In the summer of 1998 George and Matthew Dawson spent a month in America. As part of our journeys it was decided to go and look at some of the churches that had contained rings of bells that were now lost. Thus we managed to visit St. Paul's, Buffalo (reported as a Meneely 10 of 1856), St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Ontario (formerly a C. & G. Mears 6 of 1851) and Baltimore where Thomas Mears had cast a 6 for a church in 1803.
St. Paul's Cathedral is in downtown (city-centre) Buffalo. It was built in 1850-1 in the Gothic Revival style and has a tower and spire 274 feet high. [See photo (73KB)] As we were wandering round the empty church a door opened and a clergyman appeared. It turned out to be the Dean, who just happened to recognise our accent, but then he was English. On mentioning the bells he said that the local was on site, one Herb Geissler, a Verdin bell company engineer, who took us up the tower to the chiming room, where we were able to chime the bells using the electronic keyboard, but unfortunately not see them. Herb told us that there were now a 'hung-dead' chime of 14 bells, 10 of which dated from 1856, and the date of the rest he did not know. However he would see what he could find. So away we went, first to the Niagara Falls, then on to Toronto to visit an old friend.
In due course we received from Herb some literature, copies of Verdin inspection reports and extracts from a History of St. Paul's Church (by Charles W Evans & Alice Bartlett, dated 1903). From these it is possible to deduce the story of the bells:
With the building of the church in 1850-1, a Chime Fund Association was formed in September 1850 with the purpose of raising subscriptions for bells to be placed in the tower. By 1856 the fund held $2184 and proposals sought from bellfounders. On 27th August 1856 Messrs. A. Meneely's Sons of the West Troy Bell foundry proposed to provide nine bells "together with a suitable oak frame and 'rotating yokes' and all other fixtures requisite for ringing said bells either by one person or by eight" at a cost of $3800. The bells were erected by 8th January 1857 and these were (using English convention of listing the bells from the treble):[NOTE: The added second column shows the bell number in the current 14-bell chime.]
|[Ring #]||[Chime #]||Note||Weight||Diameter (from Verdin Records)|
|Treble.||8.||E flat||530 lbs||25.5"|
|Flat 2.||Flat 7th.||D flat||580 lbs||27.875"|
|4.||5.||B flat||800 lbs||33.125"|
|5.||4.||A flat||1050 lbs||37.25"|
|8.||1.||E flat||2500 lbs||49.5"|
The weights given are the 'official' weights, i.e., to the nearest [10,20,] 50 [or 100] lbs, and not the actual weights of the bells. On this date the parish also decided to order another bell (a treble to provide a nine):
This gave an octave in E flat, and a light six in A flat.
Meneely's bill was:
|For 10 bells, with ringing apparatus||$4053.78|
|for freight, rope, extra work, etc.||$205.47|
|Paid for adjusting bells for chiming, complete, roof over the bells in tower, fitting up the ringing room etc.||$260.44|
The inscriptions of the ring are given, nine bells of 1856 and one of 1857 (again these are transposed to English convention). These inscriptions would appear to have been incised into the bells:
THIS BELL IS ADDED TO THE CHIME THROUGH THE LIBERALITY OF CITIZENS OF BUFFALO
JOYFUL OUR PEAL FOR THE BRIDAL! MOURNFUL OUR PLAINT FOR THE DEAD!
WE PROCLAIM THE BIRTHDAY OF THE NATIONS FREEDOM. WE APPLAUD THE VIRTUES OF PATRIOTS AND HEROES.
WE WELCOME THE INFANT AT THE FONT. WE INVITE THE YOUTH TO CONFIRMATION. WE INVOKE THE FAITHFUL TO THE HOLY COMMUNION.
WE ANNOUNCE THE SACRED DAY OF REST. WE ASSEMBLE THE PEOPLE FOR WORSHIP.
ST PAULS CHURCH CHIME FUND, FOUNDED A.D. 1850 THESE BELLS WERE PLACED IN THE TOWER CHIEFLY THROUGH THE EFFORTS OF THE YOUNGER MEMBERS OF THE PARISH, COMPRISING THE CHIME FUND.
THE LIBERAL DEVISETH LIBERAL THINGS, AND BY LIBERAL THINGS SHALL HE STAND.
