Ringing in the New Year with St. Peter's bell

The historic bell.
The historic bell.

For me, the most important historical story about Peterhead in the past 12 months  must be the “rediscovery” of the bell in the St Peter’s Kirk yard tower.

St. Peter’s kirkyard is situated on a steep slope overlooking Peterhead and is dominated by the bell tower.

The bell tower in St. Peter's Kirkyard.

The bell tower in St. Peter's Kirkyard.

The bell tower was almost certainly constructed around about the same time for the sole purpose of housing the bell.

Following some investigation, we now know that it was made by Dutch master bell maker Michael Burgerhuis of Middleburg, Holland in 1647.

The bell bears the inscriptions “Soli deo Gloria” (Glory to God) and “Me Fecit (Made me) 1647”.

It measures 23 inches in diameter and is 19 inches high and reportedly rings out with a very pleasing E Flat tone.

However, the bell certainly isn’t unique in Scotland in that quite a few towns and cities have a bell made by Michael Burgerhuis.#

But for Peterhead to still have the original bell that it purchased in 1647 is quite special and makes the bell one of the town’s most important historic artefacts, topped only by the Meethill Food Vessel in my opinion.

Yes there are older and more valuable items in the museum’s collection but the fact that the bell is in the same position it has been in for 369 years makes it very special in my opinion.

I can’t think of anything so old in the town that’s still in its original position and potentially still operational.

Looking at the historical context of the tower and bell it has to be recognised that they were erected barely 50 years after the founding of Peterhead itself.

Looking out of the tower after its construction you would have seen the small collection of houses round about the harbour area that comprised the town, the castle on Keith Inch would have been clearly visible, and just round the headland the Plague Huts and pits would have still been plainly visible and an area to be avoided at all costs.

Worldwide the first woman in America to be executed as a witch was put to death in Hartford Connecticut and the Scottish Parliament sold the newly captured King Charles 1st to the English parliamentarians for £400.

Fast forward nearly 100 year to April 1746 and the kirk session in the town is being asked to provide funds to “oyl” the bell - this is just after the battle of Culloden and the redcoats troops would have been rampant in the town hunting for Jacobite sympathisers.

Again fast forward to the 19 th century where the bell tower is used as a watchtower to protect newly buried bodies from resurrectionists keen to steal newly buried bodies for anatomical research.

Indeed there are several reports of the old bell ring out through the town as concerned relatives strove to warn the Militia of such nocturnal excursions.

The bell in the photo isn’t our own but it was made around about the same time so it would be almost identical in style and appearance.

Let’s hope one day we will again hear the Kirkyard Bell ringing out over the town.