Our Church has been a dominant structure from the top of the hill for
hundreds of years: overlooking the levels and being a symbol to people in
many different ways.
Placed gracefully on top of the building is our beautiful octagonal tower,
supporting eight mighty bells which when rung can be heard for many miles.
Records show that there have been bells at this church as far back as 1586,
calling people to church on a Sunday. Likewise letting people rejoice in couples
getting married and saying farewell to loved ones as they depart this earth.
History shows that bells have also been used as warning systems for thousands
of years: in World War II bells were used to warn people of bombing raids and
also rung out when the war ended.
In 1811 our 6 largest bells came to our tower, then in 1894 they were joined by
the 2 lightest bells we have today. Originally rung from the ground floor – in
the space occupied by the nave altar today – in 1833 the bells were moved
higher up in the tower, allowing what was then the bellchamber to become
today’s ringing chamber. Hence instead of a team of eight ringers getting in
the way of the congregation, they are now hidden away up the spiral staircase
accessed from the door at the foot of the tower.
So North Curry’s bells are a very traditional part of the village. Whilst only
certain of us are regular attenders at church services, the bells are heard by all,
and are an essential part not only of the traditional Sunday, but in particular
too of major celebrations such as Christmas and Easter when the church is at
its fullest. Not just that, but the bells are also used for the church clock
chimes, sounding every quarter day and night. We know indeed that they are
part of people’s lives – when following a problem some months ago the chimes
were stopped for a while, there was general unrest around the village ! Whilst
in this day and age we all have instant ways of knowing what the time is, the
distant chimes of the church clock are a reassuring sound echoing in our
subconscious and somehow giving a sense of permanence: something to be
treasured in this fast moving world.
Regularly used over the years, they have stood the test of time well – a tribute
to our forbears who installed, maintained and rang the bells: particularly
considering the lack of modern equipment, power tools and so on, which we
take for granted today. Like everything though, if used enough, things start to
wear out …
We have been very fortunate over the years, and with good maintenance and
a handy team of steeple keepers our bells have sounded out over the village
and surrounding areas for all of those years. But we have now come to a time
where local skills are not enough to keep the bells ringing.
Over the past 6 months articles have been written for the church magazine to
report to the local community some of the problems which have started to
arise with the bell frame, likewise with the bells themselves, and the various
fixtures which connect the bells with the frame: wheels, headstocks, bearings
and so on. The bell ringers felt that it was only right to let the village know that
problems were increasingly appearing.
The actual frame – the all-important structure which supports the bells – is in
itself a piece of pre-Victorian engineering which has performed its task
brilliantly over more than 200 years. A solid oak structure, it has nonetheless
been weakened over time as new bells have been installed and other
modifications made. Cracks in the wood are evident, and the metal struts
which hold parts of it together are increasingly bent. Furthermore, attached to
it is a smaller metal frame which supports three bells: this was installed about
a hundred years ago when new bells were introduced, and is in itself in need of
renewal. Between them, there is growing anxiety about their ability to support
the four tons of metal up there which the bells represent.
What is more, the frame is not embedded in the tower walls as would be the
case with a modern frame: it simply rests on supporting beams above the
ringing chamber. Additionally it is showing increasing movement, evidenced
by the difficulty in ringing certain lighter bells when the heavy bells are ringing
at the same time. All in all, whilst there have of course always been
maintenance issues to resolve, the frequency of such issues has intensified in
recent months to the extent that firstly the demands are getting beyond the
ability of the local team to respond to them; secondly engendering increasing
health and safety concerns.
SO – we have had a visit from Taylors of Loughborough, bellfounders and
bellhangers. They supply and install bells throughout the world and recently
completed the bell restoration at St Mary’s in Taunton. They undertook a
thorough inspection of our bells now and recommended that a new bell frame
be fitted, submitting a quotation for various options, including casting new
Following this, there has now been a detailed survey by structural engineers
which has concluded that action must be taken. This has given us an
independent opinion following the inspection by Taylors, confirming in
particular the movement of the frame during ringing as well as pointing to
further deterioration in the frame itself.