ST. PAULS CHURCH, BUFFALO, ORGANISED A.D. 1817; THE FIRST CHURCH CONSECRATED A.D. 1819; THIS CHURCH CONSECRATED A.D. 1851.
LET EVERYTHING THAT HATH BREATH PRAISE THE LORD.
Reverse side. TRINITY CHURCH, BUFFALO, ORGANISED A.D. 1836.
ST. JOHNS CHURCH, BUFFALO, ORGANISED A.D. 1845.
ST. JAMES CHURCH, BUFFALO, ORGANISED A.D. 1853.
CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION, BUFFALO, ORGANISED A.D. 1855.
WILLIAM SHELTON, D.D., RECTOR. INSTITUTED A.D. 1829.
Reverse. THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH.
WILLIAM HEATHCOTE DE LANCEY, D.D., LL.D., D.C.L., OXON., FIRST BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK. CONSECRATED A.D. 1839.
Reverse. IF A MAN DESIRE THE OFFICE OF BISHOP, HE DESIRETH A GOOD WORK.
[See photo (73KB)]
Thus we have ten bells, but NOT a ring of 10, only an octave (or 9), and a light 6 using the flat 2nd.
The description (in the book) of the fittings on the bells includes details of the wheels, stays and sliders, with instructions on how to ring a bell up and how each bell sounds once per revolution. The ringing chamber was in the third story of the tower, whilst the chiming apparatus was on the fourth floor. [Speculation: the "chiming apparatus" may have been a simple taut-rope arrangement, rather than a chimestand. /CSZ/]
It is clear that the bells were rung full circle for a St. Paul's Church Bell Ringing Association was formed on 10th February 1857 "to secure the regular and Skillful ringing of the bells of St. Paul's Church". The first 16 members, who signed the constitution at that time included:
Thomas F. Thornton, William Channon, John Lock, Nathaniel Tucker, Thomas Hickman, George Scott, John Bishop and Mark Stonham.
These were all said to be Englishmen, most of whom had learnt to ring bells in the old country. Practices were first held on Saturday evenings, later moved to Thursday nights.
Sadly the Association slowly faded away, and it is said that the last time they were pealed (by this I assume full circle ringing is meant) was in 1882. On May 10th 1885 the church was destroyed by fire. However the tower and bells were undamaged, and continued to be used. When the St. Paul's History was published in 1903 the bells were still hung for swinging, though in a dilapidated state.
The date when they were rehung dead, and augmented, would appear to be 1926, but the church history does not extend that far. However the visitors notes in the church indicate that date. The extra bells were:
I queried this with Herb Geissler and he informed me that the Verdin Records indicate that Meneely had recast the bells and replaced them with 11 bells, then in September 1924 added three extra bells. [Photo of new chimestand (474KB download) shows memorial plaque with date of 1924.] This however does not seem to tally with the photograph of the tenor which clearly shows it to be the original 1856 bell, with its original inscription as above, and presumably its original headstock, etc. On the back of this photo Herb has written the inscription incised on the bell between the moulding lines which can be partially seen:
MENEELY & CO. [WEST] TROY N.Y. A.D. 1856.
Other photographs of the rest of the bells, provided by Herb, do not show any inscriptions, so perhaps the rest were recast, although all the bells seem to be similar in style, with the same distribution of moulding wires etc. so I am inclined to the view that they were just rehung.
[The fact the these inscriptions are incised indicates that they are reproductions of the originals, made when the bells were recast. (It also makes them very difficult to photograph, especially if the bells get dirty.) In the 1850s Meneely was using conventional raised inscriptions. The process of lathe-turning the outsides of the bells, which required the use of incised or pin-punched inscriptions, did not come into use until much later. In addition, the name "Meneely & Co." was not used before 1873. /CSZ/]
In 1987 the Verdin Co installed a new clavier and keyboard in one of the lower floors of the tower.
Thus one of the lost rings survives, but only as part of a chime, and they were never a 10.
Some questions do present themselves:
Does anyone recognise the names of any of the ringers, and thus give us an indication of where they learnt the Art?
This article could not have been written without the help of Herb Geissler of Cheektowaga, N.Y. whose patience in answering my many questions deserves a medal!
George A. Dawson.
All the photos are by Herb Geissler.
[The original article has been reformatted and used by permission of the author.
Annotations by Carl Scott Zimmerman, 11 January 2002]