There has been a church at Castle Bromwich since the 11th century.
It probably looked like this and was smaller than a modern house.
We do not know if it had a bell, but if it did, it might have looked like this small stone church in Wales.
The earliest church bells
Christians have used bells to call people to church from about AD 400. St Paulinus of Nola first started using them in Italy to let people know that church services were about to start. At first they were handbells.
The use of bells spread across Europe. Each church wanted to have a bigger bell than their neighbour's and churches started to hang larger bells high up outside the building.
Bells were used in Anglo-Saxon England: the abbey at Whitby in Yorkshire had a bell in 680 AD. In the 10th century the Archbishop of Canterbury was St Dunstan. He was a metal worker who made his own bells and had bells hung in all the churches around Canterbury. St Dunstan is now the patron saint of bellringers; his feast day is 19th May.
A new church
In the 15th century a timber-framed church was added at the west end of the little stone church at Castle Bromwich. The medieval roof is still there inside the church today. At the west end there is extra supporting timber which suggests that a belfry stood here. We do not know how many bells there were, perhaps just one.
Sometime during the Middle Ages more bells had been cast; by 1717 there were three.
The three medieval bells were melted down and recast in 1717 and two more were added by Joseph Smith of Edgbaston. Smith also cast bells for Handsworth, Northfield and Sheldon churches in Birmingham.
Sir John Bridgeman II was the lord of the manor at this time and he lived in Castle Bromwich Hall. He paid for the new bells which cost £12 16s. 0d.
The names of important people in the parish were written on the bells in 1717:
Click to see the pictures below with their captions.
Bellringing history The 17th Century
Until the 17th century most bells were swung. If there was more than one bell, it was difficult to control them to ring in a pattern.
During the 1600s churches began to hang their bells on a wheel which gave greater control using the rope. The bell ringers could rotate the bells through 360 degrees. This meant that they could slow down or speed up and stop and start ringing at will. The bell mechanism which was developed in the 17th century is still in use today.
Bellringing history The 18th Century
In large towns such as Birmingham, bellringing became a fashionable hobby for young gentlemen. However, in country areas, the bellringers were often described as layabouts and drunkards. Certainly Castle Bromwich was in the countryside at that time, but we do not know anything about the bellringers' behaviour . . .
During the 18th century different patterns of ringing (methods) were invented to make bellringing more interesting; some of the methods were very complicated. However, most priests did not approve of this, as they thought that it was a fun activity and not suitable for church services. On Sundays a single bell was usually tolled for the church service.
Another new church!
In 1724 the lord of the manor, Sir John Bridgeman II of Castle Bromwich Hall had a new church tower built in brick. It is the tower that still stands there today. Sir John had the bells of 1717 hung there, but he also had space made for a 6th bell.
From 1726 to 1730 Sir John had the old wooden church encased in brick to make it look as it does now.
A sixth bell
In 1893 Lord Bradford had a new bell made to celebrate the wedding of the Duke of York and and Princess Mary of Teck (They would later become King George V and Queen Mary). The Princess was a friend of Lady Bradford.
Charles Carr of Smethwick made a new sixth bell. Unfortunately, it would not fit in the place that Sir John Bridgeman II had made for it. Oops! Charles Carr had to make a new wooden frame to fit the six bells.
And when the bells were rung, the third bell was found to be out of tune with the rest. Oops! So Charles Carr had to make a new bell.
Luckily he was able to sell the old No.3 to the railway engine works at Derby (It's now Derby College) - and it still hangs there now, chiming the hours.
But there's worse to come -
In 1936 the Rector, Rev Forbes had a report made on the state of the bells. It seems that Charles Carr's attempts to get the bells in tune with each other had been a disaster. The report said that:
"Carr’s bells were very much flat of their notes . . .
"The notes of the bells were sharpened by metal being pared away from the bell lips the result being only too apparent in their distressing musical effect.
"The other bells had metal chopped away from their insides . . .
"The tonal quality is now exceedingly poor – and the entire peal has been irretrievably ruined by unskillful tuning."
So, for 176 years Castle Bromwich had the a very fine-sounding set of five bells made by Joseph Smith. But from 1893 the church had the worst-sounding bells in Birmingham!
Bellringing history Bellringers in the 1800s
In the 19th century bellringers had a bad reputation: swearing, smoking and a barrel of beer in the church tower were quite usual. Some priests tried to close the bell towers. But, some bands of ringers broke into the towers to ring and to drink. We do not know if this happened at Castle Bromwich.
In 1839 there was a national Spring Clean of churches, and this included spring-cleaning the bell towers - and the bellringers.
Bellringing was made to serve the religious needs of the church.
The priest now chose a captain of the bellringers who was responsible for the behaviour of the team. He could fine them for poor ringing, poor attendance or bad behaviour. By 1900 there was a new generation of ringers and bellringing became a respectable part of church life once more.
In the later 19th century many peals of bells were improved and made easier to ring. And the sound quality of bells was improved in 1896 when John Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough discovered how to tune the bells scientifically to make them more tuneful.
The Second World War
In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, all the church bells in Britain were silenced. The Government said that were to be sounded only if there was a German invasion. Fortunately, this never happened. But when the Victory was won in 1945, people complained that the church bells were not rung to celebrate. However, with the bells not having been rung for six years and many of the bellringers away at war, there were very few people left in England who knew how to ring the bells.
