The Royal Church of San Francisco EI Grande, Madrid
A Report on the Bells
14 October 1956.
Sr. D. Ernesto La. Orden,
Patronato de la Obra Pia de los Santos Lugares de Jerusalen,
Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores
The Royal Church of San Francisco EI Grande, Madrid
A Report on the Bells
Ranald W. M. Clouston,
B.Sc.Eng F.S.A.Soct. A.M.I.Mech.E A.M.I.E.E.
The writer with your kind permission inspected these bells on 2nd and 3rd October 1956 and as was agreed at our meeting has pleasure in presenting the following report on them.
Of the nineteen English bells in this church only one is regularly used, and thirteen others have no means of sounding them at all. The eight bells in the South tower form the only ring, of bells on the Continent of Europe, that is a set of bells hung for English change ringing. They are all in an unsatisfactory state having had virtually nothing done to them for the last 74 years.
The writer gives proposals for the restoration of both the chime of eleven bells in the North tower and the eight bells in the South tower. This work could be carried out at the same time as the projected restoration of the towers themselves made necessary by the damage suffered in the Civil War.
The writer gives his reasons why he considers that the ring of bells was not and could not be used in the way originally intended and also his suggestions for improvements to make them into a ring of bells worthy of the fine church. He also makes some comments on the training of ringers to use the bells after the restoration.
If it is decided not to restore the ring of eight bells then the writer is at some loss to think of another use for them as the notes of the bells are almost identical with those of eight bells in the chime or small carillon in the other tower, and it would indeed be a pity to leave them just as they are in their present unsatisfactory state.
The two Eastern towers contain a total at 19 bells, all were cast by John Warner & Sons of the Cripplegate Foundry, London, in 1882. Each bears the inscription: "Cast by John Warner and Sons London 1882. Iglesia de San Francisco I882."
The Northern of the two towers contains a chime or small carillon of eleven bells, the largest weighing about I5 cwt (750 Kg) with the note F.
The Southern tower contains what is in England described as a ring of eight bells, forming an octave, with the largest bell weighing about 8 cwt, (400 Kg),
The firm of Messrs John Warner and Sons commenced business in 1763 and finally went out of existence in about 1920. They were in their day a very eminent firm of founders and held the Royal Appoint of bell—founders to Queen Victoria for most of her long reign. In this period they cast these bells in Madrid, the original Big Ben and the present four quarter bells in the Palace of Westminster, and many other bells now literally all over the world.
The Northern Tower. Chime of eleven bells
The Present State of the Bells
The eleven bells in the chime or small carillon are hung stationary in a massive wooden framework, The largest has a ball of iron tied by a rope to the staple in the crown of the bell which can be pulled on to the bell, a practice which can cause the bell to be cracked. None of the other bells have tongues, hammers or any means of sounding them.
Originally in 1882 there must have been a set of hammers connected by wires to a chiming machine at the foot of the staircase in the tower. Remains of this chiming machine are still to be seen in this position and include a large metal pegged drum which acted on the barrel organ principle.
Probably at a later date, about 1910, electrically operated hammers were installed under each bell and these were connected to a small keyboard or clavier which was operated from some convenient remote point in the church. Only the switches for this system remain in the tower and the are quite unfit for further use.
The writer’s proposals
In their present state all these bells are quite useless. The writer would suggest that each bell should be equipped with a tongue or clapper and that these should be connected by wires to a hand operated keyboard situated at the bottom of the main tower staircase.
This proposal has considerable advantages over the two earlier systems in that it is simple and the equipment will require only easily made adjustments as time goes on. Any suitable tunes falling within the compass of the bells can be played and not just a few tunes which happen to be pegged on to a chiming barrel.
The weather bas been affecting the wooden beams supporting the bells and all the beams should be treated with a suitable preservative to make them less liable to rot and beetle attack. The rain has rotted the wooden floor immediately below the bells and the upper part of the wooden staircase. The writer suggests that the iron ballustrade should be removed and that the floor should be relaid with a lead cover. Provision should be made for rain water collecting on the floor to drain away outside the tower.
There would need to be a small cylindrical ventilator in the centre of this floor. Through its lead roof would pass the chiming wires to the keyboard below and it would enable the operator to hear the bells as well as ventilate the staircase.
Access from the top of the staircase to the floor below the bells would then be by a trap door.
This work would ensure that those fine tuned bells could be used to great advantage for many years, and it is obvious that this aim should have everyone’s support.
The Southern Tower. The ring of bells
The bells all appear to have been hung in the English manner, with wheels, bearings, and full fittings for ringing in a full circle in ‘changes’.
However even when brand new ringing in the English manner would have been almost impossible due to the very restricted space for some of the ringers. The head of the circular staircase inside the tower has an iron ballustrade round it and the minimum clearance between it and the wall is 19 inches (48 cms). Thus for some of the bells the ringers would have to stand and manipulate the bell rope, which tends to flap around anyway in this small space.
With the bells mounted in a framework a few feet above the heads of the ringers and with no floor between the noise must be considerable and they would have difficulty in concentrating and hearing the conductor. Also if one of the tongues fell out from a bell there would be nothing to stop the heavy mass of iron hitting a ringer with great violence.
The bells are usually numbered from the lightest, which is termed the treble. The next one is the second bell, the next larger the third, etcetera, till the largest is reached and this is termed the tenor.
