History of the Great Brickhill Bells

The six existing bells
                   The six existing bells before being lowered in October 2009 


The Bells


Great Brickhill bell tower was built in the mid 13th century, and bells have probably been rung there for more than 700 years. The earliest documentation of the bells was in 1637, the same year as the foundation in London of the Ancient Society of College Youths, when there were five bells in the tower, and sill timbers of that old bell frame remained supporting the later frame, although the bells have been recast several times. Three of four lower primary supporting timbers probably date back to the construction of the tower in the 13th Century.

The six existing bells were cast in 1789 by William and Thomas Mears at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but the No. 2 bell was recast in 1840, probably because it sustained damage.  A clue to the reason for the damage is in A.H.Cocks book of 1897, “Church Bells of Buckinghamshire”, in which he wrote, “All the stays are double, made of two pieces of wood, one on each side of the stock, crooked, so as to meet, and form one perfectly invulnerable stay, capable of allowing the canons of the bell to break, without themselves receiving the slightest injury!”. It may be that the canons were broken in that way in 1840, necessitating the recast.

Until the bells were sent to Appleton by Whites on 30th October, the weights of the bells were only estimated, but after removal of the headstocks, the bells have been weighed as:
     
Tenor     14cwt - 1qtr - 20lb
      5th         10cwt - 1qtr - 14lb
      4th           8cwt - 2qtr - 02lb
      3rd           7cwt - 2qtr - 16lb
      2nd          5cwt - 2qtr - 10lb
      Treble      5cwt - 2qtr - 10lb


                 The Sanctus Bell
                                 The smaller Sanctus bell

There is also the smaller Sanctus bell, the predecessor of which was probably destroyed during Cromwell’s Commonwealth when puritans believed that service bells were implements of Popery, and Parliamentarian troops were garrisoned in the village. The Sanctus bell, which is the earliest known bell cast by George Chandler of Drayton Parslow, was replaced in 1681 after the restoration of the monarchy, and will be rehung on the bell frame above the main bells.


The Bell Frame


The 1789 Frame  The five bell frame
       The 1789 frame sat on sills of the 16th/17th Century five-bell frame, supported by older primary timbers


The bell frame and its supports were constructed in three layers:

  • The main frame holding the bells was the top layer constructed in 1789, but the timbers were of such flimsy dimensions that in 1896 they had to be braced with steel brackets and tie rods by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel. Under instruction of the Revd. M. Nepean, the bells received new headstocks and fittings, and the Whitechapel Sales Day Book shows a charge of £101-15s-0p for the work.
  • That frame stood on the bottom sills of the old five bell frame dating from the 16th or 17th Century and recorded in 1637, but those timbers were very rotten and worm eaten, and can no longer support the frame, which rocks on its foundations when the bells are rung. That movement stresses the tower walls, and may have contributed to the cracks, although they may have been caused by old subsidence.
  • The old sills stood on five parallel primary support timbers which took the full weight of the bells, frame and other timbers. The ends of those timbers were rotted and shored up in the 1920’s, but the resultant dislocation probably initiated the instability of the frame and the cracks in the tower walls. English Heritage requires that three of those timbers are to be preserved, and they may have to be hung in the Tower under the new ringing room ceiling after the new bell frame has been installed. 


A Piece of Parish Land


Records show that in the Parish, "A piece of land 1 acre 3 poles called the Bell Rope Piece lets for £2/10 per annum which sum is applied in buying bell ropes for the church and paying the ringers." It is not known when ownership was transferred, but that land is now farmed by Michael Turner, whose tractor has loaded the bells for transporting to
Appleton.