Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Saintbury: the pre-rehang days remembered

It all started when we were waiting for the last ringer to turn up for evening ringing at Broadway Old Church. Saintbury was mentioned for some reason and one of the number (I think it was me) said, "Saintbury belfry was in an awful state before they were rehung. I bet you remember it, Clint. Twigs everywhere and the bells were encased in them. Weren't you one of the brave men who went with Tony to clear it out?" In Clint's understated way, 'Yes. (pause) It was bad; filthy." Then, "Reckon I've got some photos of it." And so, prior to wedding ringing at Broadway, three photos appeared.

I'd seen Saintbury in 1966 or '67, when I'd cycled over there from Ebrington. By some chance the door to the belfry was unlocked and I made my way up. There were twigs over the stone staircase up to the first room, which had twigs over the floor. Then it was up a creaky ladder to the belfry. What a sight it was. Five of the six bells were literally encased in twigs, up to the crowns. The other bell had a little room to swing, which must have been the one used as the service bell. Everything was derelict. I remember at least one of the stays still having the bark on it. How long the birds had been able to pile up the twigs I don't know, but it wasn't a few years. It was many, many years. What a fire risk. However could a little village get this lot ringable? Definitely no hope.

Tony Brazier somehow obtained permission to clear out the belfry and carry out a test ring. Clint was one of the volunteers, as was Malcolm Stewart. (Neither Clint nor Malcolm can remember when this occurred, but I think the Guild had just been reformed: so mid 1970s.) Clint tells me the work was a case of chucking as much as possible into a sack, and then heaving the contents out over the side of the tower. The dust was terrible. Tony wore a straw hat to stop debris falling on his head (see photo). This was an epic undertaking. Perhaps I was lucky in living elsewhere at the time, otherwise I'm sure I'd have been roped in.

When the belfry was sufficiently clear to swing the bells, ropes were attached and a test ring commenced. Apparently everything shook around much too badly to consider any chance of the bells becoming ringable. They were left, with every thought that the village had no chance of raising the money required for a complete rehang.

We all know things didn't quite go like that afterwards, as there are now 8 very ringable bells up there - but that's another story. (Would you like to relate that, David H or Robert C?)

Words: CMP
Photos: Clint Evans

Tony Brazier and Malcom Stewart in the room below the belfry (the line across is a crease)

A huge pile of twigs.

Another view, with (probably) Malcolm in the background (Clint taking the shots).