St John’s Church has a ring of six bells, with a tenor weighing 8 cwt (400Kg). They were cast at various times from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The fifth is the oldest, although its exact age is unknown as in the sixteenth century it was not usual for bell inscriptions to include the date of casting. It has a Latin inscription ora pro nobis sancte johannes baptista The tenor was cast in 1638 by Paul Hutton of Congleton, and he also cast the third in 1647. This bell has an inscription common at other times but rare and risky in 1647 – God save the King. By the end of the century there were four bells, as the current fourth has an inscription naming the vicar and churchwardens in 1682. This bell was recast in 1829 by William Dobson of Downham Market in Norfolk, who also cast the treble and second to produce a ring of six. Dobson was one of the best of the early nineteenth century founders, and in 1835 his foundry was purchased by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. This company built the timber bell frame which was installed when the church was rebuilt in 1870. The bells were re-hung and re-tuned by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough in 1956.
The tower also contains a clock installed in 1912 to mark the coronation of King George V. It strikes the hours on the tenor bell, and is still, very unusually, wound by hand twice a week.
The band of ringers has eleven members and in normal times rings for the Sunday morning service and for practice on Wednesday evenings. The bells are also rung occasionally at other times by visitors and to mark special national and local events.
Keele belfry is well euipped for teaching. The bells are easy to handle, and we have a computer-based simulator which enables bells with clappers silenced to generate sound inside the tower with none outside, so that practice sessions do not disturb the neighbours. For many years we have taught learners not only for our own band but for neighbouring bands as well, and we run a special learners’ practice on Tuesday evenings. Beginning in 1987, for over twenty years we ran bell ringing summer schools for the University’s Adult Education Department.
Keele is unusual in that there are two rings of bells in the village. Phil and Rowena Gay have installed a light ring of eight in the garage of their house, and these bells are rung every Wednesday morning by a band drawn from the immediate area and further afield, several of whom have been ringing together for sixty years.
We are keen to enlarge the band, and anyone who would like to visit us with a view to learning should contact Phil Gay on 07821 922725 or by emailing Phil
If you would like to suggest commemorative ringing for any occasion, please contact Phil as above.