The bell restoration project
Let the bells ring out
across Huntshaw's woods and fields again!
By Richard Sears – August 2021
Certainly, Huntshaw Woods haven’t heard the bells properly for more than 50 years. Even as a small boy I remember only one bell being rung for a Sunday service – the others being considered as ‘unsafe for use.’ And that was the way it remained till about 10 years ago – when it was felt that even the one bell was unsafe.
A professional survey of the bell frame and bells was done in 2017 which found the three bells in the tower were sinking under their own weight on the medieval oak bell frame. This was because some areas of the frame were decayed with supports fallen away from the trusses, and also the oak beams underneath holding up the frame had settled. The middle bell (from 1665) was found to be cracked.
In January 2019 the Friends Group called in two bell companies to price up the repairs and we accepted John Taylor of Loughborough’s price of 36k. (The other from Nicholson Engineering was cheaper but offered no solution as to how to get the bells down between the oak beams, which Taylor’s bid did). We did consider craning the bells out (or by helicopter!) at the same time as when the new tower roof was to be placed, but the cost of this was prohibitive.
We applied for a faculty to do the work in 2019, but we were asked to do a survey of the underside of the bell chamber where there are 6 oak beams (like tree trunks!) supporting the chamber, as it was expected that some beam ends were rotten and causing differential settlement. Because there was no easy access to do this, we applied for local grants from the Lord Clinton Charitable Trust and Wakefield Trust to pay for an internal access scaffold (£1200) to be erected about 2m down from the beams.
This survey showed 3 round oak beams that were probably original dating from when the tower was built in 1439, had decayed ends, and 3 more modern squarer oak beams. It’s probable after a few hundred years, because of decay in the older beams 3 more were inserted in between, and it’s this that causes the floorboards above to be springy, plus also causes a problem in dropping the bells down for repair, as the gap between them is too close.
The faculty was granted in Jan 2021, and it allows us to temporarily move 2 of the oak beams aside to let the bells pass down to the belfry floor. In olden days if a bell was cracked or broken it was melted down and recast, but nowadays modern technology allows us to weld cracks in bronze. There are only two places in Europe able to do this, one in Suffolk (which is where Taylors will send it), and the other one is in Amsterdam.
Although Taylor’s price is £36k, we can reduce this to 30k if we provide volunteer help for the bell hanger with lifting, carrying, and making tea etc., (probably needs a rota of 2 or 3 people over the 3 or 4 days to remove, and 2 or 3 days to rehang a month later – all offers of help will be gratefully received!)
Once the faculty was given in January, we started applying for grants to raise the money. Most Trusts expect the applicant to also fundraise themselves, and some will only consider granting money when you’ve reached the 50% mark. So far, we’ve applied to 13 charities and trusts. Two have said no, and two we are awaiting the outcome and we have three more we intend applying to, the biggest of which will be the Heritage Lottery Fund, although at the moment they are focusing mainly on Covid and helping charities starved of money because of the pandemic.
But the good news so far, is that we have received, or had promised nearly 14.5k from the following: -
The Sharpe Bell Trust …………………………………..…………..£350
The Elmgrant Trust (Prev Dartington Trust) ………………£500
The Wakefield Trust (S Devon) ………………………..………£1000
Another Trust in Devon requesting to be ‘Anon’ …..…£1000
Allchurches Trust ………………………………..…………………..£2000
Garfield Weston Trust………………………..…………………….£5000
As mentioned above we are still hopeful of getting more grants but now Covid is passed (? – we hope!) we need also to be seen to do some fundraising and to that end the Friends Group are planning some events over the next few months. On 6/7th August we had the church open for the launch of some exhibitions including one on the bells. There was a service on the Sunday. We are hopeful in Sept/Oct to have a talk on bells and a mini handbell concert.
Another idea is to have a souvenir pamphlet printed with progress photos of the bell’s removal and repairs etc. but sponsored by people at £10 a copy when printed, with a list of names/addresses at the back of sponsors.
As for timescale this now depends on funds raised, Taylor’s are penciled in for this Winter so depending on how this goes sometime in the Spring is likely. And, thinking to the future, when done the treble bell will have a traditional wheel and rope on it to chime for services and events, and all three will have electronic hammers………..which means all can be rung for events weddings and services etc., and it will give the facility for one of the bells to chime the hours……….! Now I can imagine the sound of bells faintly wafting over to Guscott in the wind might be quite enchanting, but maybe not so for villagers close at hand and at midnight!!! So, what do the villagers think – from 8am to 8pm might be nice? Plenty of time to think on that one! (Being electronic they can be switched ‘on,’ or ‘off,’ permanently anyway!
A photo of the bell chamber in its current state – showing the bells, their headstocks and wheels all in very poor condition, and the medieval curved stays reinforced with metal because of woodworm. The oldest bell is the tenor weighing nearly half a ton and dates from
about 1505. It was cast in Bristol by Thomas Gefferies with Latin text on the side in Old English lettering and reads “Sancta Anna, ora pro nobis” (St Anne, pray for us). The treble and No 2 bell were recast from the originals in 1634 & 1665 and have the initials of church
wardens & Rector on them.
A photo showing the beams in situ
Above – The temporary access put in for a day to allow internal access platform to go through the hatch above.
Above – The bells will be dropped down through the hatch by the font and taken out of the tower door
One of the bells in all its glory! And spattered with bird mess