The Bells of St Nicholas

Photo:St Nicholas Church, pre 1860

St Nicholas Church, pre 1860

Herts Archives

From three in 1552 to eight in 1990 - and two Oldfield bells

By Amy Coburn

There have been bells in the tower of St Nicholas Church since the 16th Century.

In 1552 according to a survey of all goods in churches throughout the land there were then three bells and a Saunce bell, in the tower.

In 1612/13 two more bells were added, these were cast by Robert Oldfield, a bell founder at Hertford, thus making a ring of five.

These five bells called the people of Harpenden to church until 1898, when 1, 3 and 4 were recast and augmented to six by Warners of Whitechapel.

In 1903, to mark the crowning of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra two more bells were added – it had been decided that a clock tower was to be built on the triangle – of the common, but as insufficient money was raised it was agreed that two ‘undenominational’ bells would be given to the Parish Church instead.  These two bells were also cast by Warners.

Time for renewal

By 1990 it was decided that the time had come to have a completely new ring of bells.

Under the inspired leadership of the ringing master of the time work was begun, much of the labouring work being undertaken by the ringers.

Photo:Bell metal being poured from the furnace into a ladle for transporting to the bell mould for casting

Bell metal being poured from the furnace into a ladle for transporting to the bell mould for casting

On June 29th 1990 a party of ringers and members of the congregation of St Nicholas travelled to Loughborough to watch the casting of the new bells at Taylors bellfoundry – to watch the golden metal being poured into the moulds is unforgettable. 






Photo:Molten bell metal being poured from the ladle into the bell mould

Molten bell metal being poured from the ladle into the bell mould

Trevor Jennings Bellfounding @ Shire Publications

The inscriptions on the bells record the donors of each bell who were individual ringers, Friends of the Church, and a business associate of the ringing master.









Photo:The new bells arriving in Harpenden in 1990

The new bells arriving in Harpenden in 1990

Peter Coles


 It was decided that the ancient custom of baptising bells would be revived, so when the bells came back from the foundry they were arranged around the font in the church to be given their names – names carefully chosen to remember links with the past.

Baptising the new bells

Treble: PETER – reminding us of the charter of 1060 when the hamlet of Harpenden was part of Wheathampstead, and was given by Edward the Confessor to his favourite abbey of Westminster.

2nd: MARY – daughter church of St Mary’s Kinsbourne Green.

3rd: ELIZABETH – To mark the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

4th:  HELEN – Until 1859 St Helen’s Wheathampstead was our Mother Church

5th: ALBAN – The  Diocese.

6th; JOHN – These two bells recall the names on their predecessors ...

7th : MICHAEL – of the original ring that hung in the tower so long ago.

Tenor: NICHOLAS -  (The Tenor) – the Parish

These eight bells were cast from the metal of the six Warner bells with additional metal added (Treble smallest bell, Tenor largest)

The two Oldfield bells, having served Harpenden since they were cast over 400 years ago were not recast; they carry the inscriptions:

PRAYSE THE LORD – 1612 and PRAISE THE LORD – 1613, and are now hung ‘dead’ ie do not swing – the clock strikes on one, the other being used as a service bell.

It is sad to note that after so many years, and casting bells for churches in this country and overseas, Taylors went into administration in September 2009.  It is to be hoped that all the skill that is needed in the art of bell founding is not lost.  The Whitechapel Bellfoundry, at one time Warners, is still operational.  However it seems that since September 2009 a ‘rescue’ has taken place and it is hoped that the consortium will be successful.

This page was added by David Hinton on 16/11/2010.
Comments about this page

According to Taylor's website, on the 15th October 2009 UK Bellfounders Ltd, a consortium of ringers, members of the bell industry and other investors reopened the foundry under the old name of John Taylor & Co.

By Diana Parrott
On 02/12/2011

A small cutting from the Harpenden Mail dated 27 March 1903 has come to light among photos kept by Mrs Eliza Salisbury of Limbrick Hall:

Coronation Bells: the two new bells, as a permanent memorial for the Coronation, are being hung in the tower at the Parish Church this week. These additional new bells will make the peal complete. The cost amounts to about £110, subscribed by the parishioners as a Coronation memorial. The first bell, weighing about five and a half hundredweight (280kg), has been dedicated to H.M. King Edward VII, and bears the following inscription:- "To make mindful of the Sacring (Coronation) of Edward our King, 1902. Given by the parishioners. S.R.A. Buller, Rector". The second bell has been dedicated to Queen Alexandra and weighs six and half cwt (320kg). It bears the following inscription:- "To tell of the crowning of Queen Alexandra, 1902. Given by the parishioners. S.R.A. Butler, Rector".

The bells have been cast, and the work of hanging is being carried out by Messrs John Warner and Son, of London. The work will be completed this week.

By Rosemary Ross
On 03/04/2016

An article by J J Willis in 'Middlesex and Hertfordshire Notes and Queries  1896' (page 43) entitled 'Harpenden Church Bells' has come to light.  The extra information to that published on this page is the inscriptions on the 5 bells in the tower in 1896:

1. Johannes Grene me fecit anno dom. 1574

2. 1612 - Prayse the Lord

3. In multis annis Resonat Campana Johannis - 1571

4. X Intonat De Celis Vox Campana Michaelis

5. Praise the Lord - 1613

The second and fifth bells bear,  besides the inscription, a foundry stamp, with the letters "R.O.," showing them to have been cast by Robert Oldfield....

By Diana Parrott
On 25/02/2020