The Ghost in the Bell Tower

Glenn’s fascination with Ghost stories began with an invitation to perform in a Ghost Story Concert at Point Walter in 2000, which led to his first Western Australian creation, The Ghost in the Bell Tower, which has now entered Perth’s Urban Mythology. Subsequent concert appearances lead to the creation of The Girl in the White Dress and The Ghost of Eddie Blackwall, which are gothic romantic/historic in style, both set at Pt. Walter. He plans to publish them as a set.
The Swan Belltower

The Swan Bell Tower at Barrack Square, on the Swan River was completed and opened to the public in January 2001. Most of the bells hung in the tower came from the church of St Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, where they had been hanging since 1727.

In 1986, the St Martins Bell Tower was cracking up, and the bells taken down and the bell tower rebuilt, but with a lighter set of bells. The original 12 bells were then spare, and the Campanologists of Perth, through the State Government, made a request for them. In exchange for an equivalent weight of Copper and Tin sent to the Church (fairs fair) the bells were sent as a Bicentennial gift to Western Australia, and, because we had no place to hang them, they were stored for fourteen years in a warehouse in Osborne Park.. The bells came from London on a ship in crates – big wooden crates – and something else came in the crates, something no-one was expecting.

One summer evening, just after the Bell Tower opened, I was sitting out on the balcony of my flat in South Perth, watching the sunset, listening to the bells, when I heard another sound; much less musical-hollow metallic, far away – which I guessed was the noise of the pylons being driven for the new Narrows Bridge.

Later in the evening, I took the ferry across to Barrack Square, and as I was walking towards the bus stop I heard the strange noise again- and coming not from the direction of the new bridge, but from the Bell Tower. I quizzed the security guard standing outside. Someone working late up there?

He gave me an odd, questioning look and replied There’s no-one up there.

He shifted his weight from his left foot to his right, scratched himself, sniffed and said We had the Engineers come down and they couldn’t find anything loose or banging and all they reckoned was it’s the sound of the building settling on it’s foundations, or contractions in the copper sheeting, or the weight of the Bells being taken up by the frame, but I for one won’t go up there alone after dark- not for love, nor money. And that was it – a mystery.

However, in July that same year I was in London, I was in Trafalgar Squareat the National Gallery and there across the square was St Martins in the Fields. For three pounds I went on a tour of the old church lead by Mr. Stephen Smith, bell ringer of that parish for some twenty years. At the conclusion of the tour – very good value – in which I learned more than I knew about stained glass and old tombs, I introduced myself and told him I was from Perth. He knew the old bells had gone to Perth and was pleased to hear they were now hung and rung regularly. The Bells! The Bells! They come alive when they ring- otherwise, just so much dead metal! I ascertained he was a bell enthusiast, and assumed I was, too. Mr. Smith, I heard a strange hollow metallic sound, coming from our bell tower and wondered if you’d heard any such noise coming from other Bell Towers.

Almost immediately, his eyes lit up in surprise and delight. “Dear Me!” he said, “You’ve not only got our bells, you’ve got Noisy Jack into the bargain!” We sat on a pew for a few minutes while he told me this story.

“The church of St Martins only ever had three ghosts – a young girl we called Mabel who wanders up and down the aisles on stormy nights carrying a candle looking for her sweetheart who was drowned in the Battle of Trafalgar – she apparently drowned herself in the Thames; there’s another we call Stumpy, who appeared after Waterloo we sometimes hear him clumping about on his wooden leg, and old Noisy Jack, who lived in the Bell Tower for as long as anyone could remember and made a noise like the one you describe, but I haven’t thought of him, and I suppose we haven’t heard him for ages.”

The last part of this tale, then, is the tragic story of Noisy Jack.

The bells, that is, the ones now hanging in Perth, all have names and dates. The Tenor Bell, the largest, weighing nearly two tonnes, is called Zachariah and dated 1726. It is named for Zachariah Pearce, first incumbent priest in the Church of St Matins. The bell hanging next to it, has is named fort the church Wardens in 1726, John Walker, and John Saucer. Now, in that year, 1727 Annabelle Pearce, daughter of the vicar Zachariah, married one of the church wardens, John Walker. According to the legend, John Saucer, the other church warden, had, a year or so previous to the wedding, himself proposed marriage to Annabelle, and been rejected. The interview may have gone something like this.

“Mr. Pearce, I love Annabelle, and she loves me. I know I’ve not got much money, but I’l treat her like a princess and she won’t want for nothing. We want to get married.”

Her father may have replied like this,” Mr. Saucer, I can appreciate your feelings for Annabelle, who is indeed a beautiful girl of marrying age, and I appreciate that she may be fond of you, but by your own admission, you have hardly the resources or the prospects to keep her, and in all frankness, I had something rather more grand in mind for Annabelle than a marriage to you. Good Morning.”

Yet, for whatever reason, and you may feel free to speculate, she was married within a year to the other church Warden, John Walker.

The occasion of the wedding of Annabelle and John Walker was to be a big affair at the church, with a full peal of Bells rung in celebration as the newly weds retired from the church. When the Bell Captain gathered his ringers, they couldn’t find John Saucer, who was expected to ring the Tenor bell.

“Has anybody seen Saucer? Well we can’t start one short, find a ring in!”. When they couldn’t find him, a ring-in was found so the bells could begin on time as the happy couple was leaving the church, and all proceeded to plan for about twenty minutes, when one by one, the bells stopped ringing. When the ring-in on the Tenor Bell saw the other twelve ringers staring at him, their mouths agape and hanging on their ropes, he noticed that he was covered head to foot with a fine red spray and smeared on his hands was blood.

He hadn’t cut himself on the rope – the blood was running freely down the rope from the ceiling, and it was now entirely soaked in fresh, red blood.

Eventually, one of them was persuaded to climb the ladder from the ringing chamber to the Belfry. He threw back the trap in the soundproof floor and found the body of John Saucer – dead and quite drained of blood. His right arm was torn off at the shoulder. The arm, now lying beside the bell, clutched in its hand a four-pound hammer. He’d been reaching through the spokes of the bell-wheel, it seems, (each bell has a large wheel of wood and steel attached to it, and the rope runs around this to pull the heavy bells off their counter balance); he’d been trying to crack the bell. He knew about bells, did John Saucer, knew they were cast in layers, knew that if he could find the weak point in the lip, he could open a crack and split the layers until the bell would not resonate, and never ring again. He could kill that Bell, revenge himself on Zachariah Pearce and deprive the newlyweds of their Wedding Peal. But he hadn’t heard them gather below, and when the wheel turned over he was pinned, and when the Bell swung back, all two tonnes, it took his arm off. Once the bells were ringing, he could have screamed blue murder, and not been heard.

From that time on his Ghost could be heard, from time to time, up in the tower of St Martins, banging away, trying to finish the job, but when the bells went to Perth, he disappeared- and now we’ve got him. Noisy Jack, as he came to be called, seems to be unusual in that he haunts not a building, but a bell, and you’ll see the evidence of his work in the Swan Bell tower- the dents in the rim of the Big Tenor Bell, you might even hear him…