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Parish may remove bell, Chancellor rules

26 June 2015


Permission granted: Holy Cross, Scopwick 

Permission granted: Holy Cross, Scopwick 

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Lincoln granted a faculty for the removal to the diocesan store of a five-and-a-half-cwt bell which had been stored for 41 years at the rear of Holy Cross, Scopwick, a Grade II* listed building that was restored in 1852 and 1884.

The bell ("the Wilkinson bell") was cast in 1700 by Humphrey Wilkinson, a Lincolnshire founder. It is one of 25 bells cast by him that were still in use in the diocese in 2013.

In 1974, a faculty had been granted in respect of three bells, including the Wilkinson bell, which ordered the rehanging of one bell, which was a listed bell, and is now in the tower and is rung. The faculty permitted the disposal of the remaining two bells as scrap.

After representations by a well-known bell antiquary, Ran Clouston, after the faculty was granted but before the Wilkinson bell was scrapped, the bell was retained by the church, minus its clapper. It was left on the nave floor, where it has remained for the past 41 years. It cannot easily be moved, but is at risk from metal thieves.

The bell was said to impede movement around the back of the pews, and there had been difficulties in the running of Christmas bazaars owing to the limitation on space. It was also said to be an obstacle to plans to develop the space at the back of the church. The proposal was for it to be offered for sale through the Keltek Trust charity.

The DAC bells adviser examined the bell in September 2013 and January 2014, and recommended that, if the tone was good, then it could be offered to the Keltek Trust.

It was found that the tonal quality was poor, however, so that the bell was unlikely to be of any use to fit into a peal of bells, and was usable only as a single service bell. It was also said by the DAC bells adviser that it was a poor example of a Wilkinson bell, and that there were 24 other such bells in use in the diocese. Despite its poor tonal quality, and missing clapper and canon, the bells adviser said that the Keltek Trust would take it.

The Church Buildings Council (CBC) intervened, and its assessment was that the bell was one of only a few cast by Wilkinson on his own as a bell founder; that it was an early example of his work; and that there were only two bells which survived from before 1700, when this bell was cast. The casting appeared to be of good quality, the CBC advised, the lettering was clear, and four of the six canons had survived.

As such, the CBC said, the bell was "of particular historic interest", and would merit grant aid from the CBC and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

When the matter came before Chancellor Mark Bishop, the Keltek Trust had been unable to find a buyer. The case was approached on the basis that the bell was a church treasure; so the rules that applied to the disposal of church treasures had to be followed.

The Chancellor said that this was not a case where it was now being suggested that the bell would be sold, nor was there a pressing financial "necessity" for its sale. What was being said was that the bell was "redundant", and that, if it was only of use as a service bell, the parish had a listed bell rehung for that purpose in 1974, and had no need of another bell.

The most eloquent argument in support of redundancy was, the Chancellor said, that the bell had rested undisturbed on the floor at the west end of the church for 41 years.

The bell could not be rehung, owing to its poor tonal quality, and it plainly could not remain where it was in the church, the Chancellor said. Taking all those factors into account, the Chancellor was satisfied that there were sufficient grounds for disposing of the bell by granting a faculty permitting its removal to the diocesan store, where it must be recorded, preserved, and kept safe.

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