TWENTY bells — some of which have not been heard for 50 years — are to ring out from three churches in a Gloucestershire benefice next week, in celebration of their recent restoration and rehanging.
The bells of St Mary the Virgin, Hartpury, St Margaret’s, Corse, and St James’s, Staunton, will be dedicated by the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, in a sequence of identical “safari services” moving from church to church on 8 November.
This includes three new bells at Hartpury, where the ring has been augmented by three new bells from six to eight (one of the originals was beyond restoration). One is “dedicated to our ringers of the past, of today, and those yet to come”; another is “in commemoration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”; and the third commemorates the King’s Coronation.
St Mary the Virgin, HartpuryThe Hartpury Ringers’ Bell, one of the new bells, replacing one that was beyond repair
The project began with what a churchwarden and bell-ringer at St Mary’s, Jim Chapman, described on Monday as a generous bequest for the church fabric. It came as the church was beginning to plan how it might refurbish its ring of bells, which date from about 1550.
The sound “was getting very lumpy”, he told the Church Times. “It could hardly be heard, and we couldn’t take on any learners or anything like that. The church next door, at Corse, were wanting to do their bells, too; so we decided to combine. And then it struck us that, if we got together to do a really elaborate project, we could extend it to the Staunton church, where the bells haven’t been ringing properly for the last 50 years.”
The initiative developed from there. Mr Chapman described the collection of hamlets that comprise Hartpury as a “village of seven ends and no middle. The bells are what pulls them all together,” he said. “They’re features of village life, and can be heard all around.”
Churches in the benefice share a band of ringers: none has its own dedicated team. “We are desperate to get some more learners coming along. We hope . . . that the bells become far easier-going, so it doesn’t put people off when they begin.” The replacement of cast iron with tubular steel in the headstocks of the restored frame mechanism would help with that, he said.
St Mary the Virgin, HartpuryOne of the bells is installed in September
Visiting ringers have been invited to join the team and ring throughout the afternoon, after a two-minute peal by the regulars at each of the services, beginning at Staunton. The organist, too, will move from church to church. There had been a lot of interest from local people, Mr Chapman said, including those who didn’t come to church but loved to hear the bells.
He described himself as a “rapidly retiring ringer. Bell-ringing crosses all boundaries, ages, and occupations. They meet in the belfry as individuals, and anyone can become bell captain. There aren’t many activities where you can say the same.”
The bells have all been restored at Taylor’s Bell Foundry, in Loughborough, and have now been rehung in each church.