Introduction #

Allanconi bells at Hawkesbury, Gloucestershire

Details of a bell installation are out of sight and out of mind for a surprising number of ringers but will soon be obvious if their upkeep is neglected. At the least, the bells may become progressively more difficult to handle, leading to poor striking, discouraging ringers and frightening away learners. At worst, it could result in expensive damage to the installation.

This online document is addressed primarily at Steeple Keepers, who are responsible for carrying out the activities described here. Their role, appointment and experience levels are described here. We also provide a guide to finding your way around the whole document.

The Steeple Keeper #

There are many different sorts of bell installations and many different types of Steeple Keeper. We will need to generalise: please use common sense where necessary to refer our words to your own case.

Role #

A Steeple Keeper (there may be alternative names) is someone who has been appointed to maintain a bell installation in a safe and effective working condition. The ways in which an appointment may be made are covered in Formal Requirements.

The role involves regular checks, responding to incidents, carrying out maintenance within the level of their experience, and referring problems to specialists (usually Bell Hangers) where necessary.

A Steeple Keeper may be able to obtain help from their ringing society or association. Note the following announcement which appeared in the 26 January 2024 issue of The Ringing World.

Do ringing societies have information about people in their area who are involved in belfry maintenance work? If so, would you be willing to share any data (anonymised) with the CCCBR Stewardship & Management Workgroup?

We hear that the number of people willing and able to do maintenance work in belfries seems to be reducing, and that their age profile is very high (mainly over 60). Their diversity is almost exclusively white male! Are these observations typical and how pervasive? This is what we hope to find out more rigorously and, if so, consider what are we doing as ringers to make sure that we will have people in future who are competent to help maintain the bells that we ring.

If you are willing and able to help, then please contact the Workgroup Leader, by email at

Experience levels #

This document is NOT intended to provide a qualification system for Steeple Keepers. Rather, we adopt the descriptive terms defined below in bold:

  • A Novice Steeple Keeper is one learning the task. We hope this document will be helpful, but the main instruction will come from local experts, both in formal courses and one-to-one practical demonstrations, supported by wider reading and other information, often backed by technical and engineering knowledge and experience.
  • A Typical Steeple Keeper will have carried out all the routine tasks relevant to their own tower under supervision and will then be capable of carrying them out without supervision; most importantly, they will be capable of recognising cases where they do need to seek guidance. Most Steeple Keepers will fall into this category.
  • An Experienced Steeple Keeper will have experience of a wide range of installations and their potential problems (although they will never make the mistake of thinking they know it all). They will play a role in the task of aiding others in the transition from Novice to Typical Steeple Keeper.

In some cases, we will identify tasks which must be carried out by a Specialist, often a Bell Hanger. The fittings and materials of a bell installation may not be familiar to a standard engineering contractor and care must be taken in selecting any other than a specialist Bell Hanger.

In this document, we are using the term ‘Bell Hanger’, be they an individual or a company, as having experience in bell installations and meeting the regulatory and insurance requirements to carry out this work.

Finding Your Way Round this Document #

Links to chapters are in the left-hand side navigation menu and links to sections within each chapter are in the right-hand navigation menu. If you are using a small screen you may need to click on the menu bars (three stacked horizontal lines) in the top left or right to access these menus.

Within the text, links to sections within the current chapter, to other chapters, and to external web references are shown in blue. Links shown in bold italic blue refer to entries in the ‘Glossary’ chapter.

Each chapter covers a major component part of a bell installation. The following points should be noted:

  • These are not intended as a complete historical description of the component. They provide enough background for the reader to recognise which of the many types of installation they may encounter and the problems which may occur.
  • The basic checks which need to be carried out are described.
  • The maintenance which a Typical Steeple Keeper can carry out is described, and activities that must be referred to a Specialist (usually a professional Bell Hanger) are clearly identified.

Some chapters are common to all components of an installation. Please read them: they are important and some have legal implications. They are:

  • Formal Requirements covers the need for ringers to recognise the authority responsible for the tower and its fittings, and the need to establish a good working relationship with them. Relevant regulations are described and outline descriptions are given of differences in jurisdictions other than the Church of England.
  • Faculty Jurisdiction Rules covers the legally based rules which apply within Church of England jurisdiction, with specific guidance on those most relevant to ringers.
  • Health & Safety provides guidance on the practical application of Health & Safety principles within the bell chamber.

If You Are Just Starting Out #

It may be that you have just ‘inherited’ a new tower – perhaps one where there has been no checking or maintenance for a number of years. Where do you start? For either a Novice or a Typical Steeple Keeper, we strongly recommend that you initiate a full inspection by an expert – ideally a Bell Hanger or a Belfry Adviser in your local Guild or Association. This will provide a baseline for drawing up a schedule for your own regular checking and maintenance (see Maintenance Schedule).

Image Credits #

Title PictureHawkesbury, Gloucestershire, new ring of 8 bells, cast by Allanconi in Italy, 2020, installed by Matthew Higby. (Photo: Robin Shipp)

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Disclaimer #

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, neither contributors nor the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers can accept responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any activities undertaken based on the information provided.

Version 1.2.2, January 2024

© 2024 Central Council of Church Bell Ringers