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BIRMINGHAM* St Martin (The Bull-Ring) 16, 39-1-19 in C

Grid Reference 139/073866 Birmingham_St Martin - Source: Mike Chester
Postcode B5 4BW
Affiliation St Martin's Guild
Peals Felstead Database
Sunday 1010-1100
Practice Tuesday 1930-2100  (1, 3 & 5)


This is the church in the famous Bull Ring - recently developed with the Debenhams Building almost dominating to the left of the photograph.

A church here was documented in 1263, but it has undergone much restoration over the centuries. The tower reached its current appearance in 1853-55 and the church in 1873-5 when, apart from the tower, it was largely rebuilt. There is an unusal external pulpit at the base of the tower.

Entrance for ringers is from the west door. The ringers in the centre of Birmingham have a justified reputation for the superb quality of their ringing. The won the National 12-Bell Competition on 12 of the 15 occasions it was held between 2000 and 2014, including 5 years in a row.

The tower now contains the first ever ring of 16 bells, cast between 1988 and 1991, but has a much longer history. In 1552 there were "iij bells". By 1682 there was a ring of 6, probably cast by Henry Bagley, with a tenor of 17-3-9, augmented to 8 in 1702.  It is known that in 1745 when John Wesley preached in the Bull Ring these bells were rung in an attempt to drown his voice! This ring was in turn replaced by a new ring of 10, tenor 35-0-8, by Lester and Pack of Whitechapel. The first peal here, Grandsire Caters, was rung on these bells on 19th November 1758, the same year as the ring of 10 was installed

The fourth and ninth required recasting in 1769, also carried out by the Whitechapel foundry. They then added two trebles in 1771/2 to make St Martin's only the 7th ring of 12 in existence. The 9th was recast in 1790, again the work was done by the Whitechapel foundry. 

The first peal of Kent Treble Bob Maximus was rung here in 1820 and is commemorated on a peal board. They did it in style, by ringing a 7,200!:

The bells were rehung in 1825 by Charles Oliver (Snr) of Whitechapel, but not entirely successfully. Further work was necessary in 1844 and again in 1858. In 1870 Blews recast the 4th and 5th and rehung the bells in a new wooden frame, four above eight. This was more longer lasting and, with strengthening, survived until the 1991 replacement ring was installed. Further work on the fittings was carried out in 1886 and 1902. The inscription of the bells as they were in 1910 are given in Tilley and Walters' book, "The Church Bells of Warwickshire":

This was said about St Martin's in a series of articles about rings around the country that were published in "Bell News", this in the edition of June 21st 1902:

"St. Martin. St. Martin’s Guild. Twelve bells. All except 4th and 5th (Blews, 1869), by Lester and Pack; treble, 2nd, 11th, 1772; 3rd , 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and tenor, 1758 ; 9th, 1798. Tenor 35 cwt., diameter 4 ft. 9 in. Timber frame. Bells go well. Tenor rehung and various repairs by Barwell. All in fairly good condition, but some of the soundbows worn. Ropes new 1898, good. Methods: Grandsire, Stedman, Plain and Treble Bob, occasionally others. Sunday ringing: 3rd in month and on festivals, 9.30 to 10.45. Practice : Tuesday, 8. There’s an endowment to furnish bell-ropes,"

The second bell was recast by Barwells in 1913. The reason for the need to recast the second was given in a letter read out at the Henry Johnson dinner of 1913 by the Rector of Birmingham, as reported in The Ringing World of March 7th 1913:

Before concluding, the Rector said he had received a letter from their valued secretary, Mr. Paddon Smith, in which he wrote: “ It occurs to me that this is a favourable moment to bring to your notice the fact that the second bell of the twelve at St. Martin’s, the smallest but one, is badly out of tune, and it is considered the only blot on our otherwise magnificent peal. Somewhere about a century ago it was clumsily handled by a workman connected with a London firm who were rehanging the bells. This intelligent man finding that the bells and frame had been placed too close together to permit the mouth of the bell to pass, cut away so much of the frame as he thought could be done with safety, and then actually proceeded to operate on the bell itself. He removed portions from both sides of the lip, and this, of course, left the bell hopelessly flat. The only remedy is recasting, and as the cost of this would not be heavy, probably under £25,. I earnestly hope that you and the churchwardens will agree to the improvement being made. In the opinion of experts, we should then have in Birmingham a ring of twelve second to none in the country.

The rededication of the bells is reported in The Ringing World of May 23rd 1913:

Saturday week was a memorable day in the history of St. Martin’s Guild, members and friends foregathering in the old Parish Church f r the dedication of the new 2nd in the ring of twelve. The ceremony was performed by the Rector of Birmingham (Canon Willink), assisted by the Rev. —. Waldegrave, one of the curates.

