Belfry.—The upper part of the tower or steeple of a church, for the reception of the bells; or a detached tower containing bells, as the campanile of the Italians. The term is sometimes applied to the timber frame by which the bells are supported; also to the room or loft in the tower of a church, from which the bells are rung. Originally it denoted a tower in which sentinels were placed to ring bells and thus give notice of the approach of the enemy, or a tower used in besieging a fortified place; it was of wood and movable. In England the bell-tower usually forms a part of the church, but it is sometimes detached from it, as at Evesham, Worcester-shire, and Berkeley, Gloucestershire; Chichester cathedral, Sussex, etc. At Pembridge, in Hereford-shire, there is a detached belfry built entirely of wood, the frame in which the bells are hung arising from the ground, with merely a casing of boards.
In Belgium, one of the earliest architectural expressions of the newly acquired independence (12th century) was the erection of a belfry. The right of possessing a bell was one of the first privileges in all old charters, not only as a symbol of power, but as a means of calling the community together. The tower, too, in which the bell was hung was a symbol of power in the Middle Ages; the first care of every enfranchised community was to erect a “tower of pride” proportionate to its importance. The tower was generally the record-office of the city. All these uses have passed away, and most of the belfries have either fallen into neglect or been appropriated to other purposes. Of those remaining the oldest seems to be that of Tournay, a fine tower, though it is a good deal altered and its effect destroyed by modern additions. The belfry at Ghent was commenced in 1183, but the stone-work was only completed in 1337. In 1376 a wooden spire was placed upon it, making the height 237 feet. This spire was recently taken down in order to complete the tower according to the original design, which, like that of most of the unfinished buildings of Belgium, has been carefully preserved. When finished it will be about 300 feet in height, and one of the finest belfries in the country.
THOMAS H. POOLE