Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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St Leonard's Church, Bretforton

Easter Sunday arrived with the sound of bells in Bretforton once more. The short but important refurbishment to the eight bells that commenced in early March had been completed on Maundy Thursday enabling ropes to be refitted and the local ringers to sally forth on Easter morn.

The stumps that existed in each of the back 6 bells: nasty!

The refurbishment in total comprised the fitting of new ball bearings to the existing headstocks (replacing the original plain type bearings fitted to the back six bells in 1909 and, surprisingly, the plain bearings also fitted to the new treble bells in 1949), the removal of the remnants of the old iron clapper staples ("stumps") inside the crown of the back six bells, pulley box and incidental clapper refurbishment and the complete redecoration of the frame and bell fittings. Removal of the clapper staple "stumps" ensures that the bell does not run the risk of cracking should the iron corrode severely and try to expand within the crown of the bell (see photo).

As with all such bell related work there is a need to obtain a faculty. The Worcester Diocesan Advisory Committee's Bells Advisor came to visit in early 2013 following the application submitted by the PCC and the faculty eventually received approval in January this year.

The PCC had agreed to the schedule of work being handled in part by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough and where appropriate by local labour (in this instance entrusted to me as I had some 16 years experience of bell related projects working alongside Arthur (Bill) Berry, the bellhanger, of Malvern). Taylors were to take care of the bearing conversion and stump removal and I would apply the TLC to the frame etc. As things transpired I stripped down the bells, including wheels, and assisted Taylor's bellhanger with the headstock removal, stump removal and rehanging of the eight bells which enabled some worthwhile savings for the church in not having to pay for two bellhangers from Taylors.

Happiness is removal of those stumps: even nastier-looking things!

The project ran quite smoothly with the headstocks being despatched to Loughborough on the afternoon of the second day of Taylor's presence on site and the stumps were all accounted for at the end of the fourth day (see photo).

Then followed a tiring period of relentless elbow grease to clean down the iron and steelwork within the bell chamber of encrusted rust - the frame last having seen a lick of paint in 1949 - together with commencing application of industrial standard primer and gloss paints.

All too soon, after just 4 weeks, Taylors were ready to return to rehang the bells and this was achieved in the four days of Holy Week. Final painting (at a more leisurely pace for me!) is now complete.

Bretforton bells are somewhat unique in that the back six were cast by, or are attributed to, Jasper and Nathaniel Rees Westcott of Bristol in 1823 and are the only known ring of tower bells from them although a number of smaller clock bells exist. Taylors retuned and rehung them in an H frame in 1909 and returned in 1949 to add two trebles hung in lowside A frames above the others.

This latest chapter in the history of the bells has been achieved largely at the resolve of the late tower captain, Graham Hall, who courted the support of the PCC. They in turn provided the funds to achieve a thorough refurbishment of both the bells and the complete installation - there is a noticeable improvement in the ‘go' and handling of the bells.

For me it has been a rewarding project tinged with both sadness and fond memories. A sadness that Graham Hall did not live long enough to see the project come to fruition and have a ring on them.

Roger with the tenor, dated in the inscription March 25 1823.

One special memory is of sitting on the foundation grillage in the middle of the tower at 3pm on the 191st birthday of the tenor bell with snowflakes circling around my face.

Roger Hunt — Tower Captain

(All photos R H Hunt)

(Thank you for this interesting article, Roger. It's not often we get an in-depth account of the heavier aspects of bell maintenance/hanging — particularly the photos of the stumps and the description of their removal. Many old bells still have the roots of the cast-in crown staples in them, the tops of the staples being merely cut off at surface level. As Roger so rightly says, the roots, or the stumps, can lead to bells being cracked in the crown when corrosion of the iron occurs. Bretforton's stumps were particularly untidy. It would be a huge loss if these very rare bells became cracked. Having rung on the refurbished bells, I can confirm they are very much better for this work. Ed)