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St Nics Church
Durham City

Connecting people
with Jesus
Welcome to St Nics. Amigos, our international group, meets every Wednesday. Messy Church at All Saints, Newton Hall:Second Sunday in month, 4pm-5.30pm.  Information and events for students Light a candle, leave a prayer. Every Tuesday and Thursday, 12.30 - 2.30pm. Connecting people with Jesus world wide...
Welcome to St Nics. More >
Amigos, our international group, meets every Wednesday. More >
Messy Church at All Saints, Newton Hall:
Second Sunday in month, 4pm-5.30pm.  More >
Information and events for students More >
Light a candle, leave a prayer. 
Every Tuesday and Thursday, 12.30 - 2.30pm. More >
Connecting people with Jesus world wide... More >

The Bells of St Nicholas' Durham

Welcome!

Here you will find information about the bells and bell ringers of St Nicholas' Church, Durham.

Bell ringing, or change ringing, is an ancient English tradition dating back to the 17th century. The idea is simple - ring the bells in different orders. Here at St Nic's we have 6 bells, so there are 720 different ways of arranging them - on 7 bells there are 5,040 ways, and on 8 there are 40,320!

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A 'Peal' is officially ringing every change once, and only once - but is generally accepted to be 5,040 changes, which takes around 3 hours (if you tried to ring a full 8 bell peal it would take 24 hours, and a full peal on 12 bells would take nearly 30 years!)

We are able to ring the bells in different orders due to the unique way in which our bells are hung. Often bells (especially outside the UK) are simply hung for swinging until the clapper hits the bell, and this is very unpredictable. Bells for change ringing are hung 'Full Circle', which means that they move through 360 degrees of rotation. This enables us to change the speed at which each bell is rung, and thus the order in which the bell notes strike.

Not only is ringing a great way to serve the Church in calling people to worship, it is also great fun (to the point of being highly addictive for some!) and a very sociable activity.

Here at St Nic's we ring for Services on a Sunday, and practise on a Wednesday. We have a moderately sized band ranging from students to retired folk, beginners to experts. We are always happy to welcome visiting ringers, whatever their ability, and more than happy to teach people who would like to give ringing a go (please contact Chris Mansfield for more info).

History of St Nic's Bells

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Although the present Church building is only 150 years old, the bells go back much further than that, five of them having been transferred from the previous St Nicholas’ Church on the same site (see 1855 photo to left).

There are now 6 bells, the tenor weighing just under ½ ton. The heaviest five were cast in 1687 by James Bartlett of Whitechapel; this was during the reign of King James II and each bell carries the inscription Regno Augustissimi Jacobi Secundi.

They are thought to be the oldest ring of 5 bells in the North-east. The treble (smallest bell) was cast by J Warner of London in 1889 and all six hung in a wooden frame by Mallaby of Masham.

After hanging silent between the mid-seventies and 1999, when there was no ringing at all, some basic maintenance work was undertaken by local ringers and friends; this was sufficient to make the bells safe to ring again. Since then Sunday service ringing and fortnightly practices took place.

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However, the age of the frame and fittings began to show, and the bells themselves also needed attention. In 2005 the ringers at St Nicholas' Church embarked upon a huge fund-raising project to restore the bells.  Many events were held and individual and corporate donations received, together with a grant of more than £49,000 from Heritage Lottery.

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A programme began, to involve and inform the local community about the project and the rich heritage which these bells represent. School visits and community talks took place; Clayport Library hosted a display of bell material and a Taster Day was held when a ring of small bells (from the Black Bull Inn, Frosterley – now the D&N Mini Ring) was erected in the Market Square. Full-circle bell ringing was demonstrated and the public were encouraged to try their hand.

Early in May 2009 Whitechapel foundry staff began the removal of the bells which were lowered part-way down the tower internally and then outside via scaffolding into the Market Square.  They were transported to the foundry in London where they were cleaned and re-tuned.  At the end of October they were returned and re-hung in a new steel frame and with all new fittings.

These ancient bells have been calling people to worship in the centre of Durham for more than 320 years; we trust that they will continue to do so for generations to come.

About Us

We are a mixed ability band, with experienced ringers and learners, from students to pensioners. Perhaps unusually these days, the majority of our ringers are drawn from the congregation.

Sunday ringing usually consists of Rounds & Called Changes and Plain Doubles/Minor.  On practice nights, as well as these, we often ring Stedman Doubles and various Surprise Minor methods, depending on how many turn up. Visitors are always made welcome.

Occasionally we may ring for longer periods - either Quarter Peals (1260 changes) lasting about 45 minutes before the 5.30pm evening service, or before a Wednesday practice; or rarely (max twice per year) for very special occasions, a full Peal of 5040 changes lasting slightly less than 3 hours.

Photo Gallery

This gallery contains a selection of photos of the tower and bells from before, during and after the restoration. Many more are available - please get in touch if there is something particular you are interested in.