Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Halford's Old Treble

Peter Richardson, to whom I am grateful for supplying articles regularly, provides us this time with a fascinating historical piece.

photo of Halford's Old Treble

This historic photo recently came to light showing Halford's treble before the Church restoration of 1994/95, when there were but three bells. According to Tilley & Walters (Church Bells of Warwickshire: 1910) the original treble is early fourteenth century dedicated to St John the Baptist, the second was early fifteenth century but was recast by Taylors in 1883, and the tenor, weighing 7cwt 23lbs, was recast by Henry Bagley in 1639 bearing the inscription PRAYSE THE LORD YE PEOPLE. These bells are respectively the 4th, 5th and tenor of the present ring.

The old treble is by an unknown founder. He cast in it a small Maltese cross with diagonal bars between the arms. It is said to be the oldest bell in Warwickshire. (Although it is dated 'c.1400' in 'Dove', Barford's 3rd at c.1330 may be older. Ed). The photo shows clearly the typical narrow-waisted profile of the medieval bell and the rough rim edges resulting from the rudimentary method of tuning by knocking off slivers with a hammer and chisel. The inscription reads: AGIOS IN HONORE SANCTI JOHANNIS BAPTISE SUM RENOVATA., suggesting to Tilley & Walters that it had been recast, while AGIOS is interpreted as the Greek for SANCTUS. I prefer the implication that in Baptism one is re-born a Christian. Is there a Medieval Latin scholar who can shed any further light?

The massive wooden beam shown in the photo is preserved in situ and the bell's old wheel is on display in the tower arch. The Church was dedicated to 'Our Blessed Lady' in 1150AD and originally had a squat Norman tower, but during the reign of Charles I before the Civil War it was encased and heightened with an extra storey, windows, battlements and pinnacles, which allowed the treble to be hung above the larger bells and its sound therefore to carry further.

In 1995 the tower was strengthened and the three bells were retuned by Taylors and rehung in a new steel frame lower down. They were augmented at that time by two redundant Tudor bells from Little Packington. A further augmentation in 2000 by the addition of a new 2cwt Millennium treble completed the ground-floor ring to six.

St Mary's Church was profiled in FSG Newsletter 115 in 2007

Peter Richardson

Thank you, Peter. I see 'Dove' shows the ex-Little Packington bells and the old treble (the present 4th) are all listed by the CBC. It is strange that the tenor, an early bell by Henry Bagley I, the patriarch of the famous Bagley bellfounding dynasty who started founding in about 1630, isn't so.

What an outstanding photo! Bells are notoriously difficult to photograph, as wide-angle lenses are normally necessary in belfries due to the restricted space. These lenses can very easily change the proportions of a bell, making them look odd. However, this photo seems not to have changed the proportions, as the narrow waist of the bell is clearly evident. Black & white is such a delight sometimes. Ed