The sound of the bells to mark the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II and for the proclamation of the new King Charles III

23 November 2022 0 By Jonathan Beale
A bell muffle

Whilst the bellringers at St Peter’s had been preparing for this event, codenamed ‘Operation London Bridge’, for nearly 2 years, it all came about rather quickly. As key members of the royal family suddenly headed towards Balmoral, we listened for news.
The time of this nationally coordinated ringing to mark this historic moment depended on when it was announced, possibly leaving as little as an hour to muster a band and change the sound of the bells for this distinct message, not heard since the death of George VI. To do this, special leather ‘muffles’ were tied around both sides of the clappers of the first 5 bells to give a fully muffled sound whilst the tenor bell (no 6) was only muffled on one side so that on every other strike of the bell it sounded ‘open’ (i.e., normal).

We assembled for 12 noon on Friday 9th September; thanks go to our various employers who allowed us time off and to Cherwell School who were really supportive about allowing Christopher ‘out’ to mark this event. Unlike many towers in the country, we were fortunate to have more ringers than ropes so switched around, whilst keeping the Tenor bell sounding continuously throughout the session.
Next, on the afternoon of 11th September we marked the Proclamation of our New King, timed to reflect the historic notification of the event which would have traditionally been relayed by a messenger on horseback from London to the Cathedrals and then to the individual parishes of that diocese. As this is a moment of ‘joy’ it was ‘muffles off’ for the bells to sound ‘open’ as they would for a service or a wedding. It was then ‘muffles’ back on, this time with each bell only ‘half muffled’ as we endured a period of mourning, ending with the state funeral, once again fully muffled as before, but finishing with the mournful sound of the ‘Sanctus Bell’ (a bell hammer slowly hitting the tenor) in the final minutes to 11 o’clock.

Many thanks go to our ringers for helping mark this important occasion. As the bells will not sound this way until the death of King Charles, we hope it will be many years to come before you hear us in this manner again. Videos of our ringing for the announcement and the funeral can be viewed on YouTube below.