March 6, 2017
Six of the thirteen new bells being cast for Cheltenham Minster were cast on Thursday, watched by many of the people who have contributed to the cost of their creation.
The new ring of bells is being cast by John Taylor of Loughborough, the UK’s only remaining bell foundry, which has operated in the same buildings in Loughborough since the 1850s.
The casting process has changed little – moulds are still made from a mixture of red sand, water and horse manure, which is dried in a low oven. These line the bell case which is fixed to a bell plate. The assembled casts are buried in sand, which puts them at a more useful height for pouring into and ensures a slower and more uniform cooling process.
Bronze bells sound the most appealing, so an alloy of copper (77%) and tin is heated to some 1200 degrees when it’s ready to pour. Hot metal from the furnace is tipped into the ‘ladle’ – a large tub, and stirred with a huge wooden pole to skim off any impurities.
The first bell cast last week was the treble; this has been paid for with a grant from the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust. We watched as the ladle full of molten bronze was winched across the foundry, then carefully tipped to fill the cast. Barely a drop was spilled and the ladle moved along the line of bells to continue pouring metal into each cast. The mix is kept moving for around 20 minutes to help any air escape, then the bells are left for several days to cool.
The next stage in the process is tuning, and some of the Minster Bells are already in the tuning workshop where expert Girdar shaves off slivers of bronze until the bell is at the perfect tune.
Once all 13 bells are cast, they will appear in the Minster church this summer, before being hung in the tower by Whites of Appleton. For more information visit the website: http://www.cheltminsterbells.org.uk