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Belfry News from Elloe - October 2016

"Sir Edmund Beckett Denison QC (1816-1905)"

I cannot resist a few lines about this character as, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, he wielded considerable influence on the design and specifications for bells. Unfortunately these were seriously flawed and resulted in rather dubious sounds. John William Taylor (1827-1906) of the famous Loughborough Foundry is reported to have described Denison's plans as "most bad in principle", although he did indeed have some influence on bells cast by that firm prior to 1896. Denison was what today we call "an instant expert" and was apparently self opinionated to a degree that his word was law-or thereabouts. Perhaps it is significant that his restoration work at St Albans Cathedral, paid for by himself'', includes statues of the four evangelists around the West Door, that of St Mathew having Denison's face. I must remember to look when next in this city.

However he was undoubtedly a clever man with varied interests including horology and it was via this that he began to work on bell installations. Designing an excellent escapement (which regulates the time) for the clock at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, he also undertook the design and specifications for the clock's 13 ton Big Ben hour bell, and the four quarter chiming bells. Without going into detail his designs for these bells were poor, their musical notes being largely incompatible with their respective weights. For example a 2 1/2 ton bell by Denison would sound the note of C, whereas a modern bell of the same weight would ring a full tone lower. This discrepancy gave his bells a mournful sound with an added lack of resonance.

The bells at Westminster remain today, Big Ben itself cracked (it certainly sounds so), a poor lot all of them, though the founders cannot be blamed as they were constrained by Denison's specifications. Those at Worcester Cathedral, cast in the latter period of the nineteenth century by Taylors to Denison's ideas, were recast in 1928 by the same firm, though on this occasion to their specifications, resulting in what the late Harold J Poole, that remarkable ringing master at Leicester Cathedral once described as "the finest musical box ring of twelve". True words indeed- as many years ago I had the pleasure of ringing there and recall being most impressed.

John Bennett (Elloe Deaneries Ringing Master)