31 July, 2009

The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson. Book review

First published 1954. Edition reviewed: Gollancz, 2008, ISBN 978-0-57508-2-724. 228 pages.

The Broken Sword is a fantasy novel drawing on the Norse myths and sagas. It is set in the world of men and in a parallel supernatural world called ‘faerie’, inhabited by elves, trolls, goblins and similar creatures. The world of faerie exists in the same world as men, but humans cannot see faerie creatures or creations unless they are shown them by an inhabitant of faerie or have been trained in witchcraft. The Ice Giants and the Norse gods (the Aesir) live in a separate world, and occasionally pay visits to men or faerie. Mythological figures such as Odin, Tyr, the ice giant Bolverk and the Irish sea god Manannan play roles in the story. Insofar as the story has a historical setting, it is in the Danelaw of late ninth-century England. The main characters are all fictional.

The Norse chieftain Orm the Strong has taken land in the Danelaw (north and east England) by killing the former owners, has married an English wife and pays lip-service to Christianity. When Orm’s wife gives birth to a son, the mother of the murdered former landowner, who has powers of witchcraft, tells Imric Elf-Earl that the newborn child is neither baptised nor under the protection of the Aesir. Imric steals the baby, leaving a half-elf-half-troll changeling in its place. The stolen boy is named Skafloc and raised among the elves to be a mighty warrior and poet, though the Aesir’s naming gift to him, a broken sword of ancient and malevolent power, causes Imric much disquiet. The changeling, Valgard, is reared in Orm’s hall and grows up to become a fearsome berserker warrior. In faerie, a great war is brewing between the elves and the trolls, and this gives the witch her opportunity to revenge herself on Orm by setting Skafloc and Valgard on a collision course. This will see the sword reforged and will ensnare Skafloc, Valgard and all those close to them in a tragic fate which none, mortal or immortal alike, can escape.

How do I adore this book? Let me count the ways….. This is simply a superb evocation of the world of the Norse myths and sagas. From the opening sentence, “There was a man called Orm the Strong” to the last, “Here ends the saga of Skafloc Elf’s-Foster”, the book is told in a muscular, poetic style reminiscent of the great Icelandic sagas. It has the same ice-bright clarity, as beautiful as a glacier in sunlight and as pitiless, and the same economy with words. This is an epic adventure and a tragic romance packed into a mere 228 pages, with not a word wasted. Powerful emotions are conveyed in a couple of lines of dialogue or a look or a gesture, their impact heightened by understatement. Violence and war are sketched in bold strokes, with no need for pages of blow-by-blow gorefest. (This latter may in part reflect the era in which the book was first published; in 1954 most adults had only too clear an idea of the effects of fire, steel and high explosive on human bodies). The plot is beautifully controlled, full of intricate reversals, symmetries and parallels that remind me of the entwined animals in Norse art.

The characters are vividly and powerfully drawn. Valgard and Skafloc, ill-starred twins, dominate the story. Although at first they seem to be polar opposites – indeed, Valgard cries at one point, “What am I but the shadow of Skafloc?” – the contrast between light and dark is not as absolute as it appears at first sight. Valgard, half-elf-half-troll, is a loner alien to his human family, while Skafloc apparently takes to life with the elves like a duck to water. Yet Valgard has absorbed enough human feeling to experience genuine remorse at the death of his brother and to give his dead sister a clumsy Christian burial; and Skafloc, for all the glitter and glamour of the elf court, is achingly lonely for human love. Valgard’s bitterness and despair make him the epitomy of cruelty and hate, while the young Skafloc is all light and laughter; yet when Skafloc is denied his heart’s desire he succumbs to the same destructive nihilism.

The women are as individual and as strongly motivated as the men, and drive at least as much of the action. It is the witch, seeking revenge for Orm’s slaughter of her family, who sets the whole saga in motion. Leea, the icily beautiful amoral elf-lady, discovers both love and jealousy, as well as being an active and highly effective participant in the war against the trolls (without, I may add, any hint of a Xena-style caricature. Full marks to the author). Freda Orm’s-Daughter, loyal, loving and brave, is a thoroughly good woman whose attempts to do the right thing nevertheless bring a terrible fate on her and all those she loves best.

Was there anything I didn’t like? In short, no. This is simply a stunning book. I don’t give star ratings, but if I did this would warrant a galaxy full.

