TWO FURTHER BELLS


Following the installation of the peal of six light bells at St Giles in 2012, just in time for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the bells have been extremely popular and well used by local ringers, young and not so young, and visitors alike. This gave rise to consideration of an augmentation to a full octave of eight bells which could be achieved in one of two ways. One is simply to add two lighter bells (trebles) and the other is to add a treble and a heavier bell (tenor), known as a Top and Tail augmentation. As the current bells are on the light side this was considered the preferable alternative and a structural engineer confirmed that the tower was well able to accommodate this.

The Top and Tail option required the fourth of the current six bells to be tuned down half a note as anyone with a musical background will appreciate. The PCC resolved on 16th March 2020 to progress an augmentation along these lines, subject to Faculty and funding, and the chosen bell founders were Taylors of Loughborough who had installed the six bells in 2012. The price quoted by Taylor’s included a number of money saving options, one of which was for the fourth bell that required retuning to be removed from the tower by volunteers and delivered to their premises in Loughborough.

Behind the scenes work was done with the Faculty application which pleasingly was granted on 22nd September 2020. In parallel with this, an appeal for donations from the wider bell ringing community was launched and this brought in the necessary monies without too much of a drain on the hard pressed St Giles congregation members during the difficult lockdown times.

Removal of the Bell for Retuning

Whilst carefully and safely removing a bell from the tower might seem a daunting prospect, we are fortunate to have Brian Butcher, the Bell Restoration Officer of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers (KCACR) to call upon. He has the equipment and expertise to lead such an exercise. Brian suggested coming to Farnborough on Monday, 26th October 2020 and a team of volunteers was assembled to assist.


Before the bell could be lowered down the tower certain enabling works had to be carried out. This included carefully prising up the skirting trim in the ringing chamber so freeing the carpet and underlay and enabling these to be lifted. This then allows access to the
trap door. A trial lifting of this trap door was done a couple of weeks before the intended removal of the bell and, similarly, a trap door further up the tower was freed up after unbolting the legs of the belfry access ladder.

Now to the bell itself! The rope was removed and so was the wheel. The carefully crafted wheels can be separated into two halves by unbolting and carefully prising apart. The bell clapper also had to be removed leaving the bell on its headstock still in its pit.


Under the direction of Brian Butcher, also known as Red Leader, on account of his red overalls, the ball bearing housings were unbolted from the frame. In order to lift the bell out of its pit, chains and pulleys capable of taking the weight of the bell and its headstock were carried up the tower and suspended from a central steel beam. This steel beam is situated above the bells at the base of the spire and has the clock chime bell suspended from it.

Gradually the weight of the fourth bell was taken up and it was manoeuvred to the centre of the belfry and from there it was a straight ‘drop’ to the base of the tower.
     

    

Once carefully lowered the bell was placed on a trolley to then be pushed to the camper van in which it was to be transported to Loughborough three days later. Some muscle power was needed to get the bell inside the van and accompanying it were its wheel and clapper as the bell foundry said they also needed these so they could test ring it once retuned.


Valued help in addition to Red Leader, Brian Butcher, Kent County Assoc. Bell Restoration Officer, who hails from Hythe, was provided by Lesley Barclay (Horton Kirby), Graham Long (Hayes) and Michael Stuttard (Sevenoaks). Additionally, Doug Fisher ( Limpsfield ) supplied the trolley and Caroline Stockmann (Sevenoaks) kindly provided refreshments to celebrate her birthday that day. Thanks go to them all.

     

The fourth bell was duly transported safely to Loughborough on 29th October and we eagerly await its return together with the two new bells in order to complete our augmented peal of eight bells.  This is planned to take place during the week of 22nd March 2021.

Nick Wilkins, photos by Eddie Roberts