BELL-RINGERS at St Nicholas’s, Haxey, who requested that four lighter bells be installed in the tower to safeguard the future of ringing, have failed in their case for a faculty in the consistory court of the diocese of Lincoln.
The current ring of six bells weighs twice that of an average ring; the bells are heavier to ring than most because of their position on arched cast-iron headstocks, hung for full-circle ringing. This means that only “experienced and strong ringers [who] are generally male” can handle the bells.
The ringing band of St Nicholas’s had requested in March 2018 that four lighter bells be added to the tower to allow its three new learners, all women, to progress. The new additions would also allow children who currently have to be taught on lighter trebles elsewhere to learn the ropes at St Nicholas’s.
Even the three lightest bells presented “serious handling challenges”, the petitioners argued. “The weight of the bells is providing a constraint on the growth of the team.”
In his ruling dated February 2019, the Chancellor, Judge Mark Bishop, said that installing new bells would result in the four heaviest bells being “rung only occasionally” — an outcome that would compromise the significance of the 900-year-old Grade I listed church as “a building of special architectural and historical interest”. Three of these bells were installed in the 15th century.
The new Vicar of St Nicholas’s, the Revd Mark Zammit, met the churchwardens on Tuesday night, but said that no one, including the bell-ringers, wished to comment on the judgment. The diocese also declined to comment further.
While there was no evidence that adding the new bells would damage the fabric of the building, the petitioners had failed to consider rehanging the existing bells with modern fittings as an alternative solution, Judge Bishop said. Moreover, the cost of hanging new bells had been “plainly” underestimated.
The church also features a carillon (clock machinery) that plays three hymn tunes. This, he explained, would have to be moved to accommodate the new bells, and the ropes boxed in, requiring additional work by specialists to reset the hammers and the bell cranks to prevent harming the carillon.
Other considerations in the 15-page judgment included how and where the new bells would be hung in the tower, access difficulties, and the effect on sound distribution. Judge Bishop agreed with the diocesan advisory committee, which had not supported the application, that it would be better to fit just two extra bells or rehang the existing ring of bells.
He concluded: “I have carefully considered whether the augmentation +4 is a proposal that can rebut the presumption that things should remain as they are and have decided that these proposals do not. This means that the Petition for a faculty to permit augmentation to 10 bells must fail.”