29 July, 2009

July recipe: Raspberry jam

Once upon a time, so long ago that she has no doubt long forgotten it by now, a lady named Alianore expressed interest in a recipe for raspberry jam. This summer is the first season since then that I’ve made raspberry jam, as I don’t usually have surplus raspberries for preserving (thanks to the local blackbirds).

The lemon juice contains pectin which helps the jam to set, and also adds a slightly sharp flavour to the finished jam. I like the sharp flavour, but if you don’t, you could use commercial pectin instead of lemon juice. I’ve never used commercial pectin so I can’t give you any advice, but the instructions on the packet should tell you how to use it. If you don’t use either lemon juice or commercial pectin, raspberry jam can take for ever to reach setting point, and this is usually a Very Bad Thing as long boiling tends to result in a rather dark and excessively sticky jam. So I strongly recommend you add pectin in some form or other.

All the books tell you to use perfect and slightly under-ripe fruit for preserving. I am sure they are right. However, I tend to use jam as a repository for the berries that get squashed during picking and transit, and I can confirm they work perfectly well in this recipe (but see above for the importance of adding pectin in some form).

Here’s the recipe.

Raspberry jam

1 lb (approx 450 g) raspberries
1 lb (approx 450 g) granulated sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Remove the stalks from the raspberries and check that the fruit is in good condition. A bit squashed is OK.
Put the fruit and lemon juice in a large saucepan. If liked, you can add the lemon zest as well.
Heat gently for a few minutes until the juice starts to come out of the raspberries.
Add the sugar and a small piece of butter (about the size of a hazelnut), and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil. Don’t lean over the pan and keep any children or pets out of the way. Boiling jam will sometimes spit, and as it is both hot and sticky it can give an unpleasant burn.
Boil at a full rolling boil – this means lots of bubbles across the whole surface of the liquid – until setting point is reached. To test for setting point, scoop out a teaspoonful of jam and drip it onto a cold plate. It will form a pool. (If it forms a bead, your jam is ready – take it off the heat straight away and proceed to the next step). Wait for the pool to cool (30 seconds or so), then push it horizontally with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, the jam is ready. If the pool stays liquid, keep boiling for another 2 minutes and test again. I usually find this jam reaches setting point after about 10 minutes boiling.
(I am told that a sugar thermometer makes it easier to recognise setting point. I’ve never used one, so can’t comment. The old-fashioned way works for me.)
Remove the jam from the heat, and pour into clean glass jars. I find the easiest way to do this is to pour from the pan into a heatproof jug, then use the jug to fill the jars.
Seal the jars immediately. I seal jam jars with a layer of cling film and then a screw-top lid, but you can use any method of your choice as long as it is air-tight.
Let the jars cool, label them, and store in a cupboard until needed. It doesn’t need to mature so you can start eating it the following morning if you like.

This quantity makes about 1.5 lb of jam (two medium-sized jars). You can scale it up as you see fit, but remember that you need plenty of space in the pan for the jam to boil without boiling over. If the pan is about half-full after you put the sugar in, that should be about right.

22 July, 2009

Bowmen in medieval Wales

In the comments thread on the post on seventh-century Chester, the discussion turned to the medieval longbow. I said I thought archery was especially associated with south Wales and that I hadn’t got the reference to hand but would post it when I found it. Well, I have now found the reference I was thinking of. It comes from the Description of Wales, written in the 1190s by Gerald of Wales (also known by his Latin name, Giraldus Cambrensis), and the quote is:

Merionyth, and the land of Conan, is the rudest and least cultivated region, and the least accessible. The natives of that part of Wales excel in the use of long lances, as those of Monmouthshire are distinguished for their management of the bow.
--Gerald of Wales, Description of Wales, Chapter VI. Online at Project Gutenberg

Monmouthshire is in south-east Wales, immediately west of the River Wye. See the Wikipedia page on the historic county (not to be confused with the smaller modern county of the same name) for maps showing its location, and see Streetmap UK for an interactive map that will let you zoom in and out to put the location in context.

Gerald was a distinguished churchman, the son of a powerful Norman baron and a princess of Deheubarth (south-west Wales), so he was in a position to have access to accurate information about the Wales of his own time. While it is unlikely that the men of Monmouthshire had a monopoly on archery (or that the men of Meirionydd had a monopoly on the use of long spears, come to that), I see no reason to doubt Gerald’s word for a particular skill being concentrated in a particular region, at least in his own time. Whether that reflects any deep-seated historical tradition or was a relatively recent development is open to interpretation.

