On the 26th April the Belfry of St Nicholas Church fell silent and empty as the bells were removed, to be replaced in due course. The last bell down was the massive tenor bell [above] which was soon loaded up and whisked away. What happened to it ? I am very grateful to Philip Bedford from Chilham in Kent for taking up the story :
“St Mary’s, Chilham, Kent have been very, very lucky – and I’ll tell you why.
20 odd years ago our tenor bell cracked and we had it repaired with some clever welding. The bell has started cracking again, and although it hadn’t quite got to the stage of sounding like a bucket, we knew that time was getting close, and it would probably happen quite suddenly, so the ringers were making plans either to repair it again or replace it. Brian Butcher, our Diocesan Bell Advisor learnt of a bell of about the same size being taken out of the church at Child Okeford in Dorset, so negotiated a swap with the Keltec Trust (which, as you know, finds good homes for stray or unwanted bells) and Matthew Higby, the bell hanger involved.
And what an amazing co-incidence! Our bell and the Child Okeford bell are virtually identical. In effect they both came out of the same mould even though ours was nearly 100 years older. Lester and Pack who cast our bell in 1790 became Pack and Chapman, who became Chapman and Mears, who became Mears and Stainbank, who cast the Child Okeford bell in 1887 apparently using the same strickle boards to make the moulds – hence the same tone and roughly the same weight. In fact, from a sound point of view, it is a better fit with the other 7 bells than our original tenor, even before the crack.
It is very gratifying that during the first week in May the transfer went so smoothly.
On Sunday all the nuts and bolts holding in the bells number 2, 5 & 8 and their wheels were liberally doused with penetrating oil (2 & 5 needed to be lowered to the ringing chamber to make room for the tenor to be lowered through to ground level).
On Monday they were all freed and unscrewed.
On Tuesday the KCACR Heavy Gang lowered the three bells using a chain hand winch (not easy with a bell and headstock weighing over a ton).
On Wednesday we drove the tenor to Matthew’s workshop in Somerset where he transferred its headstock to the Child Okeford tenor and we drove it home again.
On Thursday the Heavy Gang reversed their process and by the afternoon St Mary’s bells were ringing again.”
This is good news indeed but Philip warns that the bells may fall silent. In Chilham as in Child Okeford the number of ringers is declining and new recruits are always needed. It may be a bit far to go to Chilham to take up a new hobby but I know Bob Crichton in Child Okeford would be happy to hear from you and may be contacted here: Bob Crighton