I am sure you would have glanced up many times and marvelled at the iconic architectural tower of St Mary’s church which in many respects symbolises Taunton as the county town of Somerset. The tower is, of course, the largest, tallest and most magnificent of any parish church in the South West of England or debatably the whole of the UK.
Having considered the towers architectural merits and marvelled at the building skills of our forbears, we perhaps need to recognise the purpose and function of this enormous structure which in simplistic terms is a housing in which Taunton’s most expensive musical instrument is installed, raised to an enormous height so that the sound of pealing bells could be heard across the length and breadth of the parish.
The musical instrument to which I refer is of course St Mary’s tune playing Carillon consisting of fifteen bells, the heaviest of which is one and a half tons, covering one and a half octaves with three semitones and sequenced via electro/pneumatic hammers to play a variety of tunes which I am sure have become well known to the local residents. Twelve of the bells serve a dual purpose and are hung in an enormous cast iron frame to enable them to be rung traditionally “full circle” and as such are the heaviest ring of twelve bells in Somerset.
Why am I telling you all of this, well there are problems. Firstly the Carillon mechanism has failed and is for all intent and purpose is economically beyond repair. The bell installation is in urgent need of major works which is not surprising having been well used since the last major renovation nearly one hundred years ago. All these problems are some what compounded by the fact that the bell installation of the 1800’s was not correctly undertaken in terms of today’s standards, which dramatically affect the “go” of the bells and accentuates tower movement to an unacceptable level. These combined facts make St Mary’s bells extremely difficult to ring and unsafe as a venue for teaching people the art of bell ringing. No wonder these bells are known as the worst peal of twelve bells in the world.
Is there a resolve? Well yes, but unfortunately not a cheap one. From all the expert opinions that have been given to date there is only one satisfactory solution which will entail a major project to recast the bells and install them in a modern frame, probably lower in the tower, with all new fittings and fixtures. As far as the Carillon mechanism is concerned, a direct replacement with a modern alternative would provide far greater flexibility and lower maintenance costs for the future.
On Friday 15th June 2012 we are launching a project called “The Bells of St Mary’s” with the intent of raising some £300,000-00 to enable the work described above to be carried out. Quite clearly, St Mary’s church cannot fund this ambitious project and we are therefore appealing to all sectors of Taunton society, commercial, social and individual to assist with the funding of this project. We very much hope that you will attend and support this project launch evening. The venue is St Mary’s church at 7.30pm for an evening of musical entertainment and refreshment.
The project goal is to provide St Mary’s with a tuneful ring of bells on which the younger generation can learn to ring and a Carillon which will serve St Mary’s church and Taunton for many generations to come.
To learn more about this project there is a leaflet available or go to our web site: www.bellsofstmarys.org.uk.