16 July, 2009

Claudius, by Douglas Jackson. Book review

Transworld, 2009. ISBN 978-0-593-06062-9. 328 pages

Set during the Roman invasion of Britain under Emperor Claudius in 43 AD, Claudius features a number of historical figures in important roles, including Claudius himself, his strategist and political fixer Narcissus, the Roman generals Aulus Plautius and Vespasian, and various British tribal rulers including Caratacus, Togodumnus, Cogidubnus, Boudicca and Cartimandua. The main characters, Rufus and his elephant, are fictional.

A Roman invasion force of four crack legions and their associate auxiliaries is marching to conquer Britain. With them is Rufus, a young slave and the keeper of the Emperor’s elephant, the majestic Bersheba. Against them stands Caratacus, king of the Catuvellauni and leader of the British tribes, a man of great courage and ability but hampered by his erratically aggressive brother Togodumnus and uncertain which of his allies he can trust. The stage is set for a brutal showdown between the legions and the British warriors – one in which Rufus and his elephant will play a vital, and possibly fatal, part.

The title is something of a misnomer. Although there are a few passages told from Claudius’ viewpoint, for the most part the central character of the novel is Rufus, the slave, elephant handler and fighter trained by an ex-gladiator introduced in the first novel in the series, Caligula (review forthcoming in due course). Occasionally the narrative looks back to the events of the first book, but you don’t need to have read Caligula to read Claudius. Both books can be read as stand-alones. The story is told in third person from a variety of viewpoints, cutting back and forth between the Roman side and the British side, so the reader gets to see the build-up to battle from both sides of the conflict. It also allows the reader to get to know other characters besides Rufus, of whom the most compelling for me were Caratacus and a (fictional) scout and warrior of the Iceni tribe called Ballan.

A newspaper quote on the back cover describes the novel as “visceral”, and if that means “lots of blood and guts” it’s a pretty accurate description. With the Romans murdering little children and torturing old people, and the Britons conducting appalling human sacrifices, the novel is even-handed in its brutality. The violence is described in the same graphic detail that characterised Caligula, with very little left to the imagination. I think it’s fair to say that this is not a book for the squeamish, and those who like to read at mealtimes should consider themselves warned. As with the previous novel, I found the shock value wore off surprisingly fast, and began to wonder if this was going to be a catalogue of gruesome atrocities of the sort that leaves me thinking that both sides deserve each other and can I vote the elephant for Emperor?

Plough on to halfway, though, and the novel steps up a gear as the violence becomes focussed to a definite purpose, the battle for the crossing of the River Thames. This decisive battle occupies most of the second half of the book, and is in my view the best bit. The use of multiple viewpoints is extremely effective, both in the build-up to the battle and in the battle itself. It allows the reader to see the complexity of stratagem and counter-stratagem as both sides lay cunning traps for each other, and it shows both the individual dramas of the key players and their part in the greater whole. Suspense is built and maintained by cutting back and forth between the players at critical moments in classic cinematic style. The Batavian auxiliaries (here going by the delightful name of “river rats”), the Second Augusta’s legionaries, the British defenders and the Romans’ British allies all get their share of the action, and there’s even an ingenious role for Bersheba the elephant.

In the absence of a historical note, the reader is left on their own to work out the historical basis of events and where any alterations have been made. I’m not an expert on the Roman invasion and can’t comment on the historical accuracy or otherwise. I can say I was surprised to see the Iceni taking part in the battle at the Thames, since Tacitus explicitly says, “We had not defeated this powerful tribe, they had voluntarily become our allies”, and I thought Verica would be older than he is portrayed if he was issuing coins in the reign of Tiberius. I’d have liked to see the author’s take on these items and any others, and was mildly disappointed by the lack of a historical note.

It looks to me as if the novel is leaving scope for a sequel to make a trilogy (any takers for the third one being called Nero?). A pair of talismanic brooches that end up in the hands of two charismatic queens, both of whom have dramatic if contrasting parts to play in the further history of the establishment of Roman Britain, the appearance of Nero as a distinct if minor character and a questioning note to the Epilogue could all be lead-ins to a further adventure for Rufus and Bersheba.

