from the St Peter & St Paul magazine
A reminder of what we have lost – and what we shall regain
In mid January the bells of North Curry church rang out again – but only briefly, before being silenced once more.
Adrian Dempster, who is perhaps the pre-eminent surveyor of bell towers in the country, had come to North Curry to prepare the definitive report on the state of the bell frame. This will be the basis of our proposal to the diocese to renew the installation.
Tower captain Darren Woodyer had reinstalled the bell ropes, and all eight bells were rung simultaneously so that Adrian could measure how far the bell frame moves under the force of four tons of swinging metal. Flooring in the bell chamber had been taken up, which allowed him to examine the 200-year-old wooden beams that support the bells, and the 100-year-old cast-iron girders that are meant to support those beams in turn.
There were no unwelcome surprises – that was a relief – and one reason to be cheerful, in that structure of the tower itself appears sound: it has not been damaged yet by the movement in the bell frame.
Otherwise the diagnosis was as before, just more detailed. The frame moves about 5mm in each direction: not a large amount, you may think, but 5mm too much, and certainly enough to harm the frame and the tower over time. The wooden beams have had their day; amongst other problems, death watch beetle has eaten away at them; in January we could see just how bad this damage was. And the cast-iron supporting girders are not actually providing enough support: gaps between the wooden and iron beams have been filled, but not always with load-bearing material.
Careful measurements also confirmed that the tower may be eight-sided, but it is not a perfectly even octagon. This knowledge will be important when the new bell frame is being designed, as the forces from ringing the bells should be distributed across the frame as evenly as possible, to prevent it from twisting. For the same reason, the new frame will either have equal numbers of bells hung north-south and east-west or, more radically, hang them in a circle. (In the present frame, seven of the eight bells hang east-west.)
This will be the seventh survey or commentary in three years – we have already had four from contractors, one from Mann Williams Structural Engineers and one from the Bath & Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers – not to mention contributions from other experts such as the Diocesan Architect and Bells Adviser. We hope there can no longer be any doubt about the scale or nature of the problems.
By the time you are reading this, we shall have received Adrian’s report. The next steps are to review the proposals from potential contractors in the light of the report; to prepare our application to the diocese for a ‘faculty’ (essentially, planning permission); and to start applying for grants.
By that time we should have exceeded the half-way point towards the target of £150,000. All of which is cause to see 2022 as a happy new year for the Appeal of Bells: there is still a way to go, but just look at how far we have come already, thanks to the many friends and supporters in North Curry and beyond!
Our thanks go to the ringers who exercised their skills again in January, including Mike Hansford, the Diocesan Bells Adviser.
Chair, Appeal of Bells