Bell repair transforms St Peter's Church

CHURCHES

Allchurches Trust’s funding towards the restoration of St Peter’s bells has helped this rural church in Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire, begin a new chapter in the parish. 

The project has brought the community together, with more than 20 volunteers, aged 20 to 70, providing more than 1600 hours of volunteer labour to undertake the heavy and complex work alongside professionals. It is something many of the locals say will make them feel proud and privileged for years to come.  

Paul Playford, Grants Officer at Allchurches Trust, said: “There are many ways that churches are building new relationships with communities and making their churches lively and exciting places to be, not just for worship but for all sorts of things. Rather than just restoring the tower bells, St Peter’s has really made the most of the opportunity and is welcoming many new people into the church as a result.”

A bell being pushed up to St Peter's church in Newnham
A bell being pushed up to St Peter's church in Newnham

Bishop Robert rededicated the bells on 7 July 2019 and, in the months since, the church’s bell ringing activities have grown from strength to strength. Two months later, with some help from a few visiting ringers, St Peter’s rang its first quarter peal, followed a few weeks later by bells ringing the first Sunday Service in 25 years, and then a funeral and a wedding. 

Two recent open days attracted 60 visitors to explore the bell tower and refurbishments, with six people signing up for bell ringing lessons and three experienced ringers joining the team. Local girl guides and the primary school have begun learning about bell ringing and its history and role, through research, visits and bell ringing lessons. There is now a weekly after-school Bells Club for young people and children.

St Peter’s bells do a lot more than just ring out across the fields; the church has always been known for its carillon, which plays tunes every three hours by activating hammers on the side of the bells. There is also a tower clock which strikes hourly and has a Westminster chime. And, for those bellringing experts, an additional Ellacombe chime apparatus allows tunes to be played by ringers, using an additional eight hammers controlled by ropes from the church below. 

The project took three years of fundraising and another 15 months to complete, which includes complete refurbishment of the old bells and iron frames; replacement of three bells with new ones; and the addition of a raised ringing floor in the tower with a beautiful ash and glass spiral staircase, access, and balcony, at the back of the nave.

There are computer controls and a live-video streaming system, plus a ‘practice pad’ system that allows the bells to be rung for lessons or practice without disturbing the neighbours. Interpretation resources are in development, including a history of the bells’ previous refurbishments in 1603 and the 1800s and how they contrast to the current works. Teacher-training has been provided to all those who will be involved in teaching others to ring and a steeple-keeper has been appointed to provide regular and ongoing maintenance and safety.

Alan Curtis, St Peter’s churchwarden in 2014, who helped kickstart the project said: “What an exciting and emotional moment it was to see the bells back in Newnham church. Records show that the bells were rung regularly in the early 1900s, fell silent during the Second World War, then rung less frequently until the 1970s. They were patched up in 1982 …. And now, within a relatively short space of time, they will ring out once more across the fields and forest to call people to worship.” 

(Quotation as printed by Mark Elson, Editor, in The Forest Review, 29.04.2019)