The Great Brickhill Bell Restoration Project

The Tower Captain with the six bells
    David Middleton, the Tower Captain with the bells before being loaded onto the lorry
 

Great Brickhill’s bell rehanging project began in October 2009 after the need was recognised more than twenty years earlier. Hugh Butler, the Tower Captain at that time, first obtained estimates for the job in 1991, but did not receive support, and the opportunity for a Millennium Bell Fund grant was missed. However, in 1999, the new “Project St. Mary’s 2000” plan and fund raising for the church restoration was launched, and the church bell project was included in the plan after cracks appeared in the apex of the chancel cross arch.

The cracks were deemed to have originated from movement caused by the instability of the flimsy wooden bell frame and its supporting timbers, and we were required to stop ringing the Tenor and No.5 bells. Since then, we have been restricted to ringing Minimus (4 bells) and Singles (3 bells) on the light four bells, with the last ring of all six being in 2000, half-muffled for the funeral of Val Hartwell, one of our ringers and a Parish Councillor who did much for the benefit of the Parish.

The Project, which includes augmentation to eight bells, repairing the Tower walls and complete refurbishment of the ringing room with hardwood benches and panelling, was restarted in 2004. The fund raising target of £130,000 plus the cost of tower wall repairs was achieved early this year after, in addition to Project St. Mary 2000 fund raising, the old redundant Baptist Chapel site in the village was sold, managed by the Parish Council, which awarded a community grant of £58,000 for the village bell project from some of the proceeds. 

A Landfill Tax grant of £20,000 has been awarded by WREN through Bucks Historic Churches Trust, and other grants are from the Oxford Bell Fund, the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers’ Restoration Fund, the Sharpe Trust and Allchurches Trust, the remainder being raised by the Church and parishioners. Our thanks go to the funds and all those benefactors and parishioners who have contributed and worked on fundraising events to finance the project.

Lowering a bell through the trap door  A bell successfully through the trap door  The tenor is a tight fit
            Whites bell hanger lowering through the new trapdoor                    The tenor is a tight fit going out

The project is being directed by architects Caroe & Partners, and is being undertaken by bell hangers and builders, Whites of Appleton, whose expertise has resulted in the refurbishment of many rings of bells in England, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. The first step was to cut a trapdoor in the ringing room floor and remove the ceiling to lower the bells. The old redundant clock case was removed to make room for eight ropes. During week ending 30th October, the bells and all the wooden frames and supports were removed by Whites of Appleton. The frame supports will be replaced by an interlocked grillage of steel girders anchored into the walls to brace the tower, and a new eight-bell cast iron bell frame will be constructed.

One of the new bells being cast
          Whitechapel casting the new No.2 bell on 30th October

On 30th October, two new small bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where our existing six bells were cast, bringing our ring of bells to eight, and those will be tuned at the foundry with our six larger bells, where they were cast. The Treble and Sanctus bells have hair-line cracks, which are to be welded by Soundweld of Suffolk. The eight bells will be returned to Appleton, where the new supporting grillage of interlocking steel girders and the new cast iron bell frame is being constructed by Whites of Appleton who will provide new fittings and fit the bells into the new bell frame assembly for testing.

The bells are transferred to the lorry
                         The bells are transferred by tractor onto the lorry


Villagers and bellringers with the bells on the lorry
   Villagers, ringers and bell hangers with the bells as they are ready to leave the village

After the Tower walls have been repaired, the steel girder grillage will be anchored into the walls, bracing and strengthening the tower, and the bells will be rehung in the new frame ready for ringing. The ringing room is to be refurbished, and the project is scheduled to be completed in April/May 2010 to create a very fine 14cwt ring of eight bells for the Parish, within the North Buckinghamshire Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.


The last ring before the bells are lowered
              The Great Brickhill band of bell ringers on 11th October 2009 for the
                           last ring before the bells and tower are refurbished