Four Shires Guild of Bell Ringers

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Tales from a tower near you (1): STUMPED!

Following on from my article on the refurbishment of Bretforton bells some readers may wish for further enlightenment on the subject of cast-in crown staples. Historically they have proved to be a well-engineered method of retaining (or hanging) the clapper in the bell but, having been conceived some two hundred years before stainless steel, their iron construction had one Achilles' heel– they could corrode easily causing material expansion and this was something that a bell, essentially made of an amalgam of copper and tin, could not accommodate, particularly when the staple was cast in creating a tight fit with the surrounding bell metal.

My accompanying photo of a complete staple (probably unused) clearly shows the square shaped 'prismatic' top which when cast in could not fall out or rotate no matter what the bells orientation.

In FSG Newsletter no 140 (April '14) the front cover featured Oddington (St Nicholas), where I assisted Arthur Berry with the bellframe decoration back in 1998/9. The 5-bell installation had been recovered from supposed dereliction and restored in 1973 by a reputable bellfounding company which involved a new frame, an additional treble bell, the recasting of two of the three remaining Rudhall bells of 1684 vintage (due to being cracked) and the retention of the last example of Rudhall's earliest bells (the present fourth in the ring) on a canon retaining headstock. The new frame was not galvanised, hence 25 years later the dire need to repaint.

Sadly upon cursory examination during cleaning down I noticed the 4th bell was cracked across the crown but fortunately due to the combination of current practice of not destroying noteworthy bells and the expertise of Soundweld, the bell was saved. It was welded following the removal of the cast-in stumps of the old staple (an exercise not carried out when the old clappers were replaced and the cast-in staples cut off as had occurred at Bretforton – by the 'other' bellfounding company I might add). Possibly the bell was already starting to crack in 1973 but undoubtedly not removing the stumps at that time together with fitting a headstock which completely exposed the crown of the bell to the elements (whereas a snug-fitting wooden stock offered some shelter from such) accelerated the end result! Fred Sharpe's Church Bells of Gloucestershire gives further history and a good photo of the newly kitted-out 4th bell.

The bell chamber at Oddington is not a cosy place, nor did the church have electricity. We shipped in a generator set for lighting which was chained and padlocked to the tower ladder as it ran during the day and the church door was left wide open to reduce the fumes – there was no objection despite the close proximity of the priceless wall paintings. A full tank would run out by 3.30 in the afternoon giving time for the set to cool and be loaded into my Astra estate car for overnight keeping.

And the other memories here? One afternoon we spotted what appeared to be a bank of fog rolling across the open countryside towards us. A few minutes later the snow was hurtling in the west louvre and exiting by the east louvre! No wonder the elements were unkind to the bells and frame. There was also a small crevice in one of the stone window reveals into which a Goldcrest was nesting (although they more usually nest in fir trees) – along with the Firecrest they are Europe's smallest birds.

'Roger de Flaedenburg'

(It is Roger de F's intention to write a series of these. I look forward to the rest of the series with great interest and anticipation. Ed)