The Sound of Bells

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Yeovil, Somerset, St John the Baptist, 10, 40-2-23 in C

Recorded: WAH 16/4/01
Analysed: WAH 23/7/01

These bells are a heavy ten from a range of founders and dates, tuned I believe by Whitechapel in 1931. Despite the different origins and tuning of the bells, the whole can truly be said to be greater than the sum of the parts. The trebles are listed on the notice in the tower as Warner 1891, but were I think replaced when the bells were tuned. Some of the other bells are tonally a little poor, but they blend well together. Both inside and outside the tower these bells have a mellow sound best described as 'warm and sunny'. Here they are being rung in changes, recorded from outside the tower. Unfortunately the striking does not do them justice, but one can get a sense of how good they sound as a peal.

Bell Founder Tuning
1, 2 Whitechapel 1931 -
3, 4 Bilbie 1768 Whitechapel 1931
5 Pennington 1662 Whitechapel 1931
6 Pennington 1626 Whitechapel 1931
7 Warner 1891 Whitechapel 1931
8, 9 Pennington 1626 Whitechapel 1931
10 Bilbie 1728 Whitechapel 1931

Tuning of main partials

Tenor nominal: 513.5Hz.

Bell Hum Prime Tierce Quint Nom'l S'quint O'nom. Founder
1 -2395 -1203 -904
-356 1600
2 -2393 -1207 -901 -345 1412 680
1211 Whitechapel
3 -2388 -1583 -937
-553 1227 701 1244 Bilbie
4 -2367 -1484 -929 -429 1106 705 1245 Bilbie
5 -2390 -1270 -883 -563 895
697 1250 Pennington
6 -2388 -1239
-493 720 697 1257 Pennington
7 -2385 -1342 -926 - 506 717 1275 Warner
8 -2367 -1212 -887 -540 391 713 1270 Pennington
9 -2381
-1201 -881 -622
10 -2412 -1192 -882 -533 0
1269 Bilbie

(The figures in this table are all given in cents. For all partials except the nominal, the partials are given from the nominals of the bell. Cents of the nominals are relative to the tenor. Pairs of values indicate a doublet. Frequencies for the quint are often not given, especially if inaudible.)

Intensity plots

Here are intensity plots of the all the bells together, the treble, the third, the ninth and the tenor. All recordings were taken from the ringing room with the bells rung full circle:


Yeovil treble

Yeovil third

Yeovil ninth

Yeovil tenor


Looking first at the nominals, these bells show just tuning, but with stretch across the octave. One can look at the stretch either across all ten, or across the back eight, ignoring the Whitechapel trebles. The plot below, shows the difference of each nominal from just tuning, together with straight line fits both to the eight and the ten.

Yeovil nominals

Across the back eight, the straight line fit gives a stretch of 24 cents per octave (a pretty average figure for trebles with flat primes), with no nominal more than 7 cents out. Across the ten, the average stretch is only 11 cents in the octave, but the scatter is considerable. The Whitechapel treble is actually the same pitch as an equal temperament bell would be (though one could also consider it a just-tuned major third with stretch). The second has been tuned to a compromise between this bell and the rather sharp third.

The spectral plot of all ten bells gives a good overview of the work of Whitechapel in 1931. With their new-found true-harmonic tuning skills, they got all the hums pretty well spot on, and likewise with the tierces. Those primes which were not flat (1, 2, 9 and 10) are also pretty close, thanks to founder or tuner. However, other primes in the peal are very flat indeed, and of course could not be brought up. The presentation of the tuning figures above as cents disguises the fact that the primes of 3, 4 and 5, and separately 7 and 8, are the same frequency to within 5 Hz, the remarkable result of this being a collection of profiles from different founders and dates!

Picking out bells of special interest by turn, I look first at the Whitechapel trebles. Their intensity profile (see that of the treble above) are classics of their type, with strong hums and weak upper partials. This would not be pleasant in an old-style bell, but in true-harmonic bells gives a sonorous sound. The superquints and octave nominals in these bells are flatter than normally found with true-harmonic bells, the octave nominals are very close indeed to the octave. These two bells are examples of how good bells can 'lift' a whole peal.

The third is a case study in flat primes. If you listen to this bell carefully, the prime is audible almost a major third below the strike. Looking at the intensity profile, the prime is louder than the nominal. Fortunately, this partial does not stand out excessively in changes.

The ninth, when rung alone, has a nasal, rough sound. Its partial tuning is good - apart from a flattish quint, there is nothing exceptional. However, this bell is profoundly doubletted - the tuning figures above do not do justice to the doublets which are present. There is often very little a tuner can do about bell this asymmetrical, other than try to centre the bell as best he can on the tuning machine. The quint is remarkably loud which is most unusual and must contribute to the sound we hear. And finally, there are several strong higher partials.

The tenor is a nice bell. It has tuned up well, and its intensity profile is very typical of a modern bell of this weight. The risk partial in heavier bells, the eleventh (at about 400 cents above the nominal) is present in this bell, but does not give too prominent a secondary strike, as you can hear.

These bells have a lot going for them. Flattering tower acoustics both inside and out, a tenor and trebles which are really quite good, octave hums throughout the peal, and sensitive handling of the other partials from the tuner, combined with the satisfaction of their heaver weight, make up for the odd deficiencies. As I said at the start, a peal which is more than the sum of its parts.


Last updated August 28, 2001. Site created by Bill Hibbert, Great Bookham, Surrey