THE SPIRIT OF THANKSGIVING.
To appreciate to the full the place which church bells occupy in the hearts of the English people one has to go to a village bell opening. In a little country parish there are few things which arouse a keener interest than the restoration of the bells which, perhaps, for centuries have been one of the chief means of expressing the public joys and sorrows, and have summoned generation after generation of villagers to join in the Sunday services, or, at least, have served as a reminder of the Day of Rest and its privileges.
Last Saturday, in the bleakness of a November afternoon, and through the first snowstorm of the winter, we made our way to Upton Grey, a tiny Hampshire village of Saxon origin, almost unknown and untouched by the busy world beyond. It is reached only by by-roads, so narrow in places that there is hardly room for two vehicles to pass, and one comes upon it suddenly, nestling round the village pond, and trailing away up the hillside to the ancient church.
Upton Grey had, for the day, at all events, assumed a new importance. Its bells had been restored and augmented, and the Lord Bishop of the Diocese was coming in person to dedicate them. Every man, woman and child from the village who could leave home or the fields or farmyards attended the service, and when we arrived, after being delayed by the storm, the church was full, and the choir, composed of men and boys in clean white surplices and girls in their Sunday best, were assembled at the lych gate for the coming of the procession of clergy from the Vicarage, lower down the hill.
And while we wait we take in the main features of this somewhat remarkable building. There are traces, surely, of Saxon work, portions of the fabric are certainly early Norman. That arch of the tower which divides the nave from the chancel is undoubtedly part of the original building; the chancel itself is nearly as old. There is a north aisle, which, built on the hillside, rises in tiers of pews, and at the west end there is an open gallery perched on pillars. Once upon a time there was (as we learned afterwards) a south aisle but that had to be pulled down because it threatened to collapse. Some day, perhaps, the church may be lighted by electricity, for we had seen the now ubiquitous pylons of the national grid system rearing their heads among the trees near the village, but at present oil lamps and candles have to suffice.
But now the procession is approaching the south door, headed by the crossbearer. As it reaches the porch the choir begin the hymn, ‘We love the place, O God,’ in which the congregation wholeheartedly join. The procession passes under the tower to the chancel, where, the choir having taken their places, the clergy advance beyond the eastern arch and open out to make way for the Bishop, who carries his pastoral staff himself, to enter the sacrarium.
The preliminaries to the dedication ceremony are short: The Lord’s Prayer and versicles, the 150th Psalm, the lesson from Numbers x., 1-10, and the Magnificat. Then the Bishop proceeds to the tower, where, standing beneath the western arch, he receives one of the bell-ropes, and Lord Basing, one of the churchwardens, requests him to dedicate the bells, the new bell frame and the chiming apparatus ‘to the glory and praise of God.’ Then the Bishop, speaks. He recites versicles, while the congregation reverently respond and afterwards join in the Lord’s Prayer. And, having asked God’s blessing on the work, his Lordship solemnly dedicates the bells ‘in the faith of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’
A few blows, struck on one of the bells, signified to all within hearing that the central act of the service had been completed. Prayers followed and afterwards the Bishop addressed the congregation in homely but eloquent phrases, telling them of the original purpose of church towers and bells, of their influence on history, architecture and poetry, and of their lessons and their call. Quickly then the service ends with the hymn, ‘Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,’ a prayer for blessing upon those whose work and gifts had made possible the setting up of the bells, and the Benediction.
The service was over; it was simple; it was impressive; its keynote was one of thanksgiving. As the. procession of choir and clergy leave the church the merry little peal strike out overhead, manned by a team of ringers from Basingstoke, who, after some well-struck rounds, ring with equal precision a couple of six-scores of Grandsire Doubles. Slowly the congregation disperses, but many remain in the churchyard to listen for the first time to the sound of their village bells as a ring of six, and while they listen the setting sun goes down in a blaze of glory, bathing the old. church in its golden light and seeming to shed its benison upon the crowning act of the villagers’ devotion and generosity.
HOW RESTORATION WAS DELAYED.