Castle Bromwich bells recast in 1952
In 1952 the old bells of Castle Bromwich were taken down, melted and recast to make a new ring of six bells.
The fund to pay for the bells was started by Lucy Williams (1871-1949) in memory of her husband John Williams (1872-1926). He had been the village blacksmith and lived on Castle Bromwich Green in the house next to the Coach & Horses. He was also a churchwarden and a long-time bellringer. We can imagine him complaining to his wife every Sunday about the dreadful sound of Castle Bromwich bells.
(John’s father, grandfather and his great grandfather had all been blacksmiths in Castle Bromwich. And back in 1785 another John Williams the blacksmith had been paid £5: 6 shillings: 5 pence for working on the bells. He surely must have been an ancestor of our John Williams.)
John Williams died at the age of 54; Lucy lived for 23 years after his death, dying at the age of 78 in 1949. She is buried with him in Castle Bromwich cemetery.
When Lucy died, she left a large sum of money to have the bells recast in memory of her husband John.
The firm of Gillett & Johnston of Croydon made a new ring of bells from the old metal and the new bells were first rung on 22 November 1952.
Left: Castle Bromwich bellringers in 1905;
33-year-old John Williams is standing in the middle of the back row.
The new bells have the old 1717 inscriptions with new ones of 1952:
Treble: Allen Stephen Foden Verger since 1908.
2 Thomas Marshall Steere Churchwarden 1946-1951.
3 Clifford John Shaw Churchwarden since 1951.
4 Kenneth James Greene Churchwarden since 1952.
5 George Ernest Tomlinson Churchwarden 1949-1952.
Tenor Henry Nicoll Forbes Rector since 1921.
A great set of six bells, but . . . .
Gillett & Johnston had reused the old wooden parts from the 1893 frame. It turned out that it was not just Carr's bells that were not very good. The bell frame was held to the floor by only three bolts. So, when the bells were rung, the whole frame bounced up and down making the bells difficult to ring. And the wooden beams that held up the floor were not fixed to the wall of the tower - just resting on a ledge. So when the frame bounced up and down, the floor also bounced up and down, making Castle Bromwich bells the most difficult to ring in Birmingham.
The Tower Captain
Since 1952 there have been six tower captains: Fred Bailey, and pictured here in October 2013 (from right to left) Bill Sanders, Carol Sanders, Bill Dargue, James Stanton and the present captain, Daniel Harris. The names of earlier captains are not known.
The New Millennium
To celebrate the year 2000, a National Lottery grant helped to restore 150 bell towers across the country. 5000 new ringers were trained to ring on New Year’s Day when almost every bell tower in the country, including those at Castle Bromwich, rang the old millennium out and rang the new millennium in.
Students from Park Hall Academy made a film about the Castle Bromwich bellringers in 2014-15.
Click the picture to watch it on YouTube.
From 1893 until 1952, nearly 60 years, Castle Bromwich church had the worst-sounding bells in Birmingham! Then from 1952 to 2017 (65 years) the fine-sounding bells were the most diffiicult to ring in Birmingham.
Something had to be done! In 2013 Castle Bromwich bellringers set up a trust to restore, improve and maintain our church’s historic bells, and raised over £100 000. The work was completed in August 2017 to celebrate Sir John Bridgeman's bells of 1717.
The bells are now in good order and two new bells have been cast to complete the ring of eight intended 65 years ago. The inscriptions on the new bells are:
No 1. Patrons: Richard 7th Earl of Bradford, Lord of the manor of Castle Bromwich;
Robin 19th Viscount Hereford, 16th Baronet of Castle Bromwich;
Rector: Revd Gavin Douglas OBE
No.2 CBBRP Trustees: Dan Harris (Tower Captain), Stuart M Stanton, Jean Willis, William Dargue
The Earl of Bradford and The Viscount Hereford are the patrons of the project. Sir John Bridgeman II was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of the Earl of Bradford and it was an ancestor of Viscount Hereford who built the old timber church.
Kings and princes, lords, ladies and common folk - we come and we go.
But Castle Bromwich bells ring out now, as they have for 500 years.
We ring the bells at Castle Bromwich in the English tradition every Sunday, on high days and holy days and for weddings and funerals. Our bells have been rung for the funerals of Diana Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother, for the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees, for the Millennium, for the opening of the London Olympic Games and to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War.
To find out more, visit our website - Castle Bromwich Bell Ringers.
Maybe you want to pay us a visit?
Perhaps you want to learn to ring the bells!
Contact us via our website (above) or
via the Contact page on this website.
Click 'Download' (below) for a copy of our souvenir booklet when the new bells were dedicated by Rev Margaret MacLachlan at a special church service on Sunday 27 August 2017.
We've also had two videos made of us and our bells.
One was filmed in 2015 by Students of Park Hall Academy in before the bells were restored - click here to watch it on YouTube.
The other was made in 2017 by amateur movie maker Michael Finney as the restoration was taking place - click here to watch it on YouTube.
'A History of Castle Bromwich for Young People' written by William Dargue 2016 for the Castle Bromwich Bellringers.
We’ve been ringing here for 500 years and are keen to involve local people in our ancient art. Contact us via our church website, if you want learn to ring or visit the tower or have one of us talk to your group about the history of Castle Bromwich, our church or bellringing. Material on this site may be reused only for non-commercial purposes providing appropriate attribution is given (Creative Commons Licence Attribution NonCommercial 4.0) - details on the Contact page.