The Bells go for Restoration
Checkley Bell Restoration
You will no doubt have noticed the scaffolding at the back of the nave and the fact that the clock on the tower always shows the time at a quarter to twelve. This is connected with the restoration work that is currently being undertaken on the church bells.
There are six bells in the tower which range in weight from about 3 cwt (150 Kg) up to 13 cwt (660 Kg). The bells had been mounted on a massive oak bell-frame that is thought to date from Elizabethan times – perhaps around 1575. The bells themselves were recast by Rudhalls of Gloucester in 1761.
Over the four and a half centuries since the oak frame was installed it has slowly deteriorated to the point that, unless it was replaced, it would soon become unsafe to ring the bells. The decision was therefore taken to undertake restoration work so that the bells of Checkley church may once again be heard across the village.
The work involves the removal of the bells from the old bell-frame and sending them to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London for renovation and re-tuning. In order for them to be extracted from the tower a small hatchway (which is normally blocked with stone) above the arch at the back of the nave has been opened up so that the bells can be removed and lowered safely down.
The project commenced in November 2015 with the clock being stopped and both the clock and the organ have been sealed to prevent dust affecting the mechanisms. Scaffolding was erected and the bells themselves were removed at the beginning of January 2016.
Although unsuitable to allow the bells to be re-hung, it has been decided to retain the Tudor bell-frame for heritage reasons. Instead, fortunately, there is enough height in the tower, so that when the bells are re-installed in March, they will be able to be mounted on a new steel frame that will be just above the clock mechanism but below the level of the existing oak bell-frame.
If all goes according to plan the bells will be returned by late February or early March and ready to ring out the Easter message to the village for 2016 and for many years to come.
CHECKLEY CHURCH BELLS
Checkley Church PCC would like to thank members of their church community, the wider community, many groups and associations & local & national companies for supporting their Bell Restoration project. The target of £106,000 has now been met when a final £15,000 was recently pledged to the project by JCB.
Phase one of the project was completed in 2005, when work was
carried out to strengthen the tower of the Grade 1 Listed Medieval church, St Mary & All Saints in Checkley. A further £100,000 plus needed to be raised FOR Phase two of the project whereby a new steel frame was to be built in the clock chamber, leaving the original unit, constructed from Elizabethan ships’ timbers, in its present position. The six Rudhall bells cast in 1762 needed to be removed, re-tuned and re-housed in the new steel bell frame.
The work was completed in March 2016 and the bells dedicated in a service conducted by the Bishop of Stafford.
Clive Smith, who acted as our church historian for many years, was a key mover in this project and sadly passed away in July of this year. We were, however, delighted that Clive was able to see the fruits of his work when the project was completed earlier in the year and the bells fittingly rang out proudly at the end of his funeral service in August. We have only recently reached our financial target but thankfully took the decision to proceed in completing the works when we were offered interim financial support while the outstanding funds were raised.
The next step is to encourage more people to train in the art of bell ringing. A very fruitful meeting of present and future bell ringers was held with Phil Gay, a trainer with the North Staffs Bell Ringing Association on Friday 30th September and six people went to St John’s Church, Keele on Monday 17th October for their first few weeks of tuition before graduating to the Checkley bells!