The Bells of St George-in-the-East

There has been a ring of bells in this tower since the church was built, but we have found few details or records from the past (apart from this section in Harry Jones East and West (1875) describing how the tenor bell marked the beginning and ending of the working day), until the 1920s, when items appeared in the parish magazine, of which this is a summary.

Bellringing 1923-34
After the First World War, the bells were not in good shape, and the band of ringers was small. Funds were tight, so rather than bring in professionals Jack Warncken the steeple keeper and a few others set about repair work themselves. In 1923 they redecorated the belfry in time for J.C. Pringle's arrival as Rector, and replaced its lath and plaster ceiling with match lining. Parishioners were invited to go up the tower on application to the steeple keepers: young girls must have, also, the consent of parents. Later that year, the Rector wrote we are very sorry indeed that while at work upon the ceiling, Mr Stanley Degerlund received an injury to his eye. We hope he has made a complete recovery. He must have done so, since he a few months later he was congratulated on ringing the heavy tenor (1½ tons) in a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples - his first peal, with most of the other ringers visitors.

Note: Degerlunds and Warnckens
The Degerlund family were actively involved at St George's for many years. Stanley's father was Gustaf Severin Degerlund (1861-1952), born in Bromarf, southern Finland and described to us by his Canadian great-grandson Bob Carswell as a Swede by race, Finn by location, Russian by occupation but Brit by choice; formerly a ship's carpenter, he was employed by his father-in-law Thomas Dickson from about 1890 until its closure in 1924 as a carpenter, and then as a supervisor, at Dickson and Head, a firm of lead and glass merchants in St George's Street [The Highway]. Stanley's sister Wilhelmina Gladys was for a time a clerk working with the Rector at the Charity Organisation Society.

Christian Diedrich Warncken (1814-66) came to East London from Germany, and several generations of the family settled in the area; others later emigrated to New South Wales. One son, Christian (1847-1905), was employed as a 'naturalist' by Charles Rice, and another, John Albert (1853-1925) was employed to look after a baby rhino at Rice's stables - they lived round the corner at 60 Jamaica Street - more details here. The eldest son, George Henry (1846-94), was born in Limehouse and baptized at St Dunstan's; he lived at 1 Pennington Place and married Harriet Kendall in 1866; future addresses were 10 Chapman Place, 36 Samuel Street and 37 Cornwall Street. He worked as an errand boy, and then a ladies' boot maker, and Harriet as an umbrella maker, and later as a cigar maker. They had 12 children, two of whom died in infancy. John Robert [Jack], the steeple-keeper, was the 11th, born in 1888 at Cornwall Street and baptized at St John the Evangelist-in-the-East, as was his wife Rosina Farley (born in Anthony Street, later living in TIllman Street); they were married in 1913 at the Register Office (why not in church?) and had one child, James Henry (1915-63). Jack worked as a 'transport supervisor', then as a barman, and from 1913 as a stationer's assistant, and Rosina, like her mother-in-law and other family members, as a cigar-maker. They lived (with his mother and other family members) at 6 Tait Street. Jack died in 1957 at Mile End Hospital. 

Sidney Kelly (who also ran the parish football team) was thanked for arranging hymn tunes for the bells. Unlike continental rings, English bells are not in fact tuned to play melodies, but to ring in mathematical patterns, or 'changes', so the result can sometimes sound odd, but plenty of towers do this, especially if they have a frame for striking rather than swinging the bells, carillon-style.

In 1924 Mr Bollanack provided oak for the reconstruction of wheel no.4, a very arduous task undertaken by Mr Degerlund. Later that year, for the first time in 20 years a quarter peal was rung entirely by locals, unaided by outsiders. The Rector added tartly N.B. Bellringers are requested when leaving the Belfry to do so quietly and speedily. The loitering and talking in the Church Porch during the hours of Divine Service is an irreverence to God and an annoyance to worshippers. Naturally we should like to see them among the worshippers after ringing, there would then be less criticism and real pleasure in hearing the bells.

