Projects to install two completely new rings of bells within the Guild area have been finally completed during 1995. Both were replacements for previous, unsatisfactory, rings. At St Mary’s, Bishopstoke, a lengthy and praiseworthy “ringers-funded” project finally came to fruition in the spring, when the Whitechapel Bellfoundry provided a completely new ring of ten (10 cwts in G) to replace the previous eight of mixed origins and bucolic tone. This being the first completely new ten cast at Whitechapel since the bells of Westminster Abbey in the early 1970s. They were installed in the existing Warner cast-iron low-side 8-bell frame with the addition of two extra lightweight cast steel pits.

Meanwhile on Guernsey an inspired venture to replace the long unringable heavy French eight by Cornille-Havard (Villedieu) in the Town Church at St Peter Port was finally brought to completion in May on the 50th Anniversary of The Liberation when the new 21 cwts. Taylor eight, hung in a new Iroko frame (believed to be the first new timber frame from Taylors in several decades) were dedicated by the Dean of Guernsey. These bells were of course installed late in 1994 and had been in use for training for some months prior to the dedication.

Elsewhere major restoration schemes completed in the year, involved rehanging the six at The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Froyle in the existing eighteenth century frame, (suitably strengthened and supported) with all new fittings (Whitechapel); and the augmentation of the five at St Stephen’s, Sparsholt to six, rehanging the ring in a new low-side cast steel frame mounted on a concrete ring beam capping the masonry section of the tower (Whitechapel). The original mid-eighteenth century five-bell timber frame was removed to store as part of the project - a key conservation requirement of the faculty approval.

Late in December work began to dismantle the 5 bells at St Thomas of Canterbury, Tangley prior to rehanging with all new fittings and augmentation to six by Eayre and Smith. Whites of Appleton have rehung the three bells at Steventon for swing chiming with all new fittings in the original ancient frame and it is understood that restoration of these historic bells (the tenor dates from circa 1380) was funded (topically) by the Jane Austen Society. Her father was rector here in the late eighteenth century and she apparently began writing her novels while she lived in the village. The four at St Mary’s, Breamore were also returned to ringability during the spring following major restoration of the Saxon central tower and belfry. This is a timber framed structure resting on massive and very ancient timber beams and trusses, and represents a superb example of the craftsmanship of the early mediaeval period. It also offers the most “nerve-racking” belfry access undertaken by the Convenor of the BSC during the year!! Other tower structures where remedial attention occurred during the year were St Mary’s, Upton Grey. where internal supporting timbers and floors, and external brickwork were restored, and All Saints, Clanfield, where tower masonry has been receiving attention over a number of months.

Smaller scale works have also been completed at Portsmouth Cathedral where the clappers were refaced and re-bushed and ground pulleys refurbished (Whites of Appleton), and at St John’s Surrey Road, Bournemouth (front six clappers overhauled by Taylors). It is also understood that the fittings of All Saints, Ryde bells have been overhauled by Whitechapel. Another “small-scale” project, saw the fourteen ceramic bells (7 lbs) and their frame(s), installed in the old Braishfield telephone exchange, removed to storage in Kings Somborne during the latter part of the year, as a precaution against the growing threat of vandalism.

Projects to look forward to in the coming months, if funding permits, include proposals to rehang St Mary’s, Kingsclere bells with a new tenor, and also to rehang the six at St Peter’s, St Marybourne. Refurbishment and overhaul is also planned at St Michael and All Angels’, Lyndhurst, where one of the seventh’s gudgeons needs repair. The elderly fittings of the four bells at St Peter’s, Ovington have received some remedial attention from members of the Guild BSC, and can now be rung for limited periods by invited bands for selected services. Further remedial work may be undertaken during 1996 with the agreement of local church authorities, hopefully enabling this minor 4 to be rung safely on a more regular basis.

Phil Watts