Battlefield action during the Roman invasion of Britain, with lots of violent battle scenes, some shady palace plots, and an elephant.

15 July, 2009

Nan Hawthorne, new blog

I have been asked by Nan Hawthorne to announce that the original stories, letters and drawings that formed the basis for her novel An Involuntary King are now available on a new blog.

The stories were written by Nan and her best friend between 1964 and 1970, when Nan was aged 12 to 17, and have a charm all their own. Nan says of them, "They are fun to read, but they should also interest anyone who encourages young people to stir their imaginations".

07 July, 2009


A group of hauntingly beautiful Welsh poems lament the death of a leader named Cynddylan son of Cyndrwyn. On the internal evidence of the poems, he lived some time in the seventh century and was active in the areas that are now the north-west Midlands of England and the north-east of Wales. What do we know about him?


Marwnad Cynddylan (The Lament for Cynddylan)

the king of Dogfeiling, oppressor of the Cadelling.
I shall lament until I would be in my oaken silence
for the slaying of Cynddylan, grievous loss.
Grandeur in battle! So good was the destiny
that Cynddylan, the battle leader, got
seven hundred chosen soldiers in his retinue,
When the son of Pyd requested, he was so ready!
They used to drive back the spoils from the dales of Taff.
Captives lamented; lame, cattle bellowed.
Before Lichfield they fought,
There was gore under ravens and keen attack.
Limed shields broke before the sons of the Cyndrwynyn.
I shall lament until I would be in the land of my resting place
for the slaying of Cynddylan, famed among chieftains.
--Marwnad Cynddylan

Canu Heledd (The Song of Heledd)

Maes Cogwy
On the ground of Maes [C]ogwy, I saw
armies, battle affliction:
Cynddylan was an ally.

Come outside, maidens, and look at the land of Cynddylan.
The court of Pengwern is a raging fire:
Cynddylan, fiery supporter of the marches,
mail-wearing, stubborn in battle,
defending Tern, his patrimony.
Cynddylan Powys, you had a splendid purple cloak,
a storehouse to feed guests, like a lord;
the whelp of Cyndrwyn is mourned

Eglywsseu Bassa (Baschurch)
Baschurch is his resting place tonight.,
his final abode,
the support in battle, the heart of the people of Argoed.
Baschurch is crumbling tonight.
My tongue caused it.
It is red; my grief is too great.
Baschurch is confined tonight;
for the heir of the Cyndrwynin:
the land of the grave of Cynddylan the Fair.
Baschurch has lost its privilege,
after the English warriors slew
Cynddylan and Elfan Powys.
--Canu Heledd

Welsh Triads
Three Gate-Keepers at the Action of Bangor Orchard:
Gwgon Red Sword, and Madawg son of Rhun, and Gwiawn son of Cyndrwyn. And three others on the side of Lloegr:
Hawystyl the Arrogant, and Gwaetcym Herwuden, and Gwiner.
--Red Book of Hergest

The Action of Bangor Orchard may be another name for the Battle of Chester, on three grounds:
  • there is a Bangor (Bangor is-y-Coed) only a few miles from Chester

  • the Battle of Chester is known to have been a major engagement between at least one Brittonic king (Selyf ap Cynan of Powys) and at least one early English king (Aethelferth of Bernicia/Northumbria), which would explain the reference to Lloegr on the other side (Lloegr or Loegria was the medieval Welsh name for what is now England)

  • Bede refers to the presence of a large contingent of monks from Bangor is-y-Coed at the Battle of Chester (Ecclesiastical History Book II Ch. 3), which is a direct link between the battle and Bangor

See my earlier post for the likely date range for the battle.



If the identification of the Battle of Chester as the Action of Bangor Orchard is correct, and if the Cyndrwyn in the Triad is the same as the man named as Cynddylan’s father in the Canu Heledd poetry, Cyndrwyn had a son of fighting age in 613/617. His other sons could have been older or younger than the Gwiawn in the Triad, but only within a couple of decades either side before biological possibility starts to get strained.

