There are three bell towers within our Benefice; the newly restored bells of Westbury along with the bells of Blaisdon and Minsterworth can be heard regularly, loud and clear!
The style of bell ringing that we practice today dates from the 17th century. Church bells are primarily rung to call people to church for worship or other important events, but because ringers find it enjoyable there is also some recreational ringing. There are around 40,000 bell ringers in the UK ranging in age from 9 to 90! Ringing is no longer the male preserve, but is now equally enjoyed by women of all ages. Skills vary from absolute novices to the more experienced recreational ringers. It is essential to continue to recruit and train new ringers if it is to remain a living art. Many people ring as a contribution to community life. Ringers do not need to be strong or musical; however, a degree of commitment is required to acquire this skill.
THE BELLS & TOWER OF ST PETER’S CHURCH - MINSTERWORTH
The old medieval tower was oblong and surmounted by a spire. In 1702 the spire was struck by lightning and there followed an extensive fire that caused the bells to melt down. On 17th June the following year, at the Archdeacon’s visitation, the church wardens reported that the steeple was to be repaired. Hence, a new peal of bells cast by Gloucester founder John Rudhall was given by Sir Charles Barrow, Bart of Highgrove in 1788.
In 1869 the old medieval church was demolished and the foundations of the new church were laid. The bells were re hung in the North West tower, which was square; in the bell frame intended for the old oblong tower and because of this it was impossible to ring the bells correctly, in the new square tower. It was therefore replaced by a new square frame in 1880.
In 1903 the bells were recast by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, this was a gift from the Viner Ellis Family, along with a new bell frame and fittings. There are six bells, all with various inscriptions and weights, details of which can be found in the vestry. The bells are rung from the first floor ringing room.
In the tower itself a board records a peal rung on Tuesday 21st June 1887, another is situated in the church and records a peal dated Saturday 12th August 1989.
THE BELLS & TOWER OF ST MICHAEL – BLAISDON
The church of St Michael was rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, in 1867. The original tower dates to 1294, it comprises of three stages with battlements and stone chutes. The tower is capped by a low tiled pyramid.
In 1680 there were four bells, these were recast in 1732 by Abraham Rudhall. A further bell was added around that time and one of the five bells was recast by John Rudhall in 1829. In 1912, a sixth bell was added and the other five bells were recast by Mears & Stainbank (now Whitechapel) along with other tower repairs, all funded by Mrs MacIver.
The ground floor ringing chamber is accessed through the south porch of the church. Plaques are hung on the tower walls recording peals rung in 1983, 1994 and 2004. Information of bell weights and inscriptions are also recorded in the tower. The tower door was renewed in 2009, - dedicated in loving memory of Cedric and Dinah Etherington.
THE BELLS AND TOWER OF ST MARY, ST PETER AND ST PAUL'S CHURCH, WESTBURY ON SEVERN.
The bells are housed in the 13th century stone tower, thought to have been built about 1270 or 1290 as a garrison to help defend the area from Welsh raiders. The tall 160ft (49m) broach spire was added during the 14th century, with an oak frame, weathered by 35,000 copper-nailed cedar shingles.
On the ground floor walls are various boards recording past landmark peals, including one 'Grandsire Doubles' with 5,040 variations taking 3 hours 10 minutes to complete. This reflects both the weight of the bells, and the difficulty in maintaining any faster pace on worn plain bearings (2014 note- some are in storage pending planned re-decoration). The clock weight cupboard carries dated hand-pencilled records of many local families who rang for New Year's Eve, and includes many Gibsons through the ages and other strong ringing families. From the inside north-west corner, a stone spiral stairway passes the clock chamber, climbing to the top of the tower where the cross-stitching of the spire's oak frame beams begin. Wooden ladders disappear aloft to the external doors, only ever tackled by steeplejacks.
Steel beams in the clock chamber support and tie-in the weight of the bell frame above. Wooden steps give access to the bell chamber, well lit with mullioned windows and plastered and painted walls. The oil-stained oak frame houses the six bells, in ascending clockwise order from the treble, nearest to the steps. All have new wheels; modern sealed bearings (one roller, the rest ball); sliders; stays; ropes and sallies; replaced in 2012.
The top level of the tower houses a grand-sounding peal of six bells. Originally all were cast by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester, two have had to be recast. They bear the following inscriptions:-
Treble Let us ring for peace merrily. A.R. 1711.
Second Prosperity to all our benefactors. A.R. 1711
Third Mears & Stainbank, Founders London.
These bells restored to the Glory of God and in loving memory of William & Charlotte Crawley and Catherine their daughter. Below Him lowly fall.
(Recast because cracked in 1888, before recasting it bore the record:- Abra Rudhall cast us all 1711)
Fourth Peace and good neighbourhood. A.R. 1711
Fifth Glory to God on high. Amen. A.R. 1711
Tenor John Rudhall fecit.
Benjn. Mayo and Josh Bennett, churchwardens, 1825 (presumably recast due to a crack)
They were the heaviest ring of six bells in Gloucestershire. Removed in 2011 with hands-on help by local ringers, by Whites of Appleton, tuned at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, re-furbished by Whites and then re-hung and re-dedicated early in 2012. This work was mostly funded by the Centenary Big Lottery Fund, when local ringers won their televised heat to net £60,000 to add to their own not insubstantial locally supported efforts and grants. The heaviest (the tenor) was originally 21cwt 3qr 14lbs, but this may have included the heavy oak headstock. It is now tuned to Eb and 20-0-7.
Outside the tower, St Mary's chantry once stood where old grave stones have been re-laid, against the east face of the separated tower. St Mary's was demolished in 1862, having spent its later years as a school/reading room. Their roof lines still show above the tower doorway. On the northern side sits the clock made in 1845 by Messrs Wasborough & Co from Bristol, at a cost of 100 guineas. Two scratch sundials can be seen on the south and west walls, one showing the times of the priest’s canonical offices. To the south can also been seen a number of indentations, thought to be from cannon strikes in the Civil War, when a battle involved opposing forces occupying both the church and the tower. Two sets of external spire access doors can be seen near the summit. It was topped by an oak boss and gilded copper weather-cock, made by John Rudge of Ross on Wye in 1794. This information only came to light when the embossed tail blew down in a 2008 storm, and the rest was removed in 2013. It will be completely replaced when the current campaign to re-shingle the spire is finished.