Almondsbury Church bells are hundreds of years old. The bells are regularly maintained by our Steeplekeeper and continue to serve the Church well. But even the most well maintained bells need a major overhaul every hundred years or so, and we are now approaching the time when major work is necessary to ensure the bells can continue to be rung for the next hundres or more years.
We have been advised that this work needs to be carried out by 2020. 2020 is just over 3 years away so it makes sense to start planning the project now, allowing us ample time to consider the options and raise the funds. Projects of this importance are rare, and it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity to preserve the bells for the future. All our bell ringers will have a role to play in the project and we’ll be actively involved at every stage and with every decision.
The bells were last overhauled in 1903. Some minor work was undertaken in 1948 and again in 2005. The work we do now should ensure the bells are good for at least another 100 years, possibly even 200 years.
The main reason we need to undertake the work is that the bells are severely worn where the clapper strikes the bell (the thickness of the wall is reduced by 10% or more). The bells now need to be quarter/eighth turned so that the clapper is made to strike a new area of the bell. This involves removing the bells from the tower and taking them to a bell hanger’s workshop. Related to this, the old crown staples need to be properly removed and holes filled to minimise the chance of the bells cracking.
As part of the restoration we’d look to fit new headstocks and bearings, and it may be necessary to replace some of the wheels that are too small for the size of the bell. The frame is in good condition but the floor may
need replacing. We’ll need to cut a new hole in the ceiling to allow the bells to be removed from the tower.
With the bells away we have the opportunity to carry out other work. For example, we may update sound control on the louvers, update the chiming mechanism, clean the frame and bell chamber, and tidy up the Ellacombe.
We would also like to make the back three bells easier to ring up and chime, especially the tenor. We’ve been investigating the options and discovered that changing the tenor clapper to one with a wooden shaft, and re-profiling the shafts on the 6 and 7, would make a big improvement. This small piece of work could be carried out immediately (Phase 1), leaving the remaining work to be completed once further plans are in place (Phrase 2).
Progress to date
We asked two bell hanging companies to inspect the bells and give us an estimate of costs. We hope to have received both quotations by the end of April, and for them to include advice on options and timescales, and importantly on how to fund the project.
The Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) Bells Advisor has visited to view the installation and discuss informally our plans. Some work will require a Faculty (permission from the DAC to make changes to the Church); other work, for example the Phase 1 work on the clappers, will not. The DAC is responsible for approving the Faculty.
As part of our planning we've visited Gloucester Archive to view architect drawings dating back to the 1800s. We had hoped to find details of the work carried out in 1836, in particular how access to the belfry was achieved. Despite looking through a 100 or so documents we didn’t find any that were useful as far as our project is concerned, but we did learn a lot about the construction of the Church. We now plan to visit Bristol Archives to see if they have any documents that might shed light on the history of the bells and the tower.
Finally, we asked our Rural Branch’s Management Committee Rep. to formally notify the G&B Management Committee of our plans at their recent meeting.
There’s a ‘hundred-and-one’ different tasks to undertake, all interesting in their own right. Finding the funds is likely to take a reasonable amount of our time. We’ve made a small start on this by asking the Church if we can draw on our Belfry Fund. We’re hoping that this will cover the cost of Phase 1 (the clappers) and kick-start the main fund-raising activity.
As soon as we receive the quotations we’ll be in a good position to consider what work we undertake, and we can discuss our plans with the Church architect. We'll then decide whether to proceed with the Phase 1 work immediately. We'll need to produce a Statement of Needs. This is a formal description of work we want to do, and once prepared we can formally approach the DAC (Bells). We will also include a Statement of Significance.
Once we have all the above in place we can start raising the funds.
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