The service, which was the special one for such occasions, was fully choral, the ringing being led by organ and choir. A number of ringers attended, and members of the regular congregation were also present. Immediately before the Dedication proper, the choir gave an excellent rendering of Purcell’s magnificent “ Bell Anthem,” which was much appreciated.

The address was given by the Rector, who traced the history of bells and bell ringing from the very earliest times to the present day. He said he strongly believed in every man having a hobby, and of all the hobbies he had ever come in contact with, he thought bell ringing was, perhaps, the finest and best from every point of view. It not only had the necessary fascination, but it was a 'hobby that led to men associating with other men, which was always good, and it had also the supreme advantage of being identified with the worship of Almighty God. He went on to mention the almost staggering number of changes that could be performed on 8, 10 and 12 bells, and said that he had that morning figured out, without going into it with mathematical exactitude, that to ring all the changes possible on the peal of bells in their own tower, would, roughly, take forty-seven years and some odd months. He thanked the members of the Guild, and other subscribers, for the very generous gift they had made to the old church. It showed a splendid spirit, and he trusted the members present, and their successors all through the ages to come, would continue to exercise their splendid art on the bells, both for the services of the church, and thedr own amusement.

He had caused a special entry to be made in the register of the church, to the effect that the new bell was the gift of the ringers, so that future generations might know what had been done by the ringers of 1913. He was very sorry that the bells were not rung on Sunday evenings (excepting the first Sunday in the month) as well as in the morning. The largest congregation of any place of worship in the city attended the evening service at the Parish Church, and he was indeed sorry that the only welcome they had from the tower was “ that miserable chime ” (the apparatus).

He threw out the suggestion, which he hoped they would think about, saying that he loved the full-throated melody of the bells, and would ”be delighted if arrangements could be made for them to be rung regularly for both the services.

After the service, ringing was indulged in for a short time, the new second being greatly admired. The subscribers then adjourned to tea, which the Rector very kindly provided, and at which he presided. Mrs. Willink was also present, as were several lady ringers, who had arrived; in Birmingham for the annual meeting of their Guild.

Alderman J. S. Pritchett, presiding Ringing Master, occupied the vice-chair, and the organist—Dr. Reynolds—was also of the company.

After tea, the Rector, in a very happy speech, again thanked the •members for their gift, and said how grateful he was that he and the •churchwardens had been relieved of all responsibility in the matter, as. they had embarked on a very large undertaking in having the church thoroughly re-pointed, from the ground to the top of the spire. This would cost considerably more than £1,000, the whole of which sum had yet to be raised.

He felt almost " a pride of parentage " over the new bell, the whole of the work having been done in Birmingham; indeed several of his ringers were in the employ of the firm who cast it, it was hung by ringers, and was to be paid for by ringers. The secretary was; to be heartily congratulated on the success of the project, and for the expedition of business-like manner in which the work had been carried out. The first time he heard the bells he was struck by the volume of purity of their tone, and was quite sure that they now had] a ring of twelve ranking among the finest in the land.

Alderman Pritchett thanked the Rector for his hospitality, and the Hon. Secretary having also suitably responded, the remainder of the evening was spent in harmony.

The new bell, which weighs 6 cwt. 2 qrs., is hung on an iron headistock, and bears the following inscription:—

To the Greater Glory of God,
Recast by members and friends of
A.D. 1913.

There were good testimonials for this bell and the excellent "splice" it made to the peal - but it would only last for 15 years.

On Boxing Day 1912 Miss Edith Parker was the first lady to call a peal on 12 bells by calling one of Stedman Cinques here.  It is rather charmingly, if a little condescendingly, reported in The Ringing World of January 3rd 1913:

On Boxing Day, the important part now taken in the Exercise by fair performers, was advanced a long stage by that talented young lady, Miss Edith K. Parker, who conducted a peal of Stedman Cinques at St. Martin's, Birmingham. An old ringer once remarked that if the bells of St. Martin’s were pulled off and left to themselves, they would go into Stedman Cinques on their own account. Be this as it may, it is practically certain that during the past 90 years more changes in this method have been rung, and probably more peals scored on them, than on any other two or three rings of twelve put together. It is, therefore, peculiarly appropriate that the first peal of Stedman Cinques to be conducted by a lady should be accomplished in this famous old tower.

Miss Parker, accompanied by her father, who also rang in the peal, journeyed from London on purpose for the peal, and was met at the station by several ringers and their wives. The meeting time was one o ’clock, and shortly before this hour, Miss Parker was standing in the centre of the spacious -belfry, surrounded by forty or fifty ringers, who were curious to see the plucky young lady, and several ladies who were more curious still. Eventually the belfry was vacated by all but those who were to ring, and Miss Parker pulled off the treble in workmanlike style. There was perhaps, just an element of doubt among some as to how she would strike her bell, it being understood that she was more accustomed to eight-bell ringing, but all doubts on this score were set at rest after the very first course. The bells settled down immediately to a good beat, and course-end after course-end rolled up in grand style, and an excellent peal was brought round in 3 hrs. and 38 mins., as recorded elsewhere in this issue. The peal was called in an absolutely faultless manner, as though the young lady had done nothing but call peals of Stedman Cinques from birth. On the conclusion, she was heartily congratulated by the band, as also was her father, by a large number of ringers from all round the district who had heard more or less of the peal.

