Holsworthy Church Bells

We bring you this article, which was written by Ralph Chapman, our Bell Historian, on the occasion of the Millennium and the 50thAnniversary of the Rehanging and Dedication of the Famous Bells.

Fifty years ago, as the people of Holsworthy were gradually emerging from wartime austerity, they celebrated the installation of the new ring of bells and carillon at their parish church of SS. Peter & Paul. The event is now passing into history, and we have no ringers at our tower today who were present then. But I have, over the years, gleaned snippets of information from stalwarts of the time, and it is these accounts, together with earlier documents, which form the basis of this brief history.

PART 1 - THE BELLS

The first record I can trace is from 1553 when there were "iij belles in the towre", and in the Churchwarden's Account Book of 1694, Little, Middle and Great Belles are recorded. The next mention is in the Church Terrier of 1727 which states that there were five Tuneable Bells, this being increased to eight in 1836 by the London bell founders Thomas Mears, all in a wooden frame. Interesting inscriptions were cast onto the face of each bell which I will describe later in the history.

One can well imagine that 111 years later, in 1947, the bells were in need of urgent attention. The old ring was in a sorry state, being on plain bearings and a deteriorating wooden frame, and very difficult to ring. It was therefore decided to seek advice on recasting.

A meeting was convened by the Rector Rev. E. Royle and included churchwardens W.Holmes and F.J. Sluman, Captain of the Tower and Steeplekeeper C. Lyle, fellow bell ringers and members of the Parochial Church Council. I understand from the late Mr Fred Sangwin (an authority on bells) that he was invited to attend the meeting and that he advised the bells be recast with increased weight and a tenor of 15cwt. "I told them if they are going to recast, have a l5cwt tenor and you will have a good peal". How right he was!

After due consideration it was decided to obtain quotes for the dismantling of the existing ring, adding metal, rehanging with a new steel frame and all new fittings and supplying a new carillon. The companies approached were John Taylor of Loughborough, Mears & Steinbank of London and Gillette & Johnson of Croydon. After much consideration the contract was awarded to Gillette & Johnson of Croydon who, being also clock makers, priced the bells contract together with the carillon at £2,200.  (£83,053.69 at today’s prices – Ed.)

A steering committee was formed with the intention of raising the necessary funds, the secretary and treasurer being the late Mr E. Axtell. Fund-raising went apace from 1947-49 with three annual summer fetes in the park, teas in the pavilion and evening whist drives.

Clay pigeon shoots were held and numerous draws took place, the prizes including a briar pipe, Pyrex dish, Rexine shopping bag, fountain pen and many more! The many business donors were also recorded, alas only two of which are trading today; W.D. & N.C. Farmers and Fords of Victoria Square. 

The eagerly awaited dedication day dawned on December 19th, 1949, and what better Christmas present could the town have had? The service was attended by the Bishop of Exeter, Dr R.C. Mortimer, and was conducted by Rev. Royle, assisted by Rev. Kingdom of Bridgrule, Rev. J.L. Jarratt of Thornbury, and Rev. Ravenhill of Sutcombe. I am told the church was full and included many ringers from surrounding towers, all eager to try the new bells and see if they lived up to expectations - how thrilled they must have been!

The bells in their new steel frame

The following inscriptions from the old bells were cast on the new with relevant increased weights and all bells have "Gillette & Johnson Croydon 1949" inscribed around the top band.

BELL

 INSCRIPTION

cwts

qtrs

lbs

Treble

Thomas Mears London Founder 1836

5

-

05

2nd

Thomas Mears London Founder 1836

5

-

05

3rd

Thomas Mears London Founder 1836

5

1

13

4th

Thomas Mears London Founder 1836

5

3

16

5th

Given by the family of the late Thomas 

Meyrick consisting of two sons and four 

daughters 

Thomas Mears London 1836

6

3

15

6th

The expenses incurred by placing a set of 

8 bells in this tower was defrayed by a 

subscription which was raised through the persevering exertions of Francis Thorne and his nephew Francis Honey Thorne. Roger Kingdon Rector and Francis Thorne 

Churchwarden. 

Thomas Mears London 1836     

8

0

0

7th

E.Dono Humphredi P.Davie Baronetti

A.D. MDCCCXXXV1

Thomas Mears London 1836

10

1

½

 

Tenor

The gift of Philip Henry, Earl Stanhope

Thomas Mears London 1836

15

0

0

We are indeed fortunate to have been blessed with one of the finest peals of eight in the Westcountry. The end result was only achieved due to the foresight of the ringers and the hard work and total dedication of the P.C.C. and congregation, so ably led by the Axtell family.

And so we come to the present day. We have a small but happy band of ringers numbering some 12 loyal members. We practise on Wednesday evenings, and although seeking to improve our standard, do not take things too seriously! We ring for the Sunday 10am service and special occasions, including our traditional New Years Eve celebration when we ring out the old year half muffled and ring in the New Year clear.

We are always looking for new ringers, either trained or wishing to learn.

Bellringing is traditionally English and a part of our heritage, but maybe in this modern age not always appreciated for what it is, or indeed for what it was meant. I feel it is our privilege and duty to keep the bells ringing to the glory of God and His creation. Long may it continue!

R.Chapman, Bell Captain  October 1999

In Part 2 there will be a short history of the Holsworthy Carillon