This website tells the story of our Bells Restoration which was born as an idea in 2014 and which finally was completed in 2019. We also tell the story of the rebirth of ringing at Newnham after many years when it seemed the sound of church bells was dying out. And we give you a summary of the history of bells in Newnham for which we have records going back to 1603.
The bells returned to Newnham in May 2019, almost a year after they were taken away. They are now working again and have been making their presence known with some widely welcomed ringing. They had been sorely missed, which may explain why so many people came to the bells dedication service led by the Bishop of Tewkesbury on Sunday July 7th 2019.
We invited ringers from across the Forest of Dean to join us for the service and to ring the bells for the first time afterwards. Their verdict? That the bells, previously notoriously difficult to ring, are now easy going, well balanced with a clear and pleasant tone. This made all the years of planning, fundraising, and sheer hard work in the belfry worthwhile.
It was the biggest bells project the Forest of Dean has known for many years and has earned us three awards along the way.
The most obvious change to anyone visiting the church is the new glass fronted ringing gallery at a height of twelve feet, overlooking the back of the nave.
But the most expensive work was behind the scenes in the belfry where the bells are now much lighter, as three new bells have been substituted for the heaviest old ones. The bell frame has also been completely restored, new bracing added and the whole apparatus set on a bed of steel girders to ensure it does not rock. There’s lots more about this elsewhere on the website. See the unfolding story in articles you’ll find on our Blog page or try the summary you can read by clicking into The Restoration
Getting the bells back is just the beginning. Our task now is to make Newnham’s belfry a place where it will be a pleasure to learn to ring. We’ve installed teaching aids such as a belfry video camera and a bells simulation system. This is used while a new ringer is learning to handle a bell. The bell has its clapper silenced with a rubber muffle so that it doesn’t sound outside but inside the ringing room the sound is reproduced electronically from sensors linked to each bell.
In the autumn of 2019 we hosted a primary school curriculum project in the belfry. We later invited children in the top primary class to join an after school Bells Club. We held two Tower Open Days in September and they were followed by taster sessions for potential ringers. See our Ringing in Newnham page for more on our practice nights and the Bells Club and how you can join in.
If you have never seen our bells before you are welcome to book a guided tour. This can be organised through our tower captain or tower correspondent. Turn to our Contact page for details. We would love to show you around the improvements we’ve made and to introduce you to our unusual Victorian carillon and our rare Ellacombe chimes and to help you to chime a bell.
We’d love to hear from anyone who would like to try their hand at this ancient art. It is good fun and whatever your background you will be welcome to our band of Newnham ringers. You don’t have to be musical you just need to be able to count to eight.
The £160,000 project has been made possible thanks to the many generous residents and friends of Newnham who raised over 40% of the total. Among our many institutional sponsors, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers have made the biggest contributions. Others include the Gloucestershire Environmental Trust, the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust, the Ironmongers’ Trust and the Garfield Weston Foundation. A special thanks to the Trotter children who donated the cost of the new tenor bell in memory of their parents, the late Barry and Eileen Trotter.
Smaller grants have come from several sources including the Allchurches Trust, Old Brightlandsians, Forest of Dean Bell Ringers, the