Winchester bell celebrates its 400th anniversary on New Year’s Day

December 28, 2020

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Winchester Cathedral now houses one of the oldest bells in the city, with New Year’s Day marking its 400th anniversary. The historic bell resides in the Cathedral belfry, following its transfer from St. Lawrence’s church in 1967.

For centuries, church bells have been used to mark times of death and rejoicing, to celebrate great feast days and call the faithful to prayer. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cathedral’s bells have remained silent for most of this year, however, on Christmas Day, the bells will be rung once again, to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Nick Bucknall, Bell Ringers Section Head said “It’s a great tradition to ring the bells and typically, we ring them at the Cathedral each Sunday and at times of events like Remembrance Day. It is an important part of church worship, and of the history of this country, and we look forward to hearing the sound of the bells travel across the city of Winchester on Christmas Day”.

Today, the Cathedral has 16 bells, with the historic bell dating back to 1621. Together, they weigh a staggering 8,341 kilograms with the tenor bell that makes the lowest sound, weighing in at 1,838 kilograms. The massive oak frame which holds the bells in place dates from 1734 1734 and was rebuilt from an earlier frame. It still bears the name of the carpenter who made it, John Williams.

In July 2017, on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s funeral, the historic bell was tolled during the ceremony. This was on the basis that it was in use in St Lawrence’s church whilst Jane Austen resided in Winchester, with the belief that she may have heard it ring during her time in the city.

Following its departure from St. Lawrence’s church, which made the decision to have just one service bell, the historic bell came to the Cathedral fifty years ago and three bells went to All Saints, Upper Clatford. St. Lawrence still has its original 3rd, hung on its headstock and bearings, but it can’t be swung – instead an angled hammer, mounted on the floor, is pulled which strikes the inside of the sound bow.

The Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle said “Hearing the sound of the Cathedral bells ringing out again will be a joy. For centuries, bells have been sounded to welcome in the birth of Christ on Christmas Day and I hope this tradition brings comfort and joy, as well as festive cheer to the community.”