The six largest bells were removed from the Church of St John the Evangelist, Preston, Lancashire, England by Eayre & Smith Ltd., Melbourne, Derbyshire, England in 1998. They were retuned at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London, who at the same time provided the two treble bells to complete the octave.
Each of the bells has the word "PEACE" cast or engraved in two languages on the waist (sixteen in all).
Eayre & Smith Ltd, who designed the bell frame and installed the bells in August 2002, provided all eight bells with new ringing fittings.
The strike note of the tenor is 17 cents below A-Flat, with the other bells diatonically tuned to it.
|Founder & Date||Weight
|Treble||25½||Whitechapel, 2000||494||Japanese / Hawaiian|
|Second||26½||Whitechapel, 2000||514||Cheyenne / Slavic|
|Third||28||Mears & Stainbank, 1934||553||Hebrew / Arabic|
|Fourth||30||Mears & Stainbank, 1934||624||Chinese / Spanish|
|Fifth||32¼||Thomas Mears Jnr, 1814||676||Hungarian / Scandinavian|
|Sixth||33¼||Thomas Mears Jnr, 1814||664||Swahili / Greek|
|Seventh||34¾||Thomas Mears Jnr, 1814||767||German / English|
|Eighth||36½||Thomas Mears Jnr, 1814||917||French / Russian|
On Saturday, Oct 5, and Sunday, Oct 6, 2002 in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, three miles south of Pittsburgh, Southminster Presbyterian Church dedicated its ring of 8 bells — the first ring of bells in Pittsburgh. Ringers from Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC were in attendance, ringing celebratory changes along with members of Southminster’s own band. Not only does Southminster’s tower bring the brilliant, liturgical sound of change ringing to a new audience, but also it presents a new venue for traveling ringers. Two hundred fifty miles away from Washington, DC, 300 miles from Philadelphia, 325 miles from Toronto, and 380 miles from Kalamazoo, Pittsburgh is central to these four cities.
Southminster’s ring consists of eight bells weighing from 494 to 917 pounds. Six of these bells are "redundant", coming from St John the Evangelist Church in Preston, England. Of these six, four were cast in 1814 and two were cast in 1934. The final two of Pittsburgh's peal of 8 were cast in 2000. All bells were cast by the Whitechapel Foundry in London, England. The redundant bells were originally numbers one through six of a 10-bell ring in the Preston tower; they are now numbers three through eight in the Southminster tower.
The family of the bells’ benefactress, the late Helen Ruth Henderson, was on hand for the dedication. Ms. Henderson was a Pittsburgh native, civic activist, and advocate of peace. The Southminster tower is known as the Peace Tower, and the word “Peace” has been engraved in two different languages on opposite sides of each bell. Hence, 16 languages are represented, including Native American Cheyenne, Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili. In a purposeful gesture, the Hebrew and Arabic inscriptions are both on the number three bell, so that whenever it is rung, prayers for peace in the Middle East are sounded.
Built in 1925. Southminster’s tower remained empty for over 75 years. Thirty three years ago, when Thomas C. Flynn became Southminster’s Minister of Music, he had the vision of a ring of bells in the tower. A God-sent circumstance in 1999 made it clear that the vision was to become a reality.
After many obstacles, ranging from the tower’s size and composition to restrictions of the local building codes, a design was selected. By then, the bells had been purchased and shipped to the US with wheels and stays restored. They waited in climate-controlled storage while tower construction was completed. The floor of the ringing room and the bell room are both cast-in-place concrete, with the bells supported by steel framework. The bells are nestled in a standard square formation.
The interior of the tower is a roomy 36 feet square, providing ample room for the ringers and any necessary furniture. (Years ago, when it was still empty, an observation was made that the tower would make a fine racquetball court.) Due primarily to modem safety restrictions, the access to the bell room from the ringing room is by way of a full size, enclosed stairwell. Likewise, the exit from the ringing room traverses a nearly full height hallway to an extra-wide stairwell, complete with railing and landing. Ringers accustomed to ascending to their towers by way of narrow spiral stone staircases could fairly dance on our stairwells, should they be so inclined.
Enormous louvres, two on each side of the tower, have existed since it was built. To mute the bells during practices, these have been covered. During public ringing, four two-foot-square openings, one on each side, will be opened. These are at the top of the tower to allow the sound of the bells to mix before it exits on any given side.
