The Tenor Bell was cast in 1380 by the medieval foundry at Wokingham. In those days bell founders were often itinerant, so some of our bells may have been cast in the churchyard. The tenor bears an inscription in the beautiful lettering which was introduced at that foundry around 1350, reproduced at the top of this page.
It can be seen that each letter is crowned and the inscription reads ‘PROTEGE BIRINE QUOS CONVOCO TU SINE FINE RAF RASTWOLD’ (Birinus, protect for ever those whom I summon. Ralph Rastwold).
In addition to the inscription, there are the usual Wokingham foundry marks and also the figure of a dragon and a horse which, as far as is known, are unique to this bell. Ralph Rastwold is the name of the donor and he died in 1383. At the time of his death he held the Manor of Crowmarsh Gifford (which is only 4 miles from Dorchester) and lands at Hurst, which is only 4 miles from Wokingham, making a nice connection between the bell and its donor.
Inside the bell, when it is inverted, the chisel marks made by the medieval tuners can still be seen. There is an old superstition that the viper cannot bear the sound of this bell and it is put into rhyme:
‘Within sound of the great bell,
No snake or adder ere can dwell.’
Traditionally, St Birinus was killed by snake bite and it is certainly true that no adder has been recorded in the vicinity of Dorchester. Of course, there may be a more prosaic reason!
This bell was weighed for the first time in 600 years when it went (with the other bells) to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1987 to be retuned. It weighed 16 cwt. 2 quarters 11 lb.(843 kg).
The seventh bell is our oldest bell and was cast in 1375. It weighs 13 cwt.(662kg) and was a product of the Exeter foundry. The lettering used for the inscription was afterwards used by Robert Norton of Exeter who must have acquired it from the founder who cast the Dorchester bell, whose name is unknown. The shape of the bell actually belongs to the early 14th century even though this bell was cast half a century later. The West Country founders were always late in adopting new fashions in bell design. The bell has unusual cabled canons – the part which attaches the bell to the wheel for ringing. The inscription reads: PETRE: TUIS: APERI: DA: PAULE: TUIS: MISERI. (Peter, open to thine own; grant mercy, Paul, to thine)
The sixth, fifth and fourth bells are the work of Henry Knight 1 of Reading. Their inscriptions are in a style which was introduced by him.
6th (1591; 10cwt 1qtr 15lb (527kg))
VIRGINIS EGREGIE DICAR CAMPANA MARIA
(I shall be called the bell of the famous Virgin Mary)
5th (1606; 7cwt 12lb (361kg)
SANCTA TOMA ORA PRO NOBIS
(St Thomas, pray for us)
4th (1603; 5cwt 2qtr 4lb (290kg)
HENRI KNIGHT MADE ME
The Third Bell is also from the Reading foundry and was cast in 1651. It weighs 6 cwt.15lb (311kg). The founders at that time were Ellis Knight 1, Francis Knight and Henry Knight11. The inscription reads: LOVE GOD
The Treble and Second Bells were cast by Messrs Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel in 1867. They weigh 4cwt 1qtr 22lb (225kg) and 4 cwt 3qtr 5lb (243kg) respectively. Their inscriptions read:
2nd: IN HONOREM S.S. TRINITATIS D.D. DORCENSI ECCLESIAE. I.A.MACFARLANE
(In honour of the Most Holy Trinity I.A.Macfarlane gave this bell to the Church of Dorchester)
Treble: IN HONOREM S.S. TRINITATIS D.D. DORCENSI ECCLESIAE INCOLAE
(In honour of the Most Holy Trinity, donated to the Church of Dorchester by its inhabitants)