In July 1926 the ringers made an excursion to Shorne, going by train to Tilbury, ferry to Gravesend and walking four miles through the cornfields. This was to become an annual event (two years later, some of them missed the ferry home - but all got back before midnight.) On the first occasion they had tea at the vicarage before ringing the bells, but thereafter they were the guests of Mr and Mrs Denson at Woodhurst in Pear Tree Lane [right]. In 1929 they reported the garden was ablaze with flowers, and though rain fell at times, it was not enough to spoil the enjoyment of the afternoon. Golf-croquet was, as usual, a great attraction, and made some of us long for a lawn at St George's on which it could be played! The newly-formed Male Voice Choir joined the trip and gave a short concert; there was also handbell ringing.

On Easter Day the bells were rung at 6am. Special peals were rung on various occasions - for example, in 1928 360 changes each of Grandsire Doubles were rung in memory of Margaret Hallward when memorial windows were dedicated, and at Harvest 1929 a quarter peal of 1260 changes of Grandsire Doubles, in the fast time of 45 minutes, was rung after Evensong. When G.T. Ball-Knight had to leave his curacy here in 1927, he wrote my association with the belfry I shall miss very much. When I had been here but a few weeks, Mr Warncken initiated me into the art of rope pulling. Since then, I never missed a practice, or service, except through sickness, holidays, or duties at St. George's Hospital. If every ringer looked forward to the time of ringing as I have done, eight bells would call the faithful to prayer and worship every time.

The bells continued to cause problems, and in 1930 the tenor was re-hung by Warncken and the team - hours of hard, dangerous work. But self-help was not enough; they had finally to call in the professionals. Mears and Stainbank [part of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry] reported in 1932 that it was unsafe to ring the bells until £168 of repair work had been done, plus £105 of desirable improvements. So the bells were chimed, and handbells used for practice. The parish was still struggling with a £3,000 restoration appeal; when this closed, some used their collecting boxes for the bells, but by August 1933 only £19 had been raised. 

Nevertheless on 15 June 1932 the St George's Society of Change Ringers was formed, with the Rector as president, wardens as vice-presidents, Jack Warncken as steeple keeper and Stanley Degerlund as his deputy, and a committee. The Ringing master was Walter Horace Glover, son and grandson of wardens of the parish [see here]; he died two years later, aged 32, after a sudden illness.

Restoration of the bells was finally completed as a memorial to Rector Beresford. A tablet above the door to the tower reads


But all this work was in vain, for three years later the church was blitzed and the bells destroyed. They were said to have melted and run down the tower like a river of metal. 

When the church was restored in the 1960s, eight new bells were installed by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, cast in 1965 from metal from the former ring at St Mary's Church Hornsey. They were hung lower in the tower than the old bells, to reduce structural stress. They were for some years one of the lightest peals in the world and were used as a demonstration ring by the foundry, who used to bring church officers (many from America) to see the bells before they placed an order. Because they were light they were seen as a solution for churches that had been damaged in the war.The pictures show the bells down, and up for change ringing.

The weights are as shown here (in metric terms the treble weighs 126kg and the total weight is 1518kg).

treble 2 cwt  1 qtr  25 lb
2 2 cwt  1 qtr  26 lb
3 2 cwt  3 qtr  11 lb
4 3 cwt  0 qtr  25 lb
5 3 cwt  2 qtr  27 lb
6 4 cwt  1 qtr    3 lb
7 4 cwt  3 qtr    1 lb
8 6 cwt  0 qtr    9 lb

The tenor bell left]  records the name of the Rector (mis-spelt as 'SOLOMOM') and Churchwardens. At Edith Wyeth's funeral on 1 April 2011, a quarter peal of 1260 Grandsire Triples was rung half-muffled in memoriam by »»»

Although we have a few keen ringers in the parish, who were trained up some years ago when ringing was revived, we are not able to maintain our own regular band, but can raise a team for special occasions. A women's band rang here on the eve of the centenary of the first ever Ladies' [sic] Peal at Christ Church, Isle of Dogs, on 20 July 1912.

  Ruth Jakeman 1
  Liz Rayner 2
  Debbie Malin 3
  Jinny Kufluk 4
  Andrew Barham 5
  Colin Cherrett 6
  Stephen Jakeman (C) 7
  Peter Rayner 8

Visting bands are always welcome, by arrangement - please contact the Rector on 020 7481 1345 or via this link. As in the 1930s, so now: donations for bell maintenance, including the cost of new bell ropes, are also welcome!

Back to Church & Churchyard