The last quarter of 2023 has seen a tremendous amount of work happening in the bell tower of St John’s Church in Hatherleigh.
Wednesday 4th October 2023 saw Hatherleigh residents hear the bells chime for the last time as the Hatherleigh Bellringers met for their final ring before the bells were removed for restoration works.
Not letting the dust settle, on the 8th October, we saw the Hatherleigh Bell Ringers assemble a working party to remove all of the bell clappers, wheels and ropes.
We are fortunate in Hatherleigh to have bellringers with the skills and experience to safely dismantle these fixtures, and greatly reduce the preparation work required before professional bellhangers came to lower the bells.
This was no mean feat, with the team having to work in confined conditions – fighting dust, cobwebs and cluster flies. Perhaps the biggest challenge though, was loosening up stubborn nuts and bolts, some of which have been in place since 1929.
As you can see from the photographs above, areas of the ‘clappers’ have been worn away by repeated striking over time. To help combat this, the bells will be rotated a quarter turn from their original orientation when they are reinstalled, to make sure the future wear to the bell and clappers is evenly distributed.
The last recast of the bells and the installation of the clock were funded by the Churchward sisters of Hatherleigh, in memory of their late brother George Gould Churchward who died on 12th December 1923.
The above photograph shows the bells before they were taken away for recasting by Mears and Stainbank (Whitechapel Foundry).
Dismantling and lowering of the turret clock
With renovation works in the tower in full force, it was necessary to remove the turret clock to protect it from being damaged. Such works create a lot of dust and debris, which could contaminate the delicate inner workings of the clock. The removal of the clock was also necessary in order to allow the bells to be lowered to the ground floor from the belfry above the clock room.
Our JW Benson clock was installed in 1929 and this will be the first time it has been absent since its installation almost 100 years ago.
Westminster chimes have been a feature of everyday life ever since, and many people have remarked that the town has been eerily quiet since the clock was stopped during the initial scaffolding works and commencement of repairs to the masonry of the tower.
Lowering of the bells
The 23rd of October 2023, saw Neil Thomas (bellhanger) of Matthew Higby & Co arrive to start the process of carefully lowering the bells from the belfry to the ground.
All 8 bells were lowered safely to the ground over 2 days, with Neil being joined by his colleague Julian Ferrar on the 24th October to complete the job. Take a look at the photos and videos below showing a little of the process.
Over the 23rd and 24th October, the bells were moved one-by-one to the ground floor of the church, where they were then put on display in the church for curious parishioners to view in person.
They remained there until the 4th November, when they were then safely transported to the workshop of Matthew Higby and Co. in Somerset, for their restoration works to commence. When the bells return in the new year, they will be housed in new steel framing – setting them up well for the next 100 years.
With the bells, fittings and the clock all safely removed, volunteers from the Hatherleigh Bellringers were finally able to dismantle the oak frame which has been holding the bells safely in the tower for over 94 years.
Our thanks from the Hatherleigh Bellringers
Hatherleigh Bellringers undertook the task of fundraising for the restoration of the bells and replacement of the frame separately from the church’s parallel project to repair and restore the tower and re-order the interior.
They would like to extend warmest thanks to those who have generously donated funds to the project.
Major donors include Hatherleigh Moor Management Committee, Central Council of Bellringers, Devon Bell Restoration Fund, The Balsdon Trust, The Sharpe Trust and Hatherleigh Bellringers
Hatherleigh Bellringers have contributed hours of labour preparing the tower for the bellhangers, dismantling fittings and clearing the old frame from the tower.
But without doubt the greatest thanks must go to private donors from near and far who have contributed so generously to the bellringers’ funds. Many donations have arrived with personal memories of weddings and celebrations in the church or in gratitude for the contribution that the bells make to church, town and community.