St Helens Church, High Street, Wheathampstead, St Albans, AL4 8AA. Worship Times: 10am every Sunday

Virtual Guide: The Bells

July 2023: This page contains placeholder text for a proof of concept trial. We intend to refine this information at a later date.

The Bells proclaim the glory of God and broadcast his presence and welcome all over the surrounding countryside. They witness to the unrestricted nature of God’s love and care, scattering his invitation to all. Their sound is like the rain which, as Jesus said, falls on the just and unjust. Both bear witness to God’s overwhelming generosity outpoured on the deserving and the undeserving out of sheer exuberant love.

They sound out at Weddings and celebrate the joy of two people who love each other setting out on the journey of Marriage with its hope for a new generation. They toll at the completion of a human life. Sometimes they are muffled or muffled on one stroke and not on the return stroke, so marking solemn occasions such as Remembrance Day.

Sometimes they ring for the pure joy of pealing the bells in intricate patterns; and Sunday by Sunday they ring to mark the beginning of divine worship and call all who will to join in fellowship to praise, listen and pray to Our Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bells are hung high up in the tower but, unusually, they are rung from ground level in this church and so have very long ropes which can be seen looped over the central crossing. Notice the semi rigid splice where the prestretched Terylene rope meets the ringer-friendly hemp. There are eight, sounding an octave, and these are hung so that they can be turned to be just beyond upside-down.  A slight pull on the rope and the bell swings all the way round until it is just beyond upside-down again, the clapper overtaking the bell and making it sound just before it completes the turn.

The bells at St Helen’s are considered to be difficult to ring on account of the exceptional height of the bell ropes. Bell-ringers from all over the county and further afield visit us to try this challenging setting.

Bell ringers delight in seeing if they can ring the bells in all the different orders possible, ringing each order only once, and changing positions only with the next bell on each turn. The 5,040 changes on seven bells (the eighth tolling away at the back of each  change) takes about three hours to complete and is called a full peal of Triples. Ringing all the changes on eight bells is called a Major peal and takes over 24 hours to complete! This has been done a few times, though not here; but we were the first to ring one particular method – see the plaque on the NW pillar in the crossing.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells…’Holy to the Lord’. Zechariah 14.20