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News > PC Foundation Archive News > Ding Dong The Bells Are Going To Chime...

Ding Dong The Bells Are Going To Chime...

For this month's #ThrowBackThursday post, I thought that I would delve a little deeper into the history of the bells in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel.

The Tower At Princethorpe
The Tower At Princethorpe

When talking to past Princethorpians, many of them remember the school day being punctuated with the sounds of the bells ringing regularly day and night. Whilst the main chimes they heard would have come from the clock in the original chapel (now the Library and Theatre), they would also have heard the chapel bells ringing at key times in the day to call the nuns to the service. It probably comes as no surprise that there are several sources to help learn more about the bells' origins, from leaflets created by the Benedictine nuns to articles in the school magazines.

Altogether, there are nine bells in the tower; eight octaves and the Angelus (or Observance) bell. Designed so that they could be rung by a single person, they were cast in 1899 at the foundry of Messrs. John Warner and Sons in London and each has their own name and inscription. The cost of the bells was funded by sponsorship by notable individuals, and two names in particular caught my eye during the research. The architect of the chapel himself, Peter Paul Pugin, sponsored part of the cost of the Ss. Petrus and Paulus bell (perhaps that was where the name came from?), showing the close connection he maintained with the project. The St. Benedictus bell was sponsored in part by Miss A. De Trafford – those who are familiar with the history of Princethorpe will know that the sizable dowry Hilda De Trafford brought when she joined the Benedictine community was used to fund the chapel (and then had to be paid back when she decided to leave the order).

Insert found tucked inside SMP.31.01.102 - 'Mrs Wiggins and Mrs Willis' Will' Theatre Programme, 17th May 1910

The bells were blessed by Bishop Ilsley of Birmingham on the 25 June 1900. Thanks to an article written for the Builder magazine (which interestingly was originally created by another significant Princethorpe architect, Joseph Hansom), we have a clear idea of what happened on the day. It started cloudy and dull but after the relics of Benedictine St. Gertrude were uncovered and prayers were said, by midday the sky had cleared and the ceremony to bless them was able to proceed.

The ceremony took place under a large awning with the bells suspended on large blocks arranged in a circle. The bells were covered by red cloth and decorated with flowers, evergreens and appropriate mottos. During the blessing, a number of psalms were sung and then the inside and outside of each bell was washed with salt and water by the clergy. Following the ceremony, guests were invited to a lunch held in the girls’ playroom (now G4). A week later, the bells were hung inside the unfinished tower under the careful guidance of Mr Dunn and, on the 3 July 1900, the Angelus bell sounded for the first time followed by a peal of bells.

Image titled 'The Belfry' from SMP.29.09 JDS Magazine (1953)

In 1953, the girls at St. Mary’s Priory wrote an article for the JDS Magazine about the bells (reference SMP.029.09). According to the article, the girls heard the bells regularly, particularly during the afternoon when they were rung at 2:30 as preparation for Vespers for the sisters living here. They also translated the bell’s names and inscriptions into English:

  1. Emmanuel - 'And the word was made flesh' 
  2. Virgo Maria - ‘Hail full of grace!’
  3. St, Michael - ‘Who is like to God?’
  4. St. Gabriel - ‘Nothing is impossible with God’
  5. St. Raphael - ‘Blessed be God!’
  6. All Angels and Archangels - ‘In the sight of the angels, I will sing praises to my God’
  7. Sts. Peter and Paul - ‘Their sound has gone forth in all the earth’
  8. St. Benedict - ‘All glory to God’
  9. Queen of Angels - ‘Come, let us worship the Lord’

Still rung regularly to mark services and special occasions, I hope that you have enjoyed learning more about the bells contained within the tower. As a fitting closing, I have included the ending paragraph from an article about the Chapel from the 1980 Princethorpe magazine (reference PC.27.3.1.10)

‘Thus was history made at Princethorpe and the honourable tale continues even to this day, as the bells ring out across the Warwickshire countryside to call us to worship within the walls of “our Pugin Church”!’

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