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Heavyweight dusting

21 February 2014

MORE and more sand and dust was seeping through the planking floor of the bell-chamber in the tower, and falling to the floor of St Margaret's below. Every time the bells were rung, it got worse. Two years ago, John Clarke, one of the bell-ringers at St Margaret's, Cresswell, in Lichfield diocese, decided that something had to be done about it.

Climbing to the top of the tower is no easy task, he says, and you have to have a good head for heights: "One has to climb up steep long ladders - the first reputed to be 500 years old - from one platform to the next. In the bell-chamber itself, one has to inch along over the girders of the iron frame, walking like a tightrope artist."

The first job was to clean away the accumulated debris, and bag after bag of bird feathers, sand, and stone-dust was filled and manoeuvred down the ladders to be disposed of. That, with the help of a friend and his wife, a churchwarden, took weeks.

Then the corroding cast-iron frame which holds the eight bells (five of them about 400 years old) had to be dealt with. The corrosion had to be removed with a small electrical angle-grinder, fitted with a heavy-duty wire cup-brush, and then red oxide applied.

He was taking the advice of Andrew Mills, of John Taylor's, the bell-founders at Loughborough, who warned him that the red oxide must not drip on to the bells; so each of the eight bells had to be wrapped in heavyweight clingfilm, which was, he says, a really arduous and difficult job, done with the help of one of the other bell-ringers.

Then the frame was covered in a thick layer of viscous black paint to stop further rusting. To stop any more dust trickling down, felt was laid over the floor, and, last of all, lighting was installed in the bell-chamber. They now hope to put in a webcam so that it will be possible to plug into a laptop computer and watch the bells ringing, partly as an aid for training bell-ringers, but also for parishioners, so that they can see the bells in operation.

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