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Wotton-under-Edge Branch
Berkeley (Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin)

Name or Dedication: Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin

Location: Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST684990

The earliest record of bells in Berkeley appear in the Churchwarden's accounts for 1631 and 1637 when payments to ringers are recorded. There would probably have been a ring of six by 1700 when the third (present seventh) bell was recast at Gloucester by Abraham Rudhall I. The fifth (present ninth) was recast at the same foundry by Abraham Rudhall II in 1722. These bells would all have hung in the original 15th Century tower that was attached to a Saxon church, to the south of which a Norman Minster Church was built. This was largely rebuilt into the present church in 1225-50. The Saxon church had been demolished by the 17th Century, but demolition of the tower didn't begin until 1748. The present tower, completed in 1753, was built on the 15th Century plinth, and remains detached from the Minster Church.

In 1808 the tenor was recast by John Rudhall, the new bell (complete with canons) weighing 24-0-16. The three remaining ancient bells were recast with scalloped canons in 1842 by Thomas Mears II at John Rudhall's Gloucester foundry. The canons were later removed from the three Rudhall bells, probably by Thomas Blackbourn in 1899. He rehung all the bells with new elm headstocks on plain bearings in a new cast iron frame set on oak beams, and added two trebles (with Doncaster crowns) to complete the octave. An eight-bell Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus was also installed in the first floor Ringing Room at this time.

Two more trebles were given by the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association and friends in 1921 as a memorial to the ringers who gave their lives in World War I, the bells (also with Doncaster crowns) being cast by Mears & Stainbank at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Mears & Stainbank installed a new cast iron two-bell frame on RSJs above the treble and second pits of the existing Blackbourn eight-bell frame, rearranging the front four bells so the treble and fourth (of ten) hung above the second and third. The Ellacombe chiming hammer for the fourth bell was relocated with the bell, but the apparatus wasn't extended onto all ten. The two new trebles were hung with cast iron headstocks on plain bearings, the tenor being rehung likewise.

The bells were restored by John Taylor & Co. in 1978. The three Thomas Mears bells had their canons removed, those with cast-in crown staples had them drilled out, and all ten were tuned, quarter-turned, fitted with new clappers and rehung on ball bearings. The remaining elm headstocks were also replaced with new hollow box-section cast iron headstocks.

In the chamber above the Ringing Room is a synchronous electric clock that was installed around 1975, replacing the original hand-wound, weight-driven birdcage movement made and installed by William Meredith of Chepstow in 1765. A 36 hour movement, it struck the hours on the tenor and its weights dropped to the ground floor of the tower. This clock movement is now on display in the church, and is remarkably similar to the one on display in Chepstow church. The present clock still strikes the hours on the tenor, but electronically with a solenoid-operated hammer. The octagonal stone dial built into the west wall of the tower, originally painted and gilded in 1783, was restored by Smith of Derby in April 2006.

Bells hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin, Berkeley
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
15-0-15 27½ inG# Mears & Stainbank 1921
25-3-10 29 inF# Mears & Stainbank 1921
36-3-11 31 inE Thomas Blackbourn 1899
47-0-24 32 inD# Thomas Blackbourn 1899
56-2-25 31½ inC# Thomas Mears II 1842
66-3-14 32¾ inB Thomas Mears II 1842
79-1-02 37¾ inA Abraham Rudhall I 1700
810-0-12 37¼ inG# Thomas Mears II 1842
914-2-00 43½ inF# Abraham Rudhall II 1722
1023-0-00 49¾ inE John Rudhall 1808

Source: Bell data and information from documents in Berkeley Ringing Room and "Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Mary Bliss & Frederick Sharpe, 1986). Details of the clock from Peter Yardley. Further information from "A History of the Town of Berkeley, its Church, Castle, etc., etc." (Revd John Henry Fisher, Curate, 1856) and the websites of St Mary's, Berkeley, Saint Mary's Minster, Berkeley (formerly at and Berkeley Castle.

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.