‘…and 5 makes 13’: new bells at St Mary’s

‘Britain newest ring of 12’ was a quote on Taylor’s website – wow this is us, we’ve done it.

This article originally appeared in ‘Ringing World‘ Issue 5816, 14 October 2022, pp.972-3. A total of £194,505 was raised for this project to provide new bells for St Mary’s.

Our journey started way back in 2012 when at an officer meeting in a local pub – where else do these idea’s come from? – it was decided to inquire if it was feasible to augment our bells to make a lighter peal.  The reasons for this was either we were getting older or our bells are getting heavier, and we were attracting a more mature age group of mainly newly retired looking for a new hobby.  To do this we approached 5 bell hangers and asked the question could we augment our bells and keep them all on one level?

Fast forward four years to the launch party in the Church.  A jazz band played, canapés and wine served and speeches made at what turned out to be a grand evening with support from a good cross section of Bridgwater’s community.  The faculty was subsequently obtained in relatively quick time after consent from the PCC.  Funds eventually started trickling in with several people from near and far sponsoring a bell, along with generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits, the Bath and Wells Association, the Central Council, 2 local authorities and numerous individual small donations gave us the incentive to begin.  Our fundraising activities saw us becoming expert tea makers and dishwashers, cake makers providing refreshments at Vintage Fayres and Jazz Evenings under the directions of the late Jane Cooke, speech makers for local groups and tour guides for the tower tours under the directions of Gina Scarbro.

With a few hiccups along the way after many discussions and expert opinions were sought from those in the know in September 2019 we placed the order with Taylor’s of Loughborough to remove and remodel the frame, cast five new bells, refit all and install sound control. 

3rd October 2019, the first and third new bells being cast at Taylor’s bell foundry.

We also wanted the project to be carbon neutral so we decided to plant 13 oak saplings, one for each bell, this we achieved with the help of the children from St Mary’s School Bridgwater who had a great time down on the farm by riding in a trailer to get to the field.  A further 14th commemorative sapling was planted in the churchyard by the tower captain, the vicar and a member of the congregation.  It is hoped that all these trees combined will throughout their lifetime sequester back into the ground all the carbon produced during the casting of 5 new bells.

21st November 2019.  Tree planting.

Mid December saw the arrival of bellhanger Andrew C Ogden to remove all our bells and H frames then in just 2 weeks everything except the foundation beams were out and sent to Loughborough.  This was the first major work since the wood frame was replaced with steel in 1899 and it was a strange sight to see an empty belfry. 

The empty belfry

Block work to the window openings for the sound control and wall pockets for the new frame began in March 2020 with Andrew returning 2 weeks later just one day before the country was plunged into lock down because of Covid 19.  After many weeks at home during the lovely spring weather we were eventually back in the tower to prepare for the return of our bell frame and 13 bells to complete our project.

 5th March 2020 – the complete set of new bells.
June 2020, ready for instillation.
The new frames.

What a lovely experience it was from having an empty belfry to a room full of shining bells, freshly painted castings, newly stained woodwork and a galvanised frame.  The installation took roughly 10 weeks and our volunteers felt privileged to be part of this historic project by helping Andrew who with a smile told us that he wanted ‘enthusiasm not initiative’ which we did our best to comply with.  

The new bell frame
8th July 2020.  The wheels and fittings are hauled up to the belfry.

The sound control triple glazed windows and control system was installed in December 2020.  The next job was refitting of the chiming clock hammers and cranks because the bells returned to a different position from where they left.  In addition to this our budget extended to complete replacement of all the whole tower lighting for the latest LED fittings to reduce the church’s energy consumption.  The final job was to replace the carpet in the ringing chamber and tower room below.  The project has been recorded in high quality photographs provided by the Bridgwater Photographic Society who with some breaks imposed by Covid restrictions have been there with us to witness the important stages of the augmentation.  We intend to nominate a selection of photos to be printed in high quality resolution, bound in a portfolio and presented to the church as a historic memento of the works.

On a lovely Sunday in June 2022 our bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Taunton, Rt Revd Ruth Worsely, who surprised us all by coming up into the ringing chamber to meet us and have a go on a tail end.  This came at the end of a three day flower festival to mark the end of the project.

I would like to thank Simon Adams and Taylor’s for all their work in completing what is now a fine peal of 13 bells. Also I’m grateful to the volunteers who helped with the removal of the bells, to those who made cakes and helped with the refreshments and a special thanks go to Richard Lee and John Hallet who stepped up to help with the return of the bells when many helpers had to step back due to the Covid restrictions.

More details on the individual bells can be read here.

Margaret Lee

Tower Captain. St Mary’s Bells