The Bells of St Gabriel’s

After a 10-year silence, the bells of St Gabriel’s church, Hanley Swan, rang out once more on 25 October 2009, following a complete restoration of the bell frame and its six bells. Together, the bells weigh well over 1 ton and the strain on the frame of regular ringing for 125 years meant that by 1999 the whole construction was in danger of collapsing. At the same time it was found that the fixings for the church clock had perished, so that the 4 ft diameter cast iron clock face was on the point of falling off the building. £24,000 was needed to restore the belfry and £3000 for the clock.

The fund-raising project began in 2002 with a donation in memory of Bernard Spiers, former tower captain of the ringers at St Mary’s and St Gabriel’s. But, despite numerous village quiz nights, coffee mornings and collections points, by 2007 only £9000 had been raised. Then chief fund-raiser John Boardman had the bright idea of finding sponsors by dedicating individual bells to the memory of people who had lived in the village. He started the ball rolling by dedicating the treble bell to his wife June. No. 2 was for the Clarke family, No. 3 for the Dovey family, No. 4 in memory of Jim Kitching, No. 5 in memory of Justin Morton and the tenor bell commemorates the life of Max Peck, who was church treasurer for 30 years.

Topped up by grants from the Worcester Change Ringers Association and Coutts & Co’s bell restoration fund, this allowed the project to go ahead. The first job was to find a specialist church bell restorer and fortuitously in Malvern there is such a firm – Berry & Co. Bill Berry spent 4 months on the project, first installing lifting beams to enable the bells to be lowered and, once restored, lifted back up again. While the bells went off to the bell founders Taylors of Loughborough for 2 months, he strengthened the frame by putting steel brackets into the corners and inserting supporting rods. He remade the bell wheels using traditional woods – elm for the hollow rims or flanges that carry the rope, oak for the spokes and ash for the stays that enable the bells to be balanced mouth-up. New bearings were installed and metal headstocks replaced the old wooden ones.

Originally cast in 1872 by Warners of London, the bells needed to be retuned. Taylors used a vertical lathe to shave off pieces of the bell metal, an alloy of copper and tin, until the right tone was achieved. Each bell can emit any one of 150 different tones, depending on where it is struck, and so had to be checked electronically. Meanwhile the clock face was shot-blasted, the dial re-gilded and the mechanism restored by local engineer, Bob Chester-Lamb.

When everything was finished, the bells were hauled back into position and a team of bell ringers toiled for three-quarters of an hour to ring a celebratory quarter-peal, which involves 1000 changes of sequence. The Hanleys’ bell ringers are always looking for new members. Because the bells rotate on ball-bearings, no great strength is need to ring them; some people start ringing as children and continue into their eighties. Anyone interested in becoming a ringer should contact the tower captain, Cathy Taylor on 01684 560256.

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2 Comments

  1. Donna Tinsley
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    I now live in Australia.. But 28 years ago I was the spinster of the parish. .. and having the bells rung out and heard all over the village was a highlight for me…..and lots of people turned up outside the church to witness this rare event wonderful, my husband was a young Royal Naval lieutenant.. And and has risen to be a Captain….. We are returning to England soon to retire and hope to hear the bells rung to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary…… Sincerely Donna Tinsley nee Richardson

    • Oliver Nelson
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Hello Donna, I just came across mention of you on this website and realised it has been 28 years since we last met (at your wedding in Hanley Swan). It would be nice to catch up sometime. Oliver Nelson

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