It is something like five years since the restoration of the bells at Upton Grey was contemplated. Some of them were ancient, and the tenor had come down from the pre-Reformation period. It was cast about 1540, and inscribed, ‘O Sancte Blasi Ora Pro Nobis.’ It is badly cracked in the crown, but on account of its antiquity the Diocesan Advisory Committee would not allow it to be recast. A generous donor was, however, found willing to replace the old with a new bell, but another obstacle to the restoration was raised. An ‘authority’ advised the Diocesan Committee that the decrepit bell frame was also pre-Reformation, and, despite its derelict condition, they refused to allow it to be replaced. Quite rightly the Church authorities declined to spend money on it, and so a deadlock ensued - until it was discovered that the ‘authority’ was wrong and the frame not so old by 200 years as it had been represented to be. Thus were the antiquarians confounded!
The whole peal now hang in a new frame of English oak. Two old bells, the present 4th, also cast about the year 1540, and the 5th, cast in 1631 have been retuned and retained, the third recast, and treble and second added which together with the new tenor, make up a well-balanced and merry peal, with a tenor of 9 cwt. 4 lb. in A.
The celebrations did not end with the service in church. A large number of parishioners, visiting clergy and ringers gathered in the Parish Hall and had tea together, and the Bishop came among the party and chatted to most of them in turn. After tea the Yateley ringers, with Mr. S. J. Riddell as leader, rang a course of Grandsire Triples on handbells and a selection of tunes, which were much appreciated. A party of village boys led the ‘whoopee,’ and filled the hall with long and shrill cheers.
The Vicar (the Rev. Henry Sewell) and parishioners were thanked for their hospitality to the ringers by Major Stilwell (hon. Secretary of the Basingstoke District of the Winchester and Portsmouth Guild), who congratulated them on the consummation of the scheme which had given them such a delightful peal of bells.
The Vicar, in reply, welcomed the ringers and thanked them for coming to ring the bells on that occasion. He hoped they would come often and that soon they would have their own team of ringers in Upton Grey. Until then they would have to use the Ellacombe apparatus that had been installed. The Vicar also thanked all who had helped in the restoration scheme and the many clergy who had come to join in the service that day.
THE BELLS AND TOWER.
Throughout the evening touches in various methods were rung on the bells which delighted all who heard them. Messrs. J. Taylor and Co., of Loughborough, who were represented at the service by Mr. R. H. Dove, have carried out the work in a most admirable manner.
The following are the particulars of the bells:-
Treble.- Note F sharp. Weight: 3 cwt. 0 qr. 27 lb. ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo.’ G. W. H. 1933
No. 2.- E. 3 cwt. 2 qr. 22 lb. ‘In Terra Pax Hominibvs.’ G. W. H. 1933.
No. 3.- D. 4 cwt. 1 qr. 9 lb. Cast 1832 - Recast 1933. Basing - ‘so named in recognition of the work of John Limbrey Robert 3rd Lord Basing and his wife Mary Alice Erle for the restoration of the bells.’
No. 4.- C sharp. 5 cwt. 0 qr. 4 lb. ‘O Sancta Anna Ora Pro Nobis.’ (Date c. 1540.)
No. 5.- B. 6 cwt. 1 qr. 20 lb. ‘Prayes the Lord. 1631.’
Tenor.- A. 9 cwt. 0 qr. 4 lb. ‘Venite Exvltemvs Domino. The gift of Harriette Fanshawe Martin, last surviving member of the family of Admiral Sir W. F. Martin, Bart., G.C.B., Upton Grey House, 1870-1897.’
The central tower of Upton Grey Church was built in two periods. The bottom portion is obviously part of the original building, the upper part, built in brick, was added in the 17th century. The walls are immensely thick and the accommodation in the ringing room - approached by steep external wooden steps - is belied by the outward dimensions of the tower. The ancient tenor, now in honourable retirement, has found a resting place in the ringing chamber, where for many years twelve leather fire buckets lay neglected. They bore the inscription, ‘Upton Grey. J.1762K.’ Two of these have been repaired and cleaned, and will be preserved as interesting relics. The initials ‘J. K.’ are presumed to be those of James King, to whose memory there is a marble slab laid in the aisle of the church.
The Ringing World No. 1184, December 1st, 1933, page 761