A history of the project to restore the bells at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Broadwell
We restored and augmented the peal of five bells to become a peal of eight over a three-year period from 2018.
This page tells the history and recounts how it was achieved:
The church was built in the late 12th Century and extended in the mid 13th Century when the spire was added. Broadwell was, in mediaeval times, a significant parish, taking in Filkins, Kelmscott and Holwell, and the scale of its church reflects this. Now, however, the parish is much smaller, with a population of around 80 in the village itself.
The church is a beautiful Grade 1 listed building. It had a historic (listed) set of five bells, the earliest (the 2nd ) dating from 1350. These were re-hung in 1900 by Henry Bond of Burford to a poor design, and were located too high in the church tower – perhaps 70 feet above the ground. Oral history relates that the tower and its spire shook so badly when the bells were rung full-circle, that no-one dared to ring them after 1920. Over the years the peal fell into total disrepair. The steel bell-frame corroded badly, causing significant damage to the tower masonry. The nuts and bolts that secure the frame were starting to shear apart. Inaction was no longer an option, and the 2014 Quinquennial Review recommended urgent action . Fortunately the local landowner, the late Roger Goodenough, who had looked after the church meticulously for 50 years, had left a sizable sum of money in trust for restoration of the bells, supplemented by other generous donations from individuals and trusts, including the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers. We were ready to start the restoration process in 2018.
Tony Crabtree, a leading figure in the Oxford Diocesan Guild, guided us masterfully through the entire process. Following the advice provided by a structural engineer, we opted to hang a peal of six bells in a new frame constructed much lower in the tower, leaving open the possibility of extending the peal to eight bells at a later date. We secured a faculty (or permission) from the Diocese of Oxford to do the work. We secured quotes from three leading bell-hanging companies, awarding the contract to Andrew Nicholson engineering. At this stage we decided to ‘retire’ the oldest bell, which was poorly tuned with the others (and too historic to risk retuning), and to commission the casting of two new bells - the treble and the fifth - from the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry in the Netherlands, giving us six serviceable bells. Then, through Tony Crabtree’s good offices, the Keltek Trust unexpectly offered us two more bells – assigned to serve as second and third bells – which had been salvaged from St Michael’s Church in Camberley – an offer we couldn’t refuse. Thus we found ourselves installing a peal of eight bells.
There was a great deal of preliminary work – clearing many years of jackdaw nests and bird mess from the belfry, shifting pews, disconnecting clock weights and opening up the trap door in the floor of the clock room to provide access for an electric hoist.
Nicholson Engineering, supported by a team of local volunteers and members of the Diocesan Guild, lowered the bells in July 2019. This was something of an adventure – a potentially perilous one, except for the expert guidance of Ian Hasman, one of Nicholsons’ lead engineers. The tenor weighed 15cwt, and manhandling this out of its old bell-frame, across the belfry and lowering it down the entire height of the tower was no mean feat. Getting it through the church door was even more of a challenge, as the base of the bell was wider than the door. In easing it through the opening, we realised that the ancient scoring of the stone doorpillar precisely aligned with the edge of the tilted bell when we pushed it though the door. We can’t say whether the damage to the door pillar was made when it was first brought into the church in the sixteenth century, or when the bells were rehung in 1900.
The five original bells, the two donated bells and the two newly cast ones, all travelled to Nicholsons’ workshop in Bridport where they were retuned and assembled in the newly constructed bell frame.
Set-backs and construction
We eagerly awaited rehanging the bells in late 2019. The first set-back was the discovery that three of our four old bells had cracks in them, that needed repair by specialist welders. We needed to get new permissions from the Oxford Diocese for the repair work to be done. By the time the permissions had arrived, COVID 19 had struck, and Nicholson Engineering were in lockdown, with
their staff furloughed, and all churches were closed. Thereafter, key members of their team caught COVID and were badly affected. Their entire schedule of works for the year was seriously disrupted and we deferred rehanging to late 2020 when the second spike of COVID compounded further delays. In the final stages of assembling the old and new bells there were further delays caused by problems with a highly specialised piece of equipment for drilling headstocks. In short, we can provide overwhelming evidence that Sod’s Law applies fully to bell restoration!
Very many people contributed to the success of this project. Tony Crabtree anchored our work magnificently. His colleagues from the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Bell Ringers gave a huge amount of time to the work: Caroline Ball, David Nixon, Andrew Goldthorpe, Amanda Jefferies, Jennifer Rooke, Steve Vickars, Rob Walton, Anthony Williamson and Nicola Roberts. The local team from Broadwell and Kencot included: Simon Blackwell, Hamish Coull, David Goodenough, Nick Goodenough, Mike Hough, Pete Meyer, Annabel Molyneaux, Paul Molyneaux, Tina Palmer, Sean Pertwee and Simon White.
Andrew Nicholson, Ian Hasman and others at Nicholson Engineering did a brilliant job with good nature, and were a pleasure to deal with throughout the – sometimes bumpy – three-year process.
And we would like to thank Margot Hodson for blessing the bells.