God was moving mysteriously when the weather vane and ornamental iron-work on the Holy Trinity bell cote were ripped off by high winds on 24 March 1986 – at an ultimate cost of £30,000. Mysteriously, because this was the best thing that could have happened. As the scaffolding went up for work on the stonework, someone thought to examine the state of the bells and it was found that the timber housing that supported them (known as the headstock) was in a terrible state. The bells could have crashed through the roof at any time.
The church consulted Whites Church Bellhangers in Appleton about this. “Failure to lower the bells or attempts to chime them may well cause the bearing housings to break away from the Turret walls, allowing the bells to fall either through the Church roof or on to someone passing under the West end of the Church,” wrote the proprietor Brian White in his report to Holy Trinity, which emphasised the danger more than once. In capitals and underlined, the report repeats: “BECAUSE OF THE CONDITION OF BOTH THE TURRET AND BELL FITTINGS, ON NO ACCOUNT MUST THE BELLS BE CHIMED.” “Both bells should be lowered from the Turret as a matter of urgency.”
There had been an earlier opportunity to inspect the bells in October 1954 when the Vicar, C. Matthews, reported that “a portion of the Bell-Cote fell, damaging the newly-repaired roof, and compelling us to have the whole Bell-Cote dismantled and rebuilt.” The parish magazine mentions nothing about the bells so they were presumably left in place without inspection. Thirty years later, Brian White’s assessment found that the iron ring within the bell was rusting (which would eventually have caused the bells to crack); and the brass bearings in the headstocks “appear to be about to break away from the turret walls due to the rusting of their retaining straps and the extremely poor condition of the stonework.” The headstocks would not have been pristine back in 1954 because the bells had already been hanging for 90 years and it was providential that they had not broken through the roof earlier. The bells were probably cast at the same time as the church was built, in 1849, and would have been the work of William Taylor’s foundry in St Ebbs.
Our bells sound to the notes of F and C. The left bell is the larger one and tolls the lower note. By bell ringing standards, these are small bells: the tenor bell is one foot, nine and three-eights of an inch, while the smaller treble is one foot, eight and a quarter inches. Bill and Ben, as our verger Adrian Wood affectionately calls them (he should know: he has been ringing them for years), have what is known as a ‘swinging chime’. What that means is that whoever is on the rope while they are being rung causes the clapper to kick against the side of the bell.
Brian White’s report must have made chilling reading. This came on top of the discovery that the decay in the stonework of the turret was serious. In December 1986, Holy Trinity was looking at an estimated minimum of £24,000 to rebuild the turret and cover the fees of the architect (R.J. Hey of 11 Windmill Road). The final cost was more, of course; and on top of that went Brian White’s £1,687 plus Vat, to repair the bells themselves.
Here is an extract of some of the work the bell rehangers carried out, which was typed on 8 November 1988 on an Amstrad: “Drill through the crown of each bell and remove its cast-in wrought iron crown staple. Carefully grind off the canons from the crown of each bell … Create new headstocks and clappers”. And, finally, “Hoist the bells into the turret. …Paint all metal bell fittings with three coats of exterior grade paint and treat the timber insulation pads with insecticide.” How the money was raised is a story in itself. The result, says Brian White, “should last a hundred years”.
The refurbished bells rang again on Sunday 4 June 1989. As Revd Head records, “Three years ago few would have thought any of this possible – and indeed, some thought that the bells would never again be rung in their life-time – but nevertheless by the grace of God they again send out their call to parishioners to come to their Parish Church and Worship the Divine Giver of all Good Things.”
Thank you also to David Knight, who identified the notes; to Adrian Wood, who knows the bells well; to Steve Jones for research into the old parish magazines; to Clare Fairburn, bell ringer at St Andrews, Headington, who put me on to Whites of Appleby; and above all to Brian White (www.whitesbellhangers.co.uk)