Maes Cogwy is the Battle of Cocboy, mentioned in Historia Brittonum as the battle in which Oswald of Northumbria was killed:
Penda, son of Pybba, reigned ten years; he first separated the kingdom of Mercia from that of the North-men, and slew by treachery Anna, king of the East Anglians, and St. Oswald, king of the North-men. He fought the battle of Cocboy, in which fell Eawa, son of Pybba, his brother, king of the Mercians, and Oswald, king of the North-men, and he gained the victory by diabolical agency.
--Historia Brittonum ch. 65

Bede gives the date of Oswald’s death as 642 AD and names the location as Maserfelth (Book III, Ch. 9). Maserfelth/Maes Cogwy is not definitively located; Oswestry in Shropshire is the usual candidate, based on the name (Oswestry is from the Old English “Oswald’s Tree”), but there are other possibilities.

Wherever the location, the reference to Maes Cogwy indicates that Cynddylan was a contemporary of Penda of Mercia and was of fighting age in 642. The reference to the “son of Pyd” in the Lament for Cynddylan may refer to Penda, who was the son of a king named Pybba, and if so this would be consistent with Cynddylan as a contemporary and ally of Penda. If we take fighting age to be from 15 to 50, Cynddylan’s conjectural birth date would be in the range 592 – 627, and Gwiawn’s conjectural birth date would be in the range 563 – 601. There is enough overlap in these ranges for them to have been sons of the same father. If Gwiawn was in his 20s at the Action of Bangor Orchard and Cynddylan in his 40s at Maes Cogwy, they could have been approximate contemporaries, both born around the turn of the century.

Cynddylan’s territory

The poetry gives Cynddylan the following territorial associations and titles:
  • King of Dogfeiling

  • Oppressor of the Cadelling

  • Court of Pengwern

  • Tren, his patrimony

  • Cynddylan Powys

  • Fought a battle at Maes Cogwy

  • Fought a battle at Lichfield

  • Buried at Baschurch

  • Cattle raid on the dales of Taff

The dales of Taff refers to the River Taff, which flows through Cardiff in South Wales, but as the poem clearly describes it as a cattle raid it probably was not in Cynddylan’s own territory.

Dogfeiling was in what is now north-central Wales, somewhere in the valley of the River Elwy near modern Denbigh. Its associations are with Gwynedd, and it may have been a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd or an independent unit, or both at different times.

The Cadellings were the main royal dynasty of Powys, named after a founding figure called Cadell or Catell according to a story in Historia Brittonum. Appending the name of a territory to its ruler’s name was common practice, so “Cynddylan Powys” implies that Cynddylan was king of Powys. As he was also called “oppressor of the Cadelling”, this may indicate that he was either a king from a rival kingdom who had taken over Powys, or an internal rival from a different dynasty. The territory of medieval Powys was in the uplands of east-central Wales; early medieval Powys may well have been larger, but there’s no reason to assume it was in a different place altogether (more on this in a later post).

The location of Cynddylan’s court, Pengwern, is not known. There are several places called Pengwern in modern Wales (type “Pengwern” into Streetmap UK), and there may well have been others in the past whose names have since changed or been lost. The name is a topographical one, meaning something like “head of the swamp” or “head of the alder grove”. Gerald of Wales identifies Pengwern with Shrewsbury, but Gerald’s account was written in the 1190s, well over half a millennium after Cynddylan’s likely lifetime.

“Tren” has been argued to be a territory based on the catchment of the River Tern, the area surrounding Wroxeter (White and Barker 2002). One of the verses in Canu Heledd refers to “Dinlleu Vrecon” (the city of Wroxeter). Baschurch is in Shropshire, about 15 miles from Wroxeter on the other side of Shrewsbury, and Lichfield is about 40 miles away to the east. As mentioned above, the location of Maes Cogwy is not known, but if it is Oswestry it is also in Shropshire.

So, these associations indicate that Cynddylan was active in north Wales, in east-central Wales, in the Shropshire Plain around Wroxeter (and perhaps Shrewsbury), and as far east as Lichfield. If Gwiawn in the Triads was his brother, this may indicate the family also had connections with the area of Bangor is-y-Coed and Chester. All these places fall into a reasonably coherent area, covering the counties of what is now Cheshire and Shropshire and the uplands of eastern Wales.

This would be consistent with early medieval Powys having been a considerably larger kingdom than its medieval counterpart, including the lowlands of Cheshire and Shropshire in addition to the uplands of medieval Powys. However, I don’t think it necessarily proves the case. Cynddylan need not have inherited all of these areas, nor need he have ruled all of them for his whole career. He may have started as ruler of one region and expanded his influence, perhaps temporarily, into neighbouring areas. Bede’s pages are full of early medieval English kings doing just that. Taliesin’s poetry refers to a king of Powys in the previous generation, Cynan Garwyn (whose son Selyf was killed in 613/617 at the Battle of Chester), as fighting battles across the length and breadth of what is now Wales, from Gwynedd in the north-west to Gwent in the south-east. It seems likely that Cynddylan would have followed the same behaviour.

