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The Church Bells

For centuries the bells of Ellesmere have rung out over the town and over the Mere. They have rung - they are rung - for weddings and for funerals, for coronations and for jubilees, to celebrate the joy of Christmas, to welcome in the New Year, and to welcome people to church. We are fortunate in having our ring of bells, and in being able to hear their sound each week, on Sundays and on practice nights, and we are fortunate in having our bellringers, who bring to us each week the wonderful sound of our bells.

Tower Captain:

Contact Number:

Practice Night:

Sunday Ringing:

Mr. Terry Davies

01691 622786

Friday from 7.45 to 9.00 pm

9.45 to 10.15 am

Remarks:

Visitors always welcome (bellringers and non-bellringers). Advisable to ring first to check that there is a practice.

 

We have recently caried out a full restoration of the bells to give St Mary’s a fine octave of bells capable of sounding out over Ellesmere for the next 100 years and more, and to continue the tradition of bell-ringing, part of the heritage of this town for hundreds of years.

News about the Bells and the Bell Project can be found here.

The following document was put together by Mrs. Estelle Parker back in 2002, and is still relevant:

THE BELLS OF THE PARISH CHURCH OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, ELLESMERE

Ding dong! merrily on high and other such examples of onomatopoeia in our carols remind us of the long tradition of bellringing in our churches. From early days we have been celebrated for our bells. In the 10th century those two great monastic bishops, Dunstan and Ethelwold, were noted for their love of bells. The treasure which Ethelwold presented to Peterborough included two silver bells, ten banging bells (very costly) and seven handbells. Dunstan, who was skilled in music, painting, embroidery and metalwork, even made bells.

Our first church here in Ellesmere, built of wood, probably had one hanging bell. The stone church that replaced it in Norman times was given a small octagonal west tower, certainly built to house one or more banging bells. In the late 13th and the 14th centuries the Knights of the Order of St. John, who had become the patrons here, rebuilt and enlarged the church, adorning it inside and out, and crowning all their work with a massive - though not high - tower, strong enough to hold a ring of bells. In the middle of the 15th century the tower was given an upper storey and greatly embellished, by Sir Richard le Strange and his wife Elizabeth (Cobham), and the sound of the bells would ring out through the new bell-openings.

Perhaps the bells of this time were the "two small belles and a gret belle" which were recorded a century later in the time of Edward VI. (And if so, as is likely, these would have been the bells rung out at the time of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.)

In the time of Charles II a new bell was given (1669) and in William III's time (his queen, Mary II, had died of smallpox) another bell was presented (1695). Two new bells were made and hung in 1715. They were made by Abraham Rudhall (II) who was paid in two instalments for making the bells and 'anging' them in 'ye steeple': £31 in the May and £10 15s in the November.

Although that made seven bells in toto very probably there were only four, the earlier bells having been melted down and the bell-metal reused. In 1727, the year in which George II came to the throne, Ellesmere had a ring of six bells, all cast by Abraham Rudhall II of the celebrated Rudhall family of bell-founders in Gloucester. Two of these 1727 bells were recast from the bell-metal of the 1669 and 1695 bells. (Gloucester was good place for a bell foundry: the newly-cast bells - some of which were of course immensely heavy - could be transported straight from the docks in boats up the Severn to Worcester, Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury. The Severn in Shrewsbury was much more navigable then with many boats carrying many goods.) Some of those 1727 bells are still here, rung each week by our bellringers.

The ring of six was soon increased to a ring of eight bells by 1730. In 1768, in the time of George III, four new bells were made, all cast by Thomas Rudhall (fl. 1761 to 1783: see inscriptions below). Joshua Adams was the Vicar here at that time.

It seems that by 1915 the bells were no longer rung but merely chimed for services on Sundays and weekdays. The tower bad been declared unsafe for ringing - yet the tower had been repaired and restored in 1904, so perhaps it was in the last years of the 19th century that the tower was not safe for bellringing. New stocks and wheels were fitted, probably during tower restoration work in 1904, and the reason the bells were no longer rung in 1915 could be that most of the ringers had gone to fight in the Great War (1914 - 1918).

