Darren Woodyer

    Past, Present & Future


    THE  PAST


    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 …
    THE PRESENT

    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
    bells.
    THE FUTURE
    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
    replace …
    The future
    The bellhangers have outlined three possible options:
    (1) Rehang and retune the bells, provide new bell fittings and strengthen the
    bellframe.
    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
    frame.
    (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
    more.

    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
    silent village.
    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 gograndsiredoubles@gmail.com
    If you would like to support our fundraising OUr account details are:
    Sort Code - 30-91-91 Account Number 38229860 North Curry Bellringers
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