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Bristol Branch
Bristol (St Nicholas)

Name or Dedication: St Nicholas

Location: Bristol, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST589729

The original parish church of St Nicholas may have been a Medieval building, later dedicated to St John the Evangelist, that stood in the burial ground to the south of the present church. It seems to have gone by 1673. The present church is probably the fourth building dedicated to St Nicholas, the oldest part being the crypt which remains from about 1400. The chancel was originally built over the South Gate in the Medieval City Wall, but it was entirely rebuilt in 1762–9 when the South Gate was demolished to allow High Street to be widened.

A ring of eight bells was cast by Thomas Rudhall and installed in the tower in 1764, the treble (which weighed 7-3-19) being recast two years later probably because it was a poor bell. Rudhall's tenor weighing 28-1-20 was recast in 1804 by Thomas Mears I. The ring was augmented to ten by Thomas Mears & Son in 1809, and in 1817 Thomas Mears II returned to recast the treble and Rudhall's 17-0-13 8th. Rudhall's 20-3-17 9th was also recast in 1856 by either Charles & George Mears or John Warner & Sons. Inside the spire above the main ring there hung an Hour bell that was used by the clock installed in the early 19th Century.

The bells were all rehung in a new cast iron frame by John Taylor & Co. in 1897. Taylors also recast the front three bells, and retuned and removed the canons from the 4th, 5th and 6th. The weights of the front six bells on completion of this work were as follows: (1) 6-2-11, 28½ in diameter; (2) 6-2-22, 30½ in diameter; (3) 7-3-27, 33¼ in diameter; (4) 7-1-20; (5) 8-2-22; (6) 10-2-13.

The church was burnt out by an incendiary bomb on the night of 24th November 1940. The Fire Watchman that night was the well-known Bristol bell ringer Cecil Mogford, but although he was well aware of the fire that had started at the east end of the church his priority was to try to save lives rather than the church or bells. However, he regretted not saving a peal board in the shape of a bell that bore his name and was hung on the wall in the ground floor of the tower. Due to the intense heat of the fire the bells all lost their resonance, but of the eleven bells in the tower only the 8th fell to the ground – just 3½ cwt of its metal was ever recovered. The salvaged bell metal was kept in storage until it was finally scrapped in 1959, some of it being used to cast four new bells.

Bells previously hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St Nicholas, Bristol
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
17-1-26 31¼ inF Thomas Mears II 1817
26 cwt 30¾ inEb Thomas Mears & Son 1809
37 cwt 33¼ inDb Thomas Rudhall 1766
48-0-15 34¼ inC Thomas Rudhall 1764
59-2-24 36½ inBb Thomas Rudhall 1764
611-2-03 39½ inAb Thomas Rudhall 1764
713-2-25 42½ inGb Thomas Rudhall 1764
818-0-21 46¾ inF Thomas Rudhall 1764
918-1-06 48¾ inEb C&G Mears or John Warner & Sons? 1856
1034-0-02 58½ inDb Thomas Mears I 1804

Source: Bell details from the researches of David L. Cawley and Christopher J. Pickford with thanks to Nick Bowden. Key note from "Bells & Bellfounding" (X-Y-Z, 1879). Further information from ChurchCrawler (Phil M. Draper), The Ringing World 4250 (pages 982–3), About Bristol, Nick Bowden, Terry Jefferies and Will Willans.

Where the exact weight of a bell is known, it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is equal to approximately 50.8 kilograms). However, if only an approximate or calculated weight is known, it is given to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.

A bell's diameter is measured across its mouth (open end) at the widest point and is given in inches (to the nearest quarter of an inch), one inch being equal to approximately 2.54 centimetres.