The bells of St Mary’s

There have been bells in St Mary’s since at least 1589 when the Michaelmas Accounts kept by the Churchwardens included expenses for oil (8d.) and other parts.  In 1600 the Mayor paid “2d for carrying a load of timber for the frame and 5d. for hatch nails to make a wheel”. Work of patching kept them going for a while but by 1633 they had deteriorated further.  In 1634 the Mayor placed an order for Roger Purdue, the Bristol Bellfounder, for “£80 for the bell frame and timber works and £8 for metal added to the bells including the casting of four new bells”.  It is likely that the present bells hang in the same frame.  The Purdue bells were in use on 16 July 1648 when, at the height of the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell came to Haverfordwest and the civic records show “a payment of two shillings to the bellringers of St Mary’s for ringing a joy-peal on his arrival”.

The eight bells are in the key of E-flat with the largest bell, the tenor, having a diameter of 4ft(1.22m) and weighing just under a ton(1010kg). It is a “left-handed” frame where the ropes fall in an anti-clockwise circle instead of the more conventional clockwise arrangement.  We believe it is the only example in Wales of an anti-clockwise ring of eight bells.  Also in the ringing room is the small Sanctus or Sacring bell which was rung as “The Parson’s Bell” by the priest or one of “The Blackcoats” for early services.  It was cast in 1681, 18in(450m) diameter and weighs 56lb.

The bellframe most likely dates from the early c17 but the supporting structure is older and the foundation beams and knee braces of the belfry floor may well be of the c13 or c14 work of the Tower.

In December 1764 five of the old bells were sent to Mr Thomas Bayley of Bridgewater, Somerset, to be new cast. In the following June six bells were returned with the account for “casting of the 5 old bells into a Compleat Peal of Six – £123 6s 1p.”  It is reported that “St Mary’s Bells in Haverfordwest were rung on 7th June 1765 after they were new cast out of five into six; the old tenor had weighed one ton and 16 hundreds, the present wants 9lbs of a ton”.  It was then decided that the Town Clock Bell should be re-cast and with additional metal made into two smaller bells to complete the peal of eight.  Mr Bayley’s contract did not include renewal of the frame so when eight bells had to be hung they had to hang in an anti-clockwise arrangement and they have remained so ever since – on the five-bell frame originally supplied in 1634 by Roger Purdue.

An Account records on 30 June 1830:-

“Paid the Ringers £2.2.0 for ringing the bells on the Proclamation  of King William the Fourth, and tolling them out of respect to the memory of His late Majesty King George the Fourth – £2. 2. 0.”

“Paid the Ringers of St Mary’s their quarter’s salary due 25 June inst. – £0.9.2.”  and on 2 August 1837:- “To paid the Ringers for tolling the bells on the death of his late Majesty William the 4th and on the day of Proclamation of Queen Victoria – £2. 2. 0.”

All eight bells have an inscription:

  • No 1 bell(treble), wt 6 cwt:”Public subscriptions gave me birth and now we eight here joyn in mirth”,  T Bayley, Founder, 1765”
  • No 2 bell, wt 7 cwt:”Mr Wm Bowen, Mr Wm Davis, Churchwardens.  T Bayley, Founder, 1765”
  • No 3 bell, wt 7 cwt:”Sanctae Mariae:  Vill:Com:Haverfordiae.  My treble voice makes hearts rejoice”, Thos Bayley, Founder, 1765.  A George lll penny is inset in the bell.
  • No 4 bell, wt 8 cwt:”Sanctae Mariae.  Vill:Com:Haverfordiae.  Health and delight good ringing yields”  Thos Bayley, Founder, 1765.
  • No 5 bell, wt 9cwt: “Sanctae Mariae.  Vill:Com:Haverfordiae.  Health, peace and plenty to this neighbourhood”, Cast by Thos Bayley, 1765.  Recast by Mears & Stainbank (later the Whitechapel Bell Foundry) 1923.
  • No 6 bell, wt 11cwt: “Sanctae Mariae.  Vill:Com:Haverfordiae. I do my best for Haverfordwest”, Thos Bayley, Founder.
  • No 7 bell, wt 14cwt: “Sanctae Mariae.  Vill:Com:Haverfordiae.  Faith, Hope and Grace attend this place”  Thos Bayley, Founder, 1765.
  • No 8 bell(Tenor)wt 19cwt: Messrs Blews & Son, Birmingham. Recast in 1872.  “Laudo Deum, Congrego Clerum, Plebem voco, Funera Plango.”  Recast by Mears & Stainbank 1923.

The last full restoration was in 1985 by Whitechapel Bellfoundry.  The work cost £10,000 and would have been very much more had not a devoted d-i-y team of ringers and churchmembers, with expert guidance, dismantled the wooden headstocks, wheels and clappers and lowered the bells onto a subframe.  They were delivered to Whitechapel in February.  In April they were collected from Whitechapel by the Tower Captain who left Haverfordwest at 3am, returning to Haverfordwest at 8pm that same day with new headstocks, wheels and stays.  With the old wooden headstocks discarded, the canons were removed so that the new headstocks rested on the bell.

Tower Captain: Jon Prytherch

Tel: 01437 890951