History of St Peter's Church (4)

The Bell

History about the bell of St Peters Church, Sark

The first tower housed the ‘island bell’.  This ancient bell was given to the settlers in 1580 by Philippe de Carteret, future Seigneur.  It used to hang from a wooden belfry on a mound in the Clos de la Tour de la Cloche, just to the east of the church site, and was rung to raise the alarm in cases of fire or shipwreck.  By 1883 the raising of the tower was complete, again using much dark grey Guernsey granite, and the belfry strengthened.  A new deep-toned bell was cast from ‘two old six-pounders’, brass cannon which had provided Sark’s defence since Elizabethan times.  The old ‘island bell’ was mounted on the schoolhouse, where it still is.


Article by Mr David Godwin on the history of the bell in St Peter's Church



Thank you for allowing me to go up the tower and have a look at the bell of St
Peter’s Church. As promised here are the details of the bell:
The bell was cast in 1883 by A. Harvard of Villedieu les Poeles, France. The bell
would have been cast by the ‘lost wax’ process of casting where the bell was first
moulded in wax over the inner part of the mould, the outer part of the mould then
being built over the wax. The wax is melted away leaving a bell shaped cavity into
which bell metal is poured. This method allows for the production of the fine detail of
the decoration around the shoulder and sound bow of the bell, the very good quality
of the inscription and the decoration of the canons (the loopy bits on the top of the
bell from which it is attached to the headstock).
The bell has a diameter of 35 ¾” (913mm) and strikes the note A (1717.5 hz). From
the tonal analysis I have done it is not far off modern tuning standards. When struck,
a bell produces many partial tones, in a modern bell these are manipulated to be in
tune with each other by turning the bell on a large lathe. The Sark bell has not been
machine tuned and sounds as it was cast.
The tonal analysis for the Sark bell is as follows:
Partial tone Note (error in cents from concert
Frequency in Hz
Nominal A (-42) 1717.5
Quint Eb (-3) 1242
Tierce Db (-45) 1080
Prime Ab (-12) 824.5
Hum Ab (+0) 415
In a modern bell the Hum, Prime and Nominal are each tuned an octave above each
other. In the case of the Sark bell the Hum and Prime are both a little flat of this. The
Tierce is tuned to a minor third, i.e. a C and the Quint should be a perfect fifth, i.e. an
E. In both cases they are somewhat off the ideal, however the overall effect is that the
Sark bell has a pleasant tone when struck.
From this information I would estimate that the bell weighs about 8 ¼ cwt (420Kg).
The bell bares two inscriptions one on either side of the waist.
The West facing inscription simply gives the name of the founder and has a large
cross with Christ on.
The East facing inscription tells of the two cannons to make the bell for the church on
Sark. It also names the Seigneur and probably the church wardens in 1883.
a.d. 1883
fondue aux frais de quelouesamis
de deux canons don du gouvernement
a legalise de sercq
w.f. collings seigneur
c. vermeil. M. nistre
venez montions a la maison de leternel
Whether or not the two guns were used to cast the bell is imposable to prove, but I
think it unlikely that they were used alone because gun metal bronze (not brass as it
says in the church guide) is of a much lower tin content than bell metal bronze. Gun
metal bronze is typically 90% copper 10% tin where as bell metal bronze is 77%
copper 23% tin. At a rough guess the value of the scrap weight of the guns was offset
by the founder against the value of metal used to cast the bell.
The bell foundry in Villedieu les Poeles near Grandville, Normandy, France still
exists today, now run under the name Cornile Harvard. It is open to the public and
an interesting place to visit. (http://www.cornille-havard.com/)
The bell is hung for swing chiming in a soft-wood cross braced frame contemporary
with the tower and bell. The headstock is of typical shape as used by French bell
founders as is the small diameter wheel to which the rope is attached. The bell has at
sometime been rehung, the original plain bearings inserted into the frame heads
being replaced by ball bearings. The frame has also been under pinned with two steel
RSJs. Stainless steel tie rods have also been added to help prevent frame movement.
The iron fittings are in good condition and are well painted to protect them from the
sea air. The clapper is very rusty and I think the leather bushing in its pivot has worn
or disintegrated and is in need of replacing as there is a lot of sideways movement in
the clapper. This is a job any handy-man should be able to undertake, but if advice is
needed then contact me and I’m sure I can help.
I hope that this information will be of interest to you and others in the parish.
Yours sincerely
David Godwin