The inscriptions on the bells are as follows (from H.B- Walters' book The Church Bells of Shropshire 1915):

1 WHEN YOU US RING WE'LL SWEETLY SING T R 1768
2 I: WHORWOOD W: 1695 ED: BARKLEY W: 1727
3 RD: HATCHETT W: 1669 PHIL: GRIFFIS W: 1727
4 THOMAS RUDHALL FOUNDER 1768
5 THE REVD: MR: IOSHVA ADAMS VICAR T R 1768
6 T: GOUGH D: MARSH S: BICKLEY E: FURMSTON
CHURCH WARDENS 1768 T R
7 OBSERVE WITH CARE THE HOVR OF PRAYR
IOS: HIGGINSON & RT CLARKE WARDENS 1727
8 THE GIFT OF EDWD KYNASTON OF OATLEY ESQR
RECAST BY THE PARISH 1799
S. IACKSON & THOS HIGGINSON CHURCH WARDENS
I. RUDHALL FECT

In the Ringing Chamber, which is very well looked after, are some interesting plaques. The earliest is a peal board of 1730:

The whole Peal of
Grandsire Triples was
(on the 4th day of Febry 1730
within the Space of 3
Hours & 5 minutes) com
=pleatly rung by the fol-
=lowing Persons.
Ioseph Langford
Thomas FranKs
Iohn Sadler
Thos Kynaston
Willm Gough
Willm Davies
Thos Sadler
Ias Eaton

This was very complicated ringing and a great feat, especially for a small place like Ellesmere.

A plaque of 1850 records a set of old ringing rules:

If
That to Ring you Doe come here
You Must Ring Well With hand
& ear If you Ring with Spur or hat
A gun of Beer is due for That.
And If A Bell you Over Throw.
6 pence is due Before you go.
If to These Laws you doe consent
Come Take a Bell we are content
These Laws are old The (sic) are not new
for Ringers The (sic) Must have There (sic) due
This Board was Reptd
January 2
1850

Note: A gun of beer: a flagon of beer. Ringing was thirsty work. Cf. the old saying:

You are too fond of beer
Say the bells of Ellesmere.

A third plaque commemorates a special peal of Stedman Triples, a very difficult and complicated task:

On Saturday June 20, 1925
A PEAL OF STEDMAN TRIPLES
5,040 Changes, (Sir A.P. Heywoods variation)
Was Rung in this Tower in 3 hrs & 29 mins
at the third attempt by an entirely local band
stationed as follows:-

  Richard Biggs Treble
  George H. Edwards 2
  Arthur Allen 3
  Alick Haynes 4
  Thomas Butler, Senr 5
  William S. Higginson, Junr 6
  Thomas R. Butler, Junr 7
  William Higginson, Senr. Tenor.

Conducted by T.R.Butler, Junr
Revd. W .K. Weston,M.A.,Vicar.
E.G.Davies }
                       Churchwardens
R.A.Sharp  }
E.Kesterton, Capt of Ringers.

Twenty-five years ago the Queen's Silver Jubilee was celebrated by our local bellringers. A special plaque records the following, written within a bell shape on a shield background:

SILVER JUBILEE YEAR 1977
ST.MARY'S CHURCH ELLESMERE
7TH JUNE.

A SPECIAL TOUCH WAS RUNG BETWEEN 4 P.M. & 5 P.M.
BY
LOCAL BELLRINGERS
FRANK JAMES.
TERRY DAVIES.
HELEN HUMPHREYS.
ELIZABETH DAVIES.
JUDY HUTTON.
JACKIE SADLER.

This year, 2002, two national historic occasions have been marked by our local bellringers. One was a tribute paid to the Queen Mother who died at the age of 101. On the day of her funeral, April 9th, Ellesmere bellringers rang one hour of call changes with half muffles. The ringers were: Terry Davies (Tower Captain), Steve Gilbert, Robin Jagoe, Barry Jones, Peter Leigh, Geoffrey Talbot, Rodney Upton and Simon Vernon.

The second national event was on June 4th when the Queen's Golden Jubilee was celebrated here with one hour of call changes and Grandsire Doubles. The ringers on that occasion were:

  Barry Jones 2 (Treble)
  Elizabeth Davies 3
  Peter Leigh 4
  Rodney Upton 5
  Robin Jagoe 6
  Steve Gilbert 7
  Terry Davies (Tower Captain) 8 (Tenor)

For centuries the bells of Ellesmere have rung out over the town and over the Mere. They have rung - they are rung - for weddings and for funerals, for coronations and for jubilees, to celebrate the joy of Christmas, to welcome in the New Year, and to welcome people to church. We are fortunate in having our ring of bells, and in being able to hear their sound each week, on Sundays and on practice nights, and we are fortunate in having our bellringers, who bring to us each week the wonderful sound of our bells.

M. Estelle D. Parker
September, 2002