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Oxfordshire church hopes bell for St Helena will get there by Christmas

14 August 2020


Nicola and Andrew McHugh (right) and a churchwarden of St Anne’s, Epwell, Alasdair Lowe

Nicola and Andrew McHugh (right) and a churchwarden of St Anne’s, Epwell, Alasdair Lowe

MEMBERS of the congregation of St Anne’s, Epwell, in north Oxfordshire, have come to the aid of a church on the South Atlantic island of St Helena. They hope that the bell that they have found will arrive in time for Christmas services.

ROSEANNE EDWARDSThe makeshift bell made for St Mark’s out of an acetylene gas cylinder

Parishioners responded to a plea from the Bishop of St Helena, the Rt Revd Dale Bowers, for a bell for St Mark’s, in the district of Longwood. Andrew McHugh and his wife, Nicola, led the effort to satisfy the unusual request. The couple had lived on St Helena for two years, when Mrs McHugh was running the island’s School of Nursing, and Mr McHugh was studying for a Master’s degree in health-systems management with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Mr McHugh said: “My wife, Nicola, and I lived very happily on the island for two years, and we became involved with the St Helena Diocesan Association on our return to the UK. Bishop James Johnson — a former Bishop of St Helena — lives not far from us in Bodicote, a village near Banbury, and he and his wife, Joyce, are personal friends.

“We recently had our annual general meeting on Zoom, when the Bishop mentioned that the bell in St Mark’s Church, Longwood — very close to Napoleon’s House — was broken. I volunteered to see what I could do to source a bell.”

Mr McHugh put out an appeal for help in Epwell, whose parish church, St Anne’s, has a regular congregation of about ten. “They were delighted to help, and we found a suitable bell on eBay,” he said. “We put in a bid and won the auction.

“In the mean time, the Bishop came back to say that a local craftsman had made a new bell out of an empty acetylene cylinder. This left us with an unwanted bell. We then received a message from the seller of the bell to say that it had been stolen from his shed, and he would reimburse us — which he did very promptly.

“This almost seemed like divine intervention, but then, a few days later, Bishop Dale came back to say that St Andrew’s, in Half Tree Hollow, on the island, also needed a bell, and so we went about sourcing another one.”

Once a suitable bell had been bought, the heavy package started its journey to the South Atlantic at the end of last month, by DHL parcel delivery, to the docks in Bristol. From there, it will go by boat, first to South Africa, and then on to St Helena. “We hope it will get there in time for Christmas,” Mr McHugh said.

ROSEANNE EDWARDSSt Andrew’s, Half Tree Hollow, St Helena

Bishop Johnson said: “I am delighted to hear that the parishioners of Epwell are sending out this bell to St Andrew’s, in Half Tree Hollow. I know that it will be put to good use. It so good to see this link between the Wykeham benefice and the island of St Helena.”

The regular congregation of St Anne’s, Epwell, is small, but at Christmas and Easter, and weddings and funerals, there is standing-room only. The church is currently without a Rector, after the Revd Ronald Hawkes, and his wife, the Revd Liz Hawkes, retired earlier this year. Services are currently being led on Zoom by the Revd John Tattersall, a non-stipendiary minister, who is attracting up to 40 log-ins for each service.

“John was very supportive of this donation, and, at last Sunday’s service, asked me to show the bell to everyone before the service started,” Mr McHugh said.

The bell will not be the only connection between Epwell and the island. Mr and Mrs McHugh planted a gum tree in the St Helena Millennium Forest as a gesture of friendship from the Epwell Gardening Club.

St Helena is one of three British Overseas Territories grouped as St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha. St Helena measures about 16 by eight kilometres, and has a population of 4534. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, and was the place of Napoleon’s imprisonment by the British from 1815 until his death in 1821.

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