Both inspections have outlined the possibilities of repairing and strengthening
the frame, but leave us in no doubt that this will be a challenging task, and an
expensive item itself. Added to which there are significant numbers of other
items which need attention: namely all the fitments which connect the bells to
the frame and enable the ringing to happen – headstocks, bearings, wheels
and so on. Not forgetting the clappers which are an essential part of the noise
we make – very heavy items which need careful handling, one of which indeed
comes loose on a regular basis at the moment …
The challenge is thus to decide whether to attempt a repair – or whether to
The bellhangers have outlined three possible options:
(1) Rehang and retune the bells, provide new bell fittings and strengthen the
This will involve creating an opening in the ringing chamber ceiling, dismantling
and lowering the bells, and sending to the bellhanger’s works for cleaning and
tuning. New tie bars, brackets, strengthening steels to be fitted to the bell
(2) As above, but additionally providing a new bellframe.
The new frame to be cast iron, with steel girders.
(3) As (2), but additionally recasting the bells.
The bells to be cast in the bellhanger’s own foundry.
The costs involved are estimated to range from around £90,000 for the first
option, £115,000 for the second, and £170,000 for the third. There will be VAT
to be paid additionally, which should be reclaimed subsequently but will need
to be funded.
It can be argued that the first option, whilst the lowest in cost, is the most
expensive in terms of the end result. This is because of the very significant
nature of the work involved to restore an ancient wooden frame. It is worth
noting that a long guarantee on such work might be difficult to obtain.
The second option profits from the advantages of using new materials to install
a modern metal frame, without incurring the labour and materials needed to
repair the old frame. A new metal frame would be securely anchored in the
walls of the tower, unlike the current setup which rests on the belfry floor.
The third option is the ideal package, profiting from the opportunity to update
the bells and “future-proof” the tower for the next 200 years. It will allow the
bells to be reconfigured as a lighter peal of 10 bells as opposed to the current
eight. This will make them easier to ring, particularly for younger ringers at the
learning stage, and benefit from modern fitments with latest technology.
What are we going to do?
Following the surveyor’s report it has been agreed that the bells can keep
being rung, but that more maintenance and close inspections are needed in
order to ensure that everything is safe. In effect this means a belfry inspection
prior to each ringing session. The serious movement in the frame which has
been confirmed, and the cracks in the wood which have been established,
mean we can do nothing less.
So we have had to start cutting back on the ringing, and also how many bells
we can ring at any one time. The tenor bell – that’s the heaviest at just under a
ton – is anyway out of action following an accident with its wheel: which on
examination was found to be suffering from woodworm. Repairing that
cannot be justified at the moment and will await the time we come to replace
all the wheels. The emphasis in the short term will be just to ring the lighter
bells, without incurring the stresses on the frame incurred by the heavier bells.
In effect, the bells and frame have deteriorated much faster than was
expected. As time goes on things will only get worse until we cannot ring any
The photos of some of the bells and the frame illustrate some of the issues
which have arisen. It is all looking very tired, with past repairs on the frame
now slowly failing.
A NEW SOUND FOR NORTH CURRY
In 2020 we will be starting a campaign to raise money to replace what we have
in the tower. A major project for the village and the church, it’s an ideal
opportunity to take the bells out and replace with a new frame, mechanics and
bells. Fund raising events will be announced over the coming year, and
initiatives pursued at local, regional and national level. Charitable status will
be sought for the project and approaches made to appropriate grant giving
bodies. Many towers throughout the country have had success in renewing
their bells – North Curry can do it too …
What can you do ?
We will be keeping the village informed about the initiatives being pursued,
and all those who can support them will help immensely. Large or small, every
contribution will count, whether for example –
- You may be able to sponsor a bell. We will be giving the community an
opportunity to purchase a part of the project.
- It won’t matter if it is a nut and bolt or a new bell, your name will be
placed in a special book detailing your donation, what part this went
towards and any message you would like to record. This will then be
kept in the church archives when the project is finished so that
generations to come can see how you helped.
- We have had commissioned two drawings of the church by a young bell
ringer who has allowed us to make 100 prints of each. Available for
purchase framed or unframed.
SO – please join us in this campaign to restore the bells to their former glory. If
we don’t take action, try to imagine never hearing them again. Not having the
opportunity to celebrate a family member on their wedding day; or saying
goodbye to the person you love. Not hearing the clock strike its hourly tune. A
It’s a huge undertaking, so support in whatever form will be gratefully received
– we need your help to make it happen and so keep alive a village tradition
that has run for hundreds of years. They are the people’s bells. Let’s leave a
legacy that the village can be proud of so that future generations can hear
what we hear today.
Further information: Darren Woodyer, Tower Captain 01823
690162 07718 059071 email
If you would like to support our fundraising OUr account details are:
Sort Code - 30-91-91 Account Number 38229860 North Curry Bellringers