I am sure that you will agree that one of the main focal points in the Village is the Church clock. It is, however, a little known fact that the clock is dependent upon the bells and bell ringers.
The clock strikes the hours and chimes the quarters by hammers hitting the outside of some of the bells. The hours strike on the Tenor (the heaviest) bell and the quarters chime on bells 1,2,3 and 6 or Tenor. The "tune" of Audlem chimes is Westminster.
Before any ringing can take place the clock strike and chime mechanism must be stopped. The first task in the ringing chamber on practice nights and for services is to tie up the hammers to stop them making contact with the outside of the bells – if they try to strike during ringing there would be a nasty and very expensive mess! The last person to leave the ringing chamber always checks that the hammers have been released and chiming and striking can resume.
The clock is always wound on Thursdays, usually after practice. There are three movements which have to be wound – the hands or time which takes 55 turns and the hours and the chimes each of which takes 110 turns. These figures are very precise as the clock will run for just over 7 days if wound correctly – the writer can testify to this precision as it was very embarrassing recently to find the clock had stopped at 4.45pm on Thursday- someone can't count!
Twice a year ringers "alter" the clock which is a complicated procedure when the clocks go back. If you see lights moving around in the church at dead of night be sure to check the date as it might well be a very conscientious ringer who has suddenly remembered at 3.00am that the Church clock is showing the wrong time!
There are 6 bells which can be heard ringing in Audlem. The present bells were cast in 1736 by Abel Rudhall of Gloucester for St. James's Church and have hung there and been rung ever since.
The bells vary in weight and in the key to which they are tuned. The TENOR bell is the heaviest and weighs 9cwts or 458 kilograms and is tuned to the key of A. The FIFTH weighs 7.5cwts or 322 kilos and is tuned to the key of B. The FOURTH is 5.5 cwts (280 kilos) in the key of C sharp. The THIRD is 5cwts (255 kilos) in D, the SECOND is 4.5cwts (229 kilos) in E and the smallest, the TREBLE, is 4.25cwts (216 kilos)and tuned in the key of F sharp.
Audlem bells ring for Church services and for local and national or international events. On Sunday July 10th 2005 the bells rang at 5.00pm along with all the bells in Britain as a part of the National Commemoration for the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War 2.
They ring before the 10.45am service on Sundays and when appropriate before evensong. They can be heard before and after weddings and very occasionally for funerals. In Audlem the bells are traditionally rung "half muffled" for solemn events – which means there is a pad of leather attached to one side of the clapper to muffle every other blow. They are always rung half muffled on Good Friday and on Remembrance Sunday and for example for the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. On Remembrance Sunday, in addition to ringing before the morning service, they also ring about 4 in the afternoon – "At the going down of the sun and in the morning".
The bells ring before the Village Carnival and to bring in the New Year – before midnight they are half muffled for the end of the year. While the clock is striking the hour the muffles are quickly taken off so that the bells are "open" to welcome the New Year – since fireworks became a part of the Village festivities it has been very exhilarating to ring for New Year!
There are 9 ringers in Audlem and we always need more. We practice on Thursdays from 7.30pm until 9.00pm and there is a warm welcome for anyone who wants to come and see how it is done or to return after a break from ringing. Anyone interested in learning to ring or who wants to know more about bells or bell ringing is most welcome to come for a "taster" session. It is great exercise, both physical and mental, and very enjoyable. Come and help preserve an historic tradition.
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