The Bells of Corstorphine Old Parish
The Story of the Bell
In January, the church office was emailed by Mr Jim Pritchard, enquiring about our church bell and when it was rung. The email was forwarded to me, as a member of the bell-ringing team, and I replied giving details of the bell, times of ringing and asked him about his interest. He replied:-
“I'm trying to assemble an internet based resource of ringing bells from across the whole country called Bells of Scotland. I've always thought the sound of a bell in a community is one of the sounds of home for many people who live within earshot. If such a collection of chimes was available, it could represent to the world, the sound of home for many people in Scotland. Additionally, people in Scotland would be able to "hear" other parts of their own country-wide "community" themselves... It's hard to explain properly, but that goes someway towards fleshing out what I'm trying to do. The project isn't funded or affiliated with any organisation and I'll keep going for as long as I can, to complete the country.”
Evidently a man of action, he then recorded the bell on Sunday 29th January (2012) and uploaded it to a music networking site called ‘Soundcloud’ where it, and many other Scottish church bells can be listened to in snippets of 1-3 minutes. He added a note commenting on the fact that it was manually rung, which is apparently noteworthy.
The story of the bell is recorded in D.M. Thomson’s 1946 book about the church “The Corstorphine Heirloom”. The first bell was donated to the church by Sir James Forrester in 1577, shortly after the Reformation. “The Great Bell”, as it was called, was rung not only for church services but also for funerals. For the latter service half a crown was charged and placed in the poor box, and a sixpence handed to the beadle. In February 1728, the Kirk Session reported to the heritors “that the Great Bell in the Steeple was rent some months ago and was now of no use.” A new bell, weighing 384lbs. with wheel and appendages, was therefore bought at a cost of £300 Scots after taking into account the metal value of the old bell. This, the current bell, bears the inscription “Sir James Forrester gifted me to the Kirk anno 1577 and the heritors of Corstorphine me reneued anno 1728. R.M.fecit Edr.” Above the inscription are embossed figures and trees, with an ornamental band below. Fillets encircle the crown, the waist and the soundbow.
The bell was last re-hung in 1998, with salvage oak from England used for the frame. One of the massive nails from the original frame is displayed in a case in the Baptistry. The conservation and maintenance requirements are currently under review.
In the 17th. Century the gallery was put to other uses, and the Session minutes record in 1649, that a certain ‘Betie Watson’, being held there on a charge of witchcraft, hanged herself with the bell rope rather than face her trial by ordeal. Fortunately, present members of the bell-ringing team have, so far, been spared a similar fate.
To hear our church bells please visit :
http://soundcloud.com/bells-of-scotland and scroll down until you find the Old Parish.
Hugh Edwards. February 2012.