Once Mr. Flynn had determined to go forth with his vision, but before the bells were procured, he immediately gathered a group of seven parishioners to learn the art of change ringing. With no nearby towers, this was accomplished through traveling for training and practice to the towers in Philadelphia and, later, Washington, DC. The Southminster band is truly grateful for the generosity of time and talent of those ringing communities.
Some of us were uncertain as to the very nature of change ringing, let alone how to do it; and we were all equally novices, never before having touched a bell rope. Our first exposure to bell ropes and ringing was in the tower at St. Martin’s-in-the-Field, in January of 2000. Bruce and Eileen Butler were on hand to -— dare I say it —- show us the ropes, and by day’s end, a few of us were ringing quite well, considering. We were all suddenly very excited about the adventure (and, of course, discipline) that we had chosen, and being introduced that afternoon to a traditional bellringer’s ale did not hurt.
Periodically, over the following two years, our group continued to make weekend visits to St. Martin’s and St. Mark’s in Philadelphia, and to the National Cathedral and Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. Skill levels rose in all, and dramatically in some. We find that the ability to practice in our own tower is making for a marked improvement. Over time, the Southminster band has grown in size, and several more church members have expressed interest in learning to ring.
The first ringing was a silent practice in the tower while the interior was still under construction. Bruce and Eileen were able to make it to Pittsburgh, and Tom Flynn arranged for the band to ring with them for the first time in the new tower. We all signed waivers saying that the construction company was in no way liable for any serious injury or death, and ascended the stairs. This was the first time most of the band had seen the ringing room. To step into a room in our own church with brand new ropes hanging from the ceiling holding brilliant sallies, colored in spirals of royal blue, black and gold, was quite a thrill. An aside: an informal significance has already been attached to the sallies’ colors — black and gold for Pittsburgh’s colors (Go, Steelers!), blue and gold for Mt. Lebanon’s colors (Go, Blue Devils!), and black and blue as a reminder of those colors that are to be avoided in the ringing room. After the bright new sallies were unwrapped, Bruce rang up the first bell. The clappers were tied, as the tower was not yet muted, and the practice went well, even allowing for the adventure of the tower’s first broken stay.
The first public ringing was a two-minute tolling of the tenor bell at 8:46 am on Sept 11, 2002, in commemoration of the tragedy that shook our nation exactly one year before. This seemed a particularly fitting first ring for Southminster’s Peace Tower. The dedication week was full of guests and activities. From Tuesday, Oct 1 through Thursday, Oct 3, Southminster parishioners hosted a group of ringers from the Lancashire, England area, on tour through the United States and Canada. Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the Lancashire ringers were on hand to introduce the basics of bellringing to persons who had never touched a rope but wanted to learn. Thursday evening, from 5:30 to 6:30, they rang the first public changes from the Peace Tower.
Celebratory events on Saturday were just pompous enough to befit the occasion. The day started with a service at 10:00 am. Among other speakers, Bruce Butler offered A Brief History of Change Ringing. We trust that the congregation was, at least, charmed by his accent. Next, after pointedly mentioning that he had been asked to speak the previous Wednesday, Brian Zook delivered a history of Bells from Earliest to Present Time. Then Mr. Flynn waxed eloquent on The Bells of Southminster. “The bells of Southminster. The bells of Southminster. The bells of Southminster,” he began. “I just like saying it.” Lastly, Ms. Helen Lee Henderson, daughter of the benefactress, spoke of the Peace Tower and the importance of peace to her mother.
After the service, parishioners moved outside where the ceremony continued with the bells being introduced, one by one, treble to tenor. As they were introduced, they were rung up accordingly (coordinated secretly by walkie-talkie). Quilla Roth and Bruce Butler alternated ringing the bells up. Rounds were then rung, in part by Southminster band members Nick Rossi, Mary Bragdon, and Twyla Boyer. These were followed by changes, with Nick and Mary ringing. All parishioners were then permitted to see the ringing room and belfry in groups of eight, after which changes were rung for another hour. So far as I am willing to recall, not a stay was broken.
The Southminster Peace tower is at long last ringing with changes, rounds, and tolls, as it was always meant to. Any ringers who are touring are invited to make the Southminster Peace Tower one of your stops. For more information, contact:
Mary Bragdon, tower captain.