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Update 26th January 2014:
On 26th January 2014 The Right Revd Graham James, The Bishop of Norwich dedicated the new peal of eight bells at St Mary the Virgin, Saxlingham Nethergate.
This marked the end of the first phase of our project which involved the repair and strengthening of the tower and the casting and hanging of eight new bells and the re-hanging of one of the old bells as a clock bell.
It also marks the start of the second phase of our project which consists of bringing together all the documentation of the first phase of the project and creating a permanent exhibition and, most importantly, the commemoration of World War One.
Shortly after our bells were previously restored in 1908 the first peal (Bob Major) by an all local band was rung. This was in October 1910. The eight young men who rang that peal all served our country in The Great War. One, Alfred Funnell, did not return. Alfred Funnell died on the Somme on 4th September 1916.
Our permanent exhibition on the bells project along with an exhibition commemorating all those who have served our country with a focus on those who served in The Great War will open in September 2016 and our new peal of eight will ring the same peal of Bob Major to commemorate all those who served 100 years after Alfred Funnell lost his life.
We would like to thank everyone who has helped us reach this stage of our project and we look forward to working with everyone in the local community on the second stage of our project.
Welcome to the website for The Bells and Tower Project for The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Saxlingham Nethergate.
This page gives a brief outline of the history and current problems with the bells and the tower – please explore the rest of our website, some sections are currently empty so please contact us if you would like to help write for the website or if you have any relevant information you would like to share.
The tradition of bell-ringing began in our village when, in 1455, John Gyles left 13s 4d for the purchase of a great bell for the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Saxlingham Nethergate.
By 1552, when every parish had to complete an Inventory of Church Goods, St. Mary’s had two bells. Records show that by the seventeenth century there were six bells. These were hung in an ancient wooden frame.
In 1899 three of these six were recast and the bells were hung in a new frame. This frame, made by a bell-hanger named Day of Eye, is of wrought iron and of unusual design in that the side frames are X-shaped.
The last renovation of the bells took place in the years 1908 to 1910. Two new treble bells were added to complete the present ring of eight, the second and third bells being hung in new sub-frame placed on top of the existing frame. The driving force behind all of these works was the Rector, the Reverend Richard Warcap Pitt, who paid for the new treble bells. For further details of our bells and their inscriptions please go to the Bell-ringing page.
In the 1970s the clappers were renovated and a new rope guide was installed in the ringing chamber, but apart from this, no work has been done on the bells since the 1908 to 1910 restoration.
The current situation with the bells at St. Mary’s is two-fold.
The bells have become very difficult to ring because the fittings are old. They are hung on plain bearings, which are now very worn, and the pulleys and rope guides are in poor condition.
The bells are tuneless and lacking any sense of character. It was in the early part of the last century that the shape and tuning methods of the ideal bell were first appreciated. In addition, the basic shape and weight of a bell needs to be correct to obtain the best sound. St. Mary’s bells pre-date the development of these methods and they are of such shapes and weights that they will not tune to create perfect sounds.
There are weaknesses in the walls of the tower and the walls require strengthening in order for the bell restoration to be successful and for the bells to be rung in the future.
The Proposed Work:
The bells need rehanging with completely new fittings. The frame is sound but there is some movement of the upper level sub frame. The sub frame requires strengthening and needs to be tied into the walls of the tower. The tower walls are currently weak and will require strengthening – this can be achieved by reinforcing two of the sound openings with additional brickwork. The tower also requires some general repairs: these will ensure the strength of the tower and safety of the bells.
The Whitechapel Foundry has suggested that nothing short of casting new bells will provide a decent sound.
The process of casting bells is described here.
One of our old bells (dated 1616) will be rehung as the clock bell. Two other bells from the 1600s will be conserved as they are of historical interest.
Our initial plan was to recast 5 bells and have 3 new bells made, but after further planning it was decided this was not suitable so a new peal of eight was cast.
Information on the bells and the current problems provided by Tower Captain Dr. Jeff Fox.