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More News From The Bell Project

The bells have gone for re-tuning and refurbishment.

When ringing stopped after the service on Sunday 24 November, the bell ringers went into a fortnight of hectic activity to prepare the bells and the tower for the removal of the bells on 9 December. On the Monday morning an engineer from Smiths of Derby came to stop the clock and remove parts that would be in the way. After that we started the preparation. The ropes, clappers and wheels were removed from the bells. The heavy floor boards under the tenor bell were lowered into the clock chamber, opening up the trap door for the bells to be lowered through. The floor boards were lifted to open the trap door from the Clock Chamber to the Ringing Chamber. The large trap door in the Ringing Chamber was lifted, not without considerable effort involving 5 men and a scaffolding pole, which opened up the drop of about 40 feet into the middle of the church.

We then constructed a safety barrier round the hole and another to guard the hole in the Clock Chamber. From the evidence we found in opening up theses hole it would seem that the bells had not been removed from the tower since the last one was installed in 1799 - any work done on them, and there is evidence that quite a lot of repairs and refurbishment has been done, must have been done in situ, with the trap doors partly opened to allow new wheels, headstocks etc to be hoisted up. All was ready for the removal of the bells.

On Monday 9 December the engineer from Nicholson Engineering, who are carrying out the refurbishment work, arrived with a large van full of ladders, ropes, hoists, pallets and a quantity of boards to protect the church floor. We were joined by 3 more volunteers and the task of taking the heavy chain hoists up the tower started. The workers put in a great deal of effort and by mid morning we were ready to move the first and biggest bell. As the trap doors are not in line the process involve lowering the bell on one chain hoist into the Clock Chamber until it almost reached the floor them attaching an¬other chain hoist and by careful letting down one and taking up the other we could move the bell over the next hole. This had to be repeated in the Ringing Chamber to line up the bell for its descent into the church. It was a spectacular sight with a bell weighing over 1 ton hanging on a single chain in the middle of the church.

When the bell reached the floor it was put onto a pallet and wheeled to the back of the church. This process was repeated 3 more times on Monday and 4 times on Tuesday morning, with the time taken to get the bells from top to bottom speeding up each time. With the bells at ground level we could remove the headstocks, stays and bearings leaving the bare bells sitting on their pallets.

By the end of Tuesday the job was complete and the bells were left in the back of the church. On the Thursday morning we again assembled and wheeled the bells down to the gate by the Red Lion. Remember that the biggest weighs over 1 ton so the method to get down the hill involve one man controlling the trolley and 6 more hanging onto ropes to act as brakes. The lorry arrived, the bells were loaded and were driven away to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London for tuning before they are transferred to Nicholson's works in Dorset for the rest of the refurbishment. It was commented that the last time the bells were outside the Red Lion they would have been on a horse and cart over 200 years ago. We expect them to return before Easter, in the mean time we still have some work - and a lot of cleaning - to do in the tower before they come back.

Peter Leigh
on behalf of the Bell Ringers