In the case of these bells the second, fourth, sixth and tenor bells hang in the four window openings. Thus an observer of the North side would see and hear the fourth bell and it would sound louder than any of the others. On the South side the observer would see the tenor swinging in that window opening and might have difficulty in hearing the fourth bell. It is the aim of the bell -ringers in England to ensure that a listener wherever he is would hear all the bells balanced and equally loud.
In this case the smallness of the inside of the tower and its general design has caused these four bells to be hung in the window openings which is after all the general Spanish way.
All the eight bells date from 1882 and it seems that they were then all hung for change ringing. However at a later date the electrical chiming system applied to the bells in the other tower was fitted to the treble, third, fifth, seventh and tenor bells. This required the removal of the wheels from these bells and of these there is now no trace.
As noted above even in 1882 it would have required a very expert band of change ringers to perform on the bells and the improvements suggested below would very largely remedy the unsatisfactory features.
It is useless to install a new and complicated piece of equipment such as a ring of bells without providing an instructor to train the operators, in this case ringers. This especially applies to Spain where change ringing is unknown.
There are come 30,000 change ringers in England and it might well be that one of them with the necessary teaching qualifications could come to Madrid to teach English and at the same time teach a band of ringers.
The general state of the Bells and fittings
The bells themselves are in good order. The seventh bell has had so much metal removed from the lip to sharpen the note or for other purposes that the tone is not as satisfactory as the others. The only remedy for this is recasting.
The Bell Framework
The massive beams are in quite good order despite the time that they have been exposed to the weather. Some of them in the West window opening have rotted somewhat and the affected timber should be cut out and the remainder should be treated with a preserving fluid.
All the bolts holding the structure together are loose and should be tightened.
The frame should be strengthened with metal cross bracing at the ends of the pits by the outside walls, that is those pints in the window openings.
The tongues, like the bells, vary in size. The tongues from the third and fifth bells have been fitted to the seventh and tenor bells, with the result that in the case of the former it strikes the bell too high and in the case of the latter it hits the bell in the right zone but is only held be one bolt instead of two.
Any restoration would require new tongues for the seventh and tenor bells; those now in use in these bells being returned to the third and fifth bells at present without them.
All the tongues need refitting as they have far too much freedom and certain wooden parts are missing.
Only the second, fourth, and sixth bells have wheels, These need repair and new wheels will be required for the other five bells.
Those are the wooden blocks to which the bells are bolted. That on the fifth bell is split and that on the tenor has decayed due to exposure to the weather. Both should be replaced if the ring is to be restored.
Gudgeon pins and bearings
The gudgeon pins are the shafts bolted to the headstocks which run in the bearings. Some of them are pitted due to rust, notably one on the fifth bell where the bearing cover is split and bas allowed the weather to get in. The fourth bell has been swung with dry bearings and the gudgeon pins are badly scored. Other gudgeon pins are loose in the headstocks and it is the writer’s opinion that all should be replaced and that totally enclosed self aligning ball bearings should be supplied for all the bells.
The ground pulleys
There are the correct number of these in the tower, but some bells. Have two and others none. Two need renewal and the remainder require overhaul.
These are the wooden bars below the bells, pivotted at one end and moving between stops at the others. Only one slider, for the treble, remains and seven others will be required. The wooden bar having the stops on it is missing from the treble, third, fifth, seventh and tenor bells, and the pivot is absent from the treble and third bell pits.
As with the Northern tower the weather has rotted the wooden floor and the top section of the staircase. The writer suggests the same treatment for this tower.
With the removal of the iron ballustrade and with the wheels put on the opposite sides of the headstocks on the treble, third, fifth and seventh bells the ringing of the bells would be made quite easy, as the ropes would then fall at a reasonable distance from the tower walls.
A floor should be fitted to the bottom of the bell frame and below this placed a layer of sound insulating material such as glass wool, fibre board, etc. This floor would protect the ringers if a tongue fell out and would reduce the noise in the ringing chamber.
The writer has given details of the work necessary in his opinion to put all the bells in a useful state. It will e noted that the work is of a specialised nature and he has no doubt that an English firm of bell-founders should undertake the work bearing in mind that the whole of the equipment is also English.
The writer can strongly recommend Messrs Mears & Stainbank of 34 Whitechapel Road, London EI. This firm was established before 1570 and has been working continuously ever since. They are at present casting the now Bow Bells, for St. Mary le Bow Church, London, and they recently completed the heaviest ring of bells in the World for the new Liverpool Cathedral, tenor over 4 tons.
The writer would like to state that he baa no financial interest in any bell-foundry, but being the church bell advisor to the Central Council for the Care of Churches, Fulham Palace, London SW6, and a Bishop’s Representative on the Diocesan Advisory Committee for St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich he is often doing work of this nature. His visit to Madrid was part of a holiday and was made at his own expense. Should matters develop such that a further visit is required then the writer would be grateful for at least a partial repayment of his expenses.
When the ring of bells are in good order he would like to bring a band of change ringers over from England to ring on them and to let Madrid know what fine bells they have. This would best be done on one of the major festivals of the Church, such as Easter or Corpus Christi.
The writer will be pleased to act in an advisory capacity for the Patronado should this be required.
CLOUSTON, Ranald W. M. (1956)
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