BELL RESTORATION PROJECTS 1992/93

This is intended to be a round-up of the restoration and repair work carried out in the Guild's towers during 1992 and 1993. It includes brief details of all the work I have heard of, but I am sure that there may be other towers where work has been undertaken, particularly when the work has been carried out by the local ringers. Let me therefore apologise in advance for any great works I have omitted!

Going back to 1992, at St Mary, Longstock, maintenance work to the frame was undertaken, including treatment of the woodwork and painting of ironwork. Clappers were rebushed and some bearings and gudgeons replaced at St Peter, Petersfield in July of that year, improving the "go" of the bells. The five bells at St Andrew, Nether Wallop had been completely overhauled several years ago, providing the impetus to revive a struggling local band; such was the enthusiasm that in 1992 they were augmented to six. A smaller job was carried out at Sacred Heart, Bournemouth, where the clappers were rebushed. At All Saints, Basingstoke, vital weather-proofing to the tower was undertaken to prevent the elements damaging the structure and fittings.

Perhaps the most publicised project our Guild saw in 1992 was the augmentation of the twelve at Winchester Cathedral to fourteen, providing the only such ring in the world. The old 8-bell frame was lifted and repairs and strengthening to the floor and supporting timbers carried out. This frame was then put back, together with the cast iron frame for the flat 6th (now the flat 8th!). A new timber frame was then installed for the front seven bells, with new fixtures and fittings for the three new bells (including new wrought iron clappers - possibly the first to be manufactured in this country for 20 years). The result is a diatonic 14 with a choice of three rings often, thanks to the provision of the semitone bells (there is a sharp 4th as well as the flat 8th).

1993 was a good year for the Isle of Wight, with important work completed in July at All Saints, Freshwater, where the sea air seems to have been responsible for corrosion in the supporting beams under the bellframe. These beams were replaced with new zinc coated ones by a local builder, with the help of some of the local ringers. There was major restoration of the stonework of the tower at St Mary, Carisbrooke, which had been getting into a dangerous condition which would have led to the cessation of ringing, had the work (which was completed in June) not been done.

Several jobs were completed in November 1993. At St Nicolas, North Stoneham, supporting beams under the frame were replaced, along with some frame timbers which were found to be rotten. At the same time the opportunity was taken to install a new bell-chamber floor. At St Mary, Twyford, the gudgeons and bearings on the 3rd and 4th were replaced, making these bells rather less challenging, and a new slider for the 5th provided. The clappers were overhauled and new pulleys installed. At Rotherwick Parish Church (if anyone knows the dedication please tell the Hon. Gen. Sec.!) there was a complete overhaul of the installation. Steel supporting girders were installed and the timber frame treated. The bells were removed, the cast-in crown staples removed, and the cracked 2nd was welded. The ring was then retuned and rehung on new headstocks and bearings.

That completes the summary of the work done in the Guild area during 1992/93. Now for a look forward to projects which are either under way or will soon be so.

St Mary, Bishopstoke will be known to many for its distinctive, one might almost say unique, ring of bells. There is a major effort underway there to replace them with a new ring often in a new frame, and this is likely to take place this year. The other new ring that is in the offing is a new eight of about 21 cwt at "The Town Church", St Peter Port, Guernsey. These will replace a ring by a French founder which have not been rung for many years, and will be hung in a new Iroko frame supported by a concrete ring beam to be installed in the tower. The work may be completed this year, but the dedication of the bells is planned for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation from German Occupation, in May 1995.

At St Mary, Froyle, it is hoped to rehang the six bells with new fixtures and fittings in the existing frame, during 1994 if possible. Remedial work to the stonework of the tower is to be carried out at All Saints, Catherington, to prevent further damage which could halt ringing. Finally, a major project at St Stephen, Sparsholt, is planned which will see the removal of the five bells, which will be retuned, augmented to six, and rehung with a new frame, fixtures and fittings. This work is subject to satisfactory reports from the various Diocesan and other authorities concerned.

All of the works mentioned above, with the exception of that at Longstock, were or will be supported by grants made from the Guild's Bell Restoration Fund. Therefore, on behalf of both the Trustees and the Parishes who have received grants, may I thank those who have supported the fund, and encourage everyone who cares about the condition of the rings of bells we use to support the Fund in the future. It is good to see that a high proportion of the jobs done are of a "stitch in time" nature, preventing more major works (and therefore bills!) being necessary in the future. The Guild needs to be able to continue to support and encourage such projects, and nothing boosts morale like the promise of a substantial grant when the work is done.

Mark Esbester