England: History of the Handbell

The first tuned handbells were developed by brothers Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England between 1696 and 1724. The Cor brothers originally made latten bells for hame boxes, but for reasons unknown, they began tuning their bells more finely to have an accurate fundamental tone, and fitted them with hinged clappers that only moved in one plane.

Originally, tuned sets of handbells, such as the ones made by the Cor brothers, were used by change ringers to rehearse outside their towers. Tower bell ringers’ enthusiasm for practicing the complicated algorithms of change ringing can easily exceed the neighbors’ patience, so in the days before modern sound control handbells offered them a way to continue ringing without the aural assault. The handbell sets used by change ringers had the same number of bells as in the towers — generally six or 12 tuned to a diatonic scale.

Handbells were first brought to the United States from England by Margaret Shurcliff in 1902. She was presented with a set of 10 handbells in London by Arthur Hughes, the general manager of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry after completing two separate two-and-a-half-hour change ringing peals in one day.

See a Handbell Choir Performance

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