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Latest News From The Bell Project

The bells have been to Whitechapel Bell Foundry and have been tuned. It is reported that they now sound far better than before! With that phase completed, they were transported to Dorset during the first week of February where they are now being fitted with their new headstocks and other accessories.

Despite the terrible weather suffered during February on the south coast, Nicholson Engineering have not been flooded and have continued to run smoothly. The new headstocks and wheels are now being produced and the project is still on schedule. It is planned that the bells will return to Ellesmere on 24 March and the intention remains to re-install them in time to have them ringing by Easter. In the mean time the tower has been cleaned, starting in the bell chamber and working down to the ringing chamber. Countless bags of dust, twigs, and rubbish that have been accumulating for hundreds of years have been removed. Despite clearing the dirt away we have not found any treasure hidden under the floor boards.

By the time the bells return we will have completed the cleaning, whitewashed the clock chamber walls, and repaired the floors in the bell chamber and clock chamber. The bell frame is to be checked and all the braces tightened.

Once the bells are back there will still be work to do - the ringing chamber ceiling, which was not in good condition before we started, will need some work, and the hand rail up the stairs and the shutters in the bell chamber have still to be completed. When the bells are
ringing again it is expected that large numbers of bell ringers will want to "have a go" to find out what difference all this work has made both to their sound and to the ease of ringing them. So you can expect to hear the bells frequently, making up for the recent four months of silence. Furthermore, when the tower is back in a presentable and safe state there will be another Tower open day so that you can come and see what has been done. In the meantime, Alfie Digby and some of the pupils from Lakelands School are raising funds for a trip to Morocco by organising abseiling down the tower. While the bells are away and the trap doors in the tower are accessible it is the ideal, in fact probably the only, time that they can do this. The aim will be to abseil from the ringing chamber into the church - an abseil inside the tower! They will be giving more details nearer to the time. Why not give it a go?

Peter Leigh
on behalf of the Bell Ringers

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

News From The Bell Project

By the time you read this the bells will have fallen silent. Our last ringing session is for the morning service on Sunday 24 November. The following day the clock will be disconnected. We have a considerable amount of preparatory work to do over the next 2 weeks before the bells can be removed from the tower. We will open the holes in the floors in the tower to allow the bells to be lowered - we are sure that the floor boards will come out, but as they have not been moved for over 100 years it may prove a little more difficult than we have planned. We will also remove some of the fittings from the bells so that when the bell-hanger arrives on 9 December they will be ready to be lowered. It is intended that the bells will be out of the tower by Thursday 12 December and will be taken to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London for tuning. After that they will be moved to Dorset where the restoration work will be completed.

The bells will be lowered one at a time, by stages down the tower, the final stage is for them to be lowered from the ringing chamber into the middle of the church crossing, where the nave altar usually stands. The bells dangling in mid air in the middle of the church should be a spectacular sight.
 
While the bells are away, work will be completed on the bell-frame, the shutters in the bell chamber and the hand rail on the stairs.
 
We expect the bells to return and be re-installed by Easter so we should be ringing again in April.
 
In the meantime the bell ringers will continue to practice. Whittington Church have very kindly agreed to let us use their bells on Friday evenings. Whittington has 6 bells and they are considerably lighter than our own bells so this will present a new challenge for our band of learners.
 
 
Peter Leigh
on behalf of the Bell Ringers

A Further Update on the Bell Project

We now have the necessary funding and work has commenced.

We received the faculty from Lichfield Diocese giving us permission to carry out all the work that we had planned.

Our application for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was also successful and they have given us a grant of £40800, about 45% of the overall cost. With £5000 from the Shropshire Association of Church Bell Ringers, almost £15000 raised by our local fund raising, and a reduction in the bill of about £12000 if we provide the volunteer labour to remove the bells from the tower and re-install them at the end of the project, we have almost reached our target. The Friends of St Mary's have generously agreed to meet any shortfall, and we are pleased that we shall we asking them for no more than £15000.

We announced the Heritage Lottery grant to the press at a small reception on the top of the tower on 27 July and received coverage in all the local papers and on Radio Shropshire.

The electrical work in the tower is now completed. We have new lights and heaters in the ringing chamber and emergency lighting on the stairs. We have lights in the bell chamber and clock chamber (so we can now see the dirt that has been lurking in the darker corners for many years!) As a result we have had to do a little cleaning before letting visitors up the tower.

The main bell renovation work is due to start in December. The bells will be removed from the tower during the week starting 9 December. Some preparatory work will have to be done, so the bells (and the clock) will fall silent at the end of November. We hope that the bells will be re-installed by Easter. We have run 2 afternoons of tower tours and almost 200 visitors have learned about the tower, the clock and the bells and have had a chance to enjoy the magnificent view from the top. On both days we were blessed with fine weather and good visibility.

We are running another Tower Tours afternoon on 14 September. We intend to run tours again next year when the bells return and the weather is suitable - watch the magazine for dates.

Again we would like to thank you all for your continued support and interest in the bells.

Peter Leigh
on behalf of the Bell Ringers