W. Mitchell treble; J. Wallis 2nd; E. Jenkin 3rd; J. Richards 4th; H. Boase 5th; F. Boase 6th; H.R. Trelawney 7th; W. Jenkin tenor. The Conductor was Mr H.R. Trelawney. The weight of the tenor is 20 1/4 cwt in E."

This could well have been the first quarter peal to be rung in Cornwall.

The `musical touch' has been identified as the well-known three-part calling with bobs at First published in 1788 in "Clavis Campanalogia", it has retained its popularity to this day.[RWW]

The band continued to progress and in 1883 rang the first peal in Cornwall. This late 19th century band at St Mary's was affiliated to the Guild of Devonshire Ringers and practised on Mondays and Thursdays.[FMB]

Arrival of the new bells

The 1883 peal was the only one on the original bells, but ringing at St Mary's continued to flourish and, in the 1904 Truro Diocesan Guild Report, it was recorded that in "the first seven months, an aggregate of 34,560 changes in completed touches were rung, comprising seven quarter-peals of Grandsire Triples, two of which were accomplished at the Annual Festival at St Austell on Whit-Monday."

In August of that year the bells were condemned and, as the 1908 Report stated, "no Ringing has been accomplished by our Band in either our own or any other tower since, beyond assisting in the Dedication of the restored ring at Lelant in 1905".

The next peal at St Mary's, rung on the new bells, was rung to commemorate the Jubilee of the first peal in the tower. Including this one, the number of peals rung at St Mary's on the 1930 bells was as follows:

1930-1939 - 3
1940-1949 - 2
1950-1959 - 0
1960-1969 - 1
1970-1979 - 9
1980-1989 - 1
1990-1999 - 14
2000-2009 - 28

Details of peals up to 2010 and a summary of recent quarter peals are given elsewhere.

This page created by Christine Northeast
Last updated 1 October 2012