At the Henry Johnson Dinner held in February 1927 it was noted by some speakers that the bells were in need of rehanging. It was later stated that no peal could be rung on the bells until they had been restored. Thje following appeared in The Ringing World of March 23rd 1928:

The contract has now been placed with Messrs. Mears and Stainbank, of the Whitechapel Foundry, for the recasting of the bells of St. Martin’s, Birmingham. The famous church in the Bull Ring is to have a new Simpson-tuned peal of 12 bells, with a tenor about 37 cwt., slightly heavier than the present tenor, The old wooden frame, which is in an excellent state of preservation, is to he retained.

By this decision of the church authorities the old bells will go back to the foundry whence they came, for they were, nearly all of them, cast by Lester, Pack and Chapman. There were six bells in the tower from i682 to 1758, when Lester and Pack supplied a new peal of ten, and in 1771 two trebles were added to make a ring of twelve.

For the purposes of its bells, St. Martin's is exceedingly fortunate. It is recorded th at ‘ Jno. Billingsley, a.d . 1629, left a croft of land to provide bell ropes.’ This croft is now situated in one of the busiest thoroughfares in Birmingham , and having been built upon and duly appreciated in value, St. Martin’s bells have never been silent for want of ropes, while in these days there is a bumping surplus which has enabled the present recasting scheme to be undertaken.

The magnificent tower, with its lofty spire 220 feet high, is a nobly proportioned structure, and was built about the year 1690.

Later in 1928 the whole ring was recast by Whitechapel. The tenors were replaced the following year, though still dated 1928. The departure of the old bells was reported in The Ringing World of August 3rd. The tenor as in the key of C - (517.5Hz - C-19c)


A brief history of the bells and some details of the dedication were published in the edition of November 9th

The dedication was reported in detail in the edition of December 14th:

(Click to enlarge these images)

The first peal on the new ring was rung in 1929

A flat 6th was added in 1954, cast in 1953 by Whitechapel and weighing 7-3-12, though not rung until 1955. The dedication of this bell was reported in The Ringing World of June 17th 1955:

The new bell in the tower at St. Martin’s Church, Birmingham, has been in position for some time, but it has been the wish of the Rector that it should not be rung until complete success had been achieved in the £100,000 appeal for church restoration and extension. The amount asked for has now been fully subscribed, and on Thursday, June 2nd, the bell was rung for the first time.
The service of dedication was held in the ringing chamber, and was conducted by the Rector, Canon Bryan Green, assisted by the senior curate, the Rev. G. C. Potts. In the course of the service prayers were offered for ringers and their work, and the Rector expressed his appreciation of the ceaseless labours of his ringers as office bearers in the church.
The Master of St. Martin’s Guild, Mr. Albert Walker, thanked the Rector for his constant interest in the belfry, after which Canon Green rang the new bell. A bob course of Stedman Triples and a course of Cambridge Major were then rung on the new eight.
The bell, which is in B flat, weighs 8 cwt., and bears the inscription: ‘ I was first rung on the completion of the appeal for £100.000 for the restoration of St. Martin’s Church.’ It adds a flat sixth to the existing twelve, and gives a fine octave in F with a tenor of about 14 cwt. It is expected to provide a useful light eight, both for general purposes and for the training of beginners.
The Master has pointed out that on Tuesday nights at 6.30 there is a special practice for beginners in various stages, and it is hoped that more aspirants will take advantage of this opportunity to benefit by the help and advice of more experienced practitioners.
A. W."

The first peal on "the light-8" was rung very shortly afterwards:

An historical article, written by Edgard Shephered, was published in The Ringing World during 1962:

(Click to enlarge)

The 9th was recast by Taylors in 1975, at 16-3-5 and 45" as there were plans to remodel the ring and this bell would become the 10th of the new ring. This scheme was never enacted.  There are a number of "interesting" letters on the subject in The Ringing World.  Perhaps the best comment was made in a letter from R William Willans, published on April 26th 1974; "I do not wish to comment on Mr. Rigby’s unnecessarily vituperative manner, nor on the fact that his remark about Wrington bells, if made in good faith , indicates that Mr. Rigby has an ear like the proverbial whelk."  The installation of the new 9th bell was reported in The Ringing World of February 13th 1976:

Click to enlarge)

It was announced publically that there was to be a ring of 16 here in The Ringing World of November 18th 1988:

By May 1989 things had moved on and a descision needed to be taken with some urgency as to where the current ring of bells would be transferred to, if anywhere - see RW P472/1989. However, progress was noted in the edition of Occtober 19th 1990, by which tinme the first bells had been cast. Interestingly, it was noted that the intended destination for the current ring at this time was Toronto.:

These bells were removed in early 1991, to be replaced by the ring of 16. The removal of the old ring was reported in The Ringing World of May 24th 1991:

Click to enlarge)

Plans to hang the bells in Toronto, York, Newquay, Chichchester, Bloemfontein, etc., did not work as had hoped. After getting quite close to being scrapped, the existing ring of 12 were subsequently installed at Escrick, North Yorkshire in 1996. The bells were stored for a number of years, at Taylors before being tuned at Whitechapel. These weights are given below. 

The bells of the new ring of 16 were dedicated with them on the floor of the church on July 10th 1991, as reported in  The Ringing Worldo of August 16th:

Clik to enlarge)

The first peal on the new ring was rung in 1993:


Bells 3, 4, 8, 12 & 14 are hung above the rest of the bells in a two tier frame.

(Most of the above information is quoted directly (with permission) from the research notes of Chris Pickford)

Details of the Bells

 1 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991   5-3-22  24.88"  2359.0Hz (D+7c)
 2 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991   5-3-09  25.44"  2100.4Hz (C+6c)
 3 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991   5-3-05  26.00"  1981.8Hz (B+5c)
 4 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991   6-1-11  27.50"  1764.7Hz (A+5c)
 5 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990   6-1-21  28.50"  1571.3Hz (G+4c)
 6 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990   7-1-09  30.25"  1399.0Hz (F+3c)
 7 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990   7-1-11  30.36"  1320.4Hz (E+2c)
 8 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991   8-1-01  32.44"  1175.6Hz (D+1c)
 9 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990   8-2-23  33.81"  1046.5Hz (C+0c)
10 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1989   8-3-20  34.94"   986.4Hz (B+0c)
11 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991  10-1-01  37.06"   880.0Hz (A+0c)
12 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990  12-3-07  40.56"   784.1Hz (G+0c)
13 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1991  17-2-01  45.06"   698.5Hz (F+0c)
14 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990  20-0-26  47.44"   659.2Hz (E+0c)
15 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990  28-3-03  53.56"   587.2Hz (D+0c)
16 Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London  1990  39-1-19  59.94"   523.2Hz (C-0c)

Details of the Whitechapel Ring                                         

                                         "Whitechapel          "Escrick
                                            weight"             weight"      

 1 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   7-0-17  29.625"      6-3-07
 2 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   7-0-00  30.00"       6-0-05
 3 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   7-0-18  30.875"      6-1-26 
 4 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   6-3-15  31.875"      6-2-07
 5 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   7-2-16  32.875"      6-3-19
 6 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   7-2-17  33.75"       7-0-20
 7 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928   8-1-06  35.875"      7-3-26
 8 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928  11-1-11  39.50"      11-0-11
 9 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928  13-0-19  42.625"     16-1-23(Recast by Taylors in 1975)
10 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928  18-2-09  46.25"      17-0-14
11 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928  26-1-07  52.25"      23-3-24
12 Mears & Stainbank, London         1928  36-3-26  59.00"      34-0-10
6b Mears & Stainbank, London         1953   7-3-12  35.375"      7-3-17

Details of the Ring at the Time of the Whitechapel REcast

1  Pack & Chapman, London            1772   5-2-01  37.50"
2  James Barwell & Co, Birmingham    1913   6-0-09  29.00"
3  Lester & Pack, London             1758   6-1-21  30.625"
4  William Blews, Birmingham         1870   6-3-21  31.75"

5  William Blews, Birmingham         1870   7-3-21  33.875"
6  Lester, Pack & Chapman, London    1769   8-2-15  35.375"
7  Lester & Pack, London             1758   9-2-09  37.50"
8  Lester & Pack, London             1758  11-2-01  40.50"
9  Thomas Mears & Son, London        1790  13-3-21  44.25"
10 Lester & Pack, London             1758  17-0-26  46.50"
11 Lester, Pack & Chapman, London    1769  26-1-24  53.00"
12 Lester & Pack, London             1758  33-1-05  58.00"
(These are the weights "as received" at Whitechapel and vary from those given when the bells were installed)


Details of the Bagley Ring

1  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682   6-3-05  
2  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682
3  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682   8-3-23
4  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682  10-0-08
5  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682
6  Henry Bagley, Chacombe            1682  17-3-09

Photo Gallery

Looking East The External Pulpit 12-Bell Trophy
The Interior - Looking East The External Pulpit The National 12-Bell Trophy in the Ringing Chamber

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