The old clock Newport's early band Handbells on Carnival Day Bell Restoration The Handbells Belfry view Gillett and Johnston Slider The ringers before the balcony
Newport Pagnell's Church Bells

North Bucks Branch, Oxford Diocesan Guild:

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The Archive web site contains information about the history of ringing in North Bucks.

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Web development - Nov 2020

Tune Machine page added.

The Gillett tune machine at Newport Pagnell

The history of tune playing on church bells goes back several centuries. It seems likely that the development of carillons containing many bells in the Low Countries was viewed with some interest by people in England. However, the development of change ringing around the same time limited the number of bells in our church towers. The improvements in the skills of clock makers also led to the development of machines to play simple tunes.

In 1749 the five old bells in Newport's church tower were re-cast at the Whitechapel bell foundry into a new ring of eight bells. This provided an excellent resource for the bellringers, but that's a different tale. An octave of bells can play many tunes both religious and secular. In 1762, a bellfounder and clockmaker from St. Neots, Joseph Eayre, supplied a tune machine to Newport which played eight tunes:

  • 113 Psalm
  • Seeleys Gavot
  • Purrats Delight
  • Oswalds Air
  • Rigadoon
  • Happy Clown
  • Highland Laddy
  • Brittons Strike Home

There is, still playing, a tune machine from this period at Ware, Herts. It is not yet known if that was made by Joseph Eayre. These machines used pins, fixed to a barrel, to lift and then drop hammers onto the bells. These had the advantage of being simple to make and maintain but the pins tended to wear out. After a while, the tunes would become less and less recognisable. By 1881, that had happened here. The May 28th edition of Croydon's Weekly Standard said:

"What" said a gentleman when walking up the principal street of our town the other day "has become of these favourite chimes I was wont to hear in the days of my youth? Can it be possible that they too, like many other conspicuous and pleasant things which then existed, have been allowed to experience the destructive influences of neglect and decay? Or is it that their sweet sounds have been hushed for want of a little of that needful oil which so materially contributes to "set the ball rolling?" "Well" said his companion, "I believe the cause is attributable to a proportion of both these queries, for I hear on the one hand, that the mechanism is in such a rusty condition that it would take a considerable amount of labour to obliterate the incrustations that have necessarily accumulated during the time which has elapsed since they used to send forth their melodious sounds; and on the other hand that there is a great want of that oil which has as its chief ingredient a substance very easily handled, but, unlike the rust, requires much skill in accumulating. "Money,"

No progress was made until the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee was discussed in the town in 1886. A committee was formed to explore a number of civic projects:

  • Replacing the chimes
  • Renovating the old chimes
  • Setting up a cottage hospital
  • Enlarging the Parish Church - Actually enlarging the entrance to the churchyard, which probably would have entailed demolishing a building, which was actually done when the war memorial was built.

Then the townspeople started suggesting their ideas.

  • Building a tower with bells at the Congregational Church (now URC)
  • A Jubilee memorial window in the Wesleyan Church
  • Rebuilding the Baptist Church
  • Building a new Fire Brigade House - It was suggested that combining this with a swimming baths would provide a convenient water supply for the brigade.
  • Accelerating the building of Newport's water works on Ash Hill
  • Constructing a market house

These suggestions were not taken seriously by the committee.

On Jan 12 1887 a second public meeting was held to present the committee's findings. The cost of the proposed chimes was to be £250 while the initial cost of the cottage hospital was expected to be about £100. However, the prospect of ongoing costs of about £38, which had created difficulties for other towns, put the meeting off that project. When put to the vote, the results were:

  • Cottage hospital, 39
  • new chimes, 60
  • repairing chimes 4
  • bathing place, 100

So it was decided to buy new chimes and also set up a new bathing place. By Jan 22nd, over £230 had been subscribed. It was then realised that The National Anthem can not be played on a simple octave. An extra bell was needed. Mr F. J. Taylor, of Mustard and Drinks fame, generously gave the £50 needed so that decided one of the tunes. Aparently, there were 125 to choose from.

The new tune machine was to be one of Gillett & Co.'s new design of tune machines. These held all of the clock hammers, two per bell, away from the bells and only dropped the hammer against the bell when a small pin in the barrel lined up with the relevant lever. An ingenious cam arrangement would then lift the hammer back into position. This meant that the pins avoided the stress levels experienced in the older machines.

Work started in March with alterations to the old church clock by the local jewellers, Coales, and the construction of wood panelling in the clock room by Mr E. D. Mitchell. The new bell arrived at the railway station on Friday April 1st, to be put in position the next day.

A meeting of the committee was held at Mr. T. Taylor's offices, High Street, on Tuesday evening, May 10th to decide which tunes were to be included on the two barrels. The tunes chosen were:

  • 1st barrel:
  • God Save the Queen
  • The Blue Bells of Scotland
  • The Last Rose of Summer
  • Robin Adair
  • Rockingham
  • Rule Britannia
  • Hanover"

  • 2nd barrel:
  • God Bless the Prince of Wales
  • Believe me if all Those Endearing &c.
  • There's nae Luck About the Hoose
  • The Minstrel Boy
  • Sicilian Mariner's Hymn
  • Home Sweet Home
  • Adeste Fideles

When the tune machine arrived, we got The Ash Grove instead of Rule Britannia and On the Banks of Allan Water instead of There's nae Luck About the Hoose. I have yet to find an explanation for this.

Plaque in clock room

The new chimes were first heard on June 14th:

Just at five minutes to one o'clock, as soon as the dedication service was ended, Master Leonard Whitworth Taylor, pulled the string in the bell tower, and which had been connected with the chimes in the clock tower, when the National Anthem sounded from the belfrey, indicating to the outside public that the new chimes, subscribed for by the parishioners had been set in motion.

The National Anthem was played several times on the day of the Jubilee, 20th June. Again, the story of that day is another tale.

In the weeks that followed, the chimes attracted continued interest:

20th July:

There is no foundation whatever for the rumour that the chimes again got out of order on Wednesday afternoon. At special request, and for the edification of some lady visitors to the town, the drum was set in motion and a number of tunes played beyond the one set for the day.

1st Oct:

It is intended, we believe, to take a new departure on Sunday next in regard to the chimes. Instead of remaining silent at 9, 12, 3 and 6 on Sundays, as hitherto, they will play immediately after each service.

In the 133 years since Victoria's Jubilee, the chimes have continued to play at three hourly intervals with only occasional restoration and maintenance. The machine was originally powered by a set of heavy iron weights which had to be re-wound regularly. It now has an electric motor, which is much more convenient.

The pins in the barrels are, however, quite small and vulnerable to damage so work is now being done to replace and re-position those that have gone wrong.

Doug Hird - 28/11/2020