Saint Markís Bells

The Grit The Grime and The Glory


Brian Zook

When Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testified before the Senate Iran Contra committee he said, " I am here to tell you the truth, The Good... The Bad...and The Ugly. Well, I am here to tell you the truth about Saint Markís Bells, The Grit...The Grime... and The Glory.

For the band gathered on Sunday June 13th to ring the first rounds in the unfinished ringing room of Saint Markís Church, there were a lot of emotions and thoughts to consider. Manning the number seven was Dean Houck. Dean had a bell rope in his hand long before any of the other people in the band, except for Bruce Butler and perhaps Bob Servante. Dean had first learned to ring a bell at Saint Martinís in the early eighties. When the AGM was held in Philadelphia in 1982, he visited the bells at Saint Markís. He also found out that they were not being rung at all. Dean found the place where he was needed. He gave up learning change ringing and was one of the pioneers who began weekly ringing at Saint Markís Church. Tom Miller was on the number four bell . Tom, like Dean, had been a member of the bell ringing group at Saint Markís when restoration of the bells seemed, well, if not impossible then at least improbable. Tom had extensively researched the history of the bells and had written an excellent article for "The Clapper" in 1988. The article later was printed in Mike Simpsonís Book There was Life Before NAG. On the number five was Jim Ziegelbein. Jim was glad to be getting in some ringing on heavier bells in preparation for the Butlerís tour in England. David Mills was ringing the number three. When David first decided to learn to ring, the person instructing the recruits at Saint Martinís at that time, told him to, "forget it." She said she didnít have time to teach an "old man." Despite this annoying pronouncement. David did learn and has been an enormous asset not only to Philadelphia ringing, but also to the North American Guild. Bob Servante was on the Tenor. Bob works for Eayre and Smith. Bob worked at an incredible pace to complete the project for ringing on June thirteenth. Bob arrived in Philadelphia for the second phase of the project on May 15th(He completed phase one in November 1998). He and Alan Morrison made their way up the tower on May 15th to have a look around. Alan is a member of Saint Markís and has been learning to ring. Alan owns a landscaping construction firm and his knowledge of construction has been an indispensable asset in the tower. Bob inspected the masonry work that had been performed under the direction of a restoration architecture firm which the church has used for several projects over the last twenty years. After a cursory look Bob informed Alan that the mortar was wrong and would have to come out and be replaced before the bells could be hung. Alanís construction crew began the irksome task of removing the mortar from the pockets. As they worked it became obvious which holes were filled in first and which were filled in last. The first ones were more difficult to chisel out. The further away from the door of the bell chamber, the sloppier the prior work became. In the last hole Alanís workers discovered empty beer cans and bottles used as fill along with floor sweepings. While Alanís workers were toiling in the tower, Father Alton was consulting the churchís attorneys and the architecture firm and the masonry contractor who did the work. Fortunately both firms seemed eager to cooperate to get the problems solved. This correction, though, caused Bob to loose eight working days in the tower. After the new mortar was finally in place, Bob worked long hot days to complete the task, including Saturdays and Sundays. I can not sing the praises of Alan Morrison enough. He was there with helpers for Bob and also to run innumerable trips to the Home Depot to buy what ever was needed. Alan also procured some curious angle washers which the manufacturers in England had failed to include with the frame. These were fetched after a road trip to Maryland on a Friday afternoon. Thank God Peter Trotman, was in the USA on holiday volunteered to help us along. Had it not been for both Peter and Alan, the bells wouldnít have been ready.

On Thursday night June 10th a group of about 25 people gathered at Saint Markís. We were going to test ring the bells. Bruce Butler was going to ring each bell up in turn. Following the tests, we were going to ring a little bit. Bob went up in the belfry to evaluate each bell as it was raised and lowered and troubleshoot any problems. Bruce began with the #1. It started up and suddenly something hit. The stay was hitting the slider box. Bob did a quick adjustment of the stay and Bruce had another go. This time the bell went up and stood at both hand and back. Number two went without a hitch. Next was the three. Bruce couldnít stand the bell. The slider on the number three was too low and the stay just skimmed over the top of the slider. The stay couldnít be lengthened due to the fact that the frame and wall were too close. Bob said that he would have to work out a solution to the problem the next day. Each bell in turn was tested and passed with flying colors except the tenor. Its stay was hitting the slider box too. Since two of the six bells needed further work, there would be no rounds on eight tonight. Not to be daunted, we rang up numbers four through seven and rang rounds on four. I rang the four, Tom Miller was on the five. David Mills was on the six and Jim Ziegelbein the seven. Bruce, Bob, and Peter ran down the stairs to monitor the level of the sound outside. We had closed a hatch to keep in some of the sound. Audrey Evans equipped with a video camera quickly ran downstairs too. Bruce came up later and said the bells didnít sound too loud outside. Cleverly Audrey ran across the street to the Locust Club across the street with her video camera running. She recorded the patrons who were dining alfresco to find out if the bells disturbed their dining. No one had anything bad to say about the bells. All the comments were positive. Friday Bob and Peter fixed the problems with the three and the tenor and both were successfully tested, though all the bells had not been rung together yet. Bob had to leave for the Philly airport at 12:00 noon. Peter was leaving Philadelphia on Monday. It was 11:15am. If the bells didnít work now, it was too late.

Bruce Butler was on the treble and Eileen Butler was on the second. Bruce had spent more of his life ringing bells than any of the other eight ringers in the band. Bruce and Eileen had also taken on ten recruits in the last two years and taught them all to ring. They did it with enormous patience and courage. For some of the band at Saint Martinís the last few months have included more rounds ringing than anyone could imagine, the results of those sessions of hard work paid off as eight of the ten learners pulled in rounds that day and four ringers in the first band were their pupils.


I was on the sixth. For me there was a lot to think about. Foremost in my mind was the sound. Not the sound level inside or outside, though those were things were on my mind. I was concerned about how the bells would sound together. The bells were all cast by Whitechapel but the heavier four had been cast in 1876 and the front four in 1878. All eight had never been rung for changing together. I didnít know how they were going to sound. There was an old analysis performed 1985 which reported that the bells were in the "mixolydian" scale. The number 2 was reported to be an e flat rather than an E natural. This would have made rounds sound rather odd. I had never heard the number two rung because by the time I had started to ring at Saint Markís, the number two had become unringable. The subject of retuning the bells had come up on more than one occasion. Then, during the summer of 1998, I found a tonal analysis of the bells made by Eayre and Smith a few years earlier. Their analysis showed that the number two bell was not flat. But looking over the analysis, the bells strike notes and hums and partials didnít seem to match up perfectly. I wrote Eayre and Smith to find out whether we should consider retuning the second. They said that retuning any one bell would not give a sufficient result and that they recommended retuning at least three bells if we were serious. This threw the others on the committee and the rector into a panic. The cost of shipping to England and retuning would be enormous. Cooler heads prevailed and with a little more research I found a subsequent report in which Eayre and Smithís recommendation that "there was no justification in the slight improvement that would be gained by the expense of retuning." So the committee was hoping the bells would sound okay when they were rung. If they sounded awful, maybe we could ask the three gathered TV news crews to turn their cameras off and the newspaper reporters there to be kind. Of course, the parishioners who had donated the money would not be pleased.

Other ringers were present to help us ring at Saint Markís that day.

Philadelphia: John Trenberth, Carol Heinsdorf, Barbara Alton, Alan Morrison, Debbie Newby, Audrey Evans, Ed Lonergan, and Nancy Pichiotino. Burlington: Bob Mead and Barbara Knight. New Castle: Sue Clopper. Brewster: :Lynne Kodrich, Beverly Farber. Washington: Meredith Morris, Gregory Hinson, Bill Kollar, Carolyn Ormes. Quebec: Daniel Gomez Rochester: Chris Haller, Sue DeVuyst Other ringers present Roger Savory, and from the UK: Dick White, Peter Trotman, Bob Servate. Some handbell ringers from Indiana who were walking down the street and heard the ringing and dropped by. The crowd gathered in the tower were standing in a room which had not been used as a ringing room for fifteen years. It looked more like an old basement than a room in a tower. The only beautiful thing in the room aside from the new sallies was the large open window which looks out onto Locust Street. The room is in serious need of cosmetic rehabilitation (anyone who leaned against the crumbling plaster wall could attest to the truth of this statement.) Even so, to get it ready for Sunday, Dean, Peter and I spent a lot of time on Friday and Saturday doing last minute things including vacuuming (N.B. with a different vacuum than last fall) and sweeping of the tower stairs with breathing protection in place and generally straightening, tidying and removing bags of accumulated rubbish.

Alan had rigged up two video cameras so that people in the narthex could see the bells swinging and the ringers without climbing the stairs. As the postlude concluded I ran up to the ringing room and said, "Itís show time!" As I took my place at the sixth, Bruce said, "Look to" and I intoned "First rounds on eight on Saint Markís Bells, Praise be to God!" Bruce said trebles going... sheís gone. Oh! the glory of that moment will be a memory which I think all those present in the ringing room and those gathered outside will never forget till their dying day! No words can express my delight with the bells. Their sound is far more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. No retuning needed!

Bruce did a wonderful job of coordinating the ringing that day. Every person, beginner or expert, got to ring as much as they wanted. Even a few curious onlookers from the street came up the tower and got a pull. The first method rung was Grandsire Triples. Later Plain Bob Major, Stedman and Cambridge were all wonderfully rung.

Audrey Evans and Davis díAmbly hosted a delightful champagne snack for us later in the afternoon for which we ringers, hot, thirsty and hungry were most grateful.

Plan to come to Philadelphia to ring soon. The service of rededication of the bells and blessing by Charles Bennison the Bishop of Pennsylvania will be on October 24th at evensong. The first peal attempt will take place prior to the service. We are planning to ring on Friday October 22 in the evening and October 23rd all day Saturday to celebrate.

Hope to see you soon!