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 David Hinton

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.

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