Since the poem specifies Tren as Cynddylan’s patrimony, I would take that as an indication that his original family lands were in the area near Wroxeter. This would be consistent with his burial at Baschurch, if family and/or friends retrieved his body from whatever battlefield he died on and brought him home for burial. He may have controlled the city of Wroxeter as well, or it may have been semi-independent. The titles of King of Dogfeiling and King of Powys could have been gained later in his career (perhaps temporarily), by marriage, inheritance or military force. The battle at Lichfield may have further added to his territory or may have been merely a raid on a neighbour.

The poetry refers to “Cynddylan and Elfan Powys”. This may indicate that Elfan was king of Powys at the time and Cynddylan was not, which would be consistent with the suggestion above that Cynddylan was only temporarily king of Powys. Or it may indicate a shared title, suggesting that Powys could have multiple kings (which was known among the West Saxons in the seventh century). Whether this represents a form of joint kingship, some kind of confederation, or reflected the partitioning of a territory among heirs, is open to question.

It is also possible that Tren has been misidentified, and that Cynddylan was a king or sub-king of Dogfeiling who conquered some or all of Powys, raiding as far as Lichfield and Cardiff, and perhaps being buried at Baschurch because it happened to be near his place of death rather than for family associations. And no doubt many other permutations can be argued.

Eventual fate

It’s clear from the poetry that Cynddylan was killed in a disastrous battle, perhaps along with most of his adult male relatives, that the opposing side included English, and that his kingdom was lost to his surviving family.

There is not enough internal evidence from the poetry to identify the site of Cynddylan’s fatal battle definitively.

However, if Cynddylan is correctly identified as an ally of Penda of Mercia, the battle of Winwaed must be a likely candidate. Winwaed was fought at an unknown location between Oswy of Northumbria on one side and Penda of Mercia with thirty allies on the other (Bede, Book III Ch. 24). Bede doesn’t list the allies, but Historia Brittonum says that “kings of the Britons” were killed there along with Penda. The battle was a colossal disaster for Penda and his Brittonic allies. Bede says that Penda and almost all his thirty allied commanders were killed, and Historia Brittonum calls it “the slaughter of the field of Gai”. Cynddylan had fought with Penda of Mercia against Oswy’s brother Oswald at Maes Cogwy. It must be at least a strong possibility that he was among Penda’s allies at Winwaed and died there.

Full-text sources available online are linked in the text.
White R, Barker P. Wroxeter: Life and death of a Roman city. Tempus, 2002, ISBN 0-7524-1409-7.
Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.

Map links

Approximate location of Dogfeiling
Bangor is-y-Coed

04 July, 2009

East Bergholt Church

East Bergholt is famous as the birthplace of John Constable and the location for some of his most celebrated paintings. (Can there be anyone in the world who hasn't encountered Flatford Mill, even if only on a chocolate box?). It still looks a little like that today, with the addition of a popular tea room and a large population of very well-fed ducks.

East Bergholt stands on the high ground (44 metres above sea-level! In East Anglia that counts as Alpine) above the north bank of the River Stour. (Map link here)

I have a particular liking for East Bergholt church, and not only because it marks the end of the climb up from Fen Bridge (which is noticeably uphill, especially on a hot day). Here it is:

If you think it looks a bit, um, unfinished, well spotted. Yes, it was supposed to have a tower, but the money dried up after the Reformation.

Which means East Bergholt, uniquely in England as far as I know, has managed to acquire a ring of bells without having a bell tower to put them in. Normally an English parish church will have half a dozen or so bells hung high in the tower, to be rung for Sunday service, weddings, civic alarm and high days and holy days in general. If you've read Dorothy L Sayers' The Nine Tailors, you get the picture. But at towerless East Bergholt, the bells are housed in a bell cage in the churchyard:

Peering in, you can see the bells, a handsome ring of five:

The bell cage was built in the 1530s as a temporary solution until the money for a tower could be raised. In the way of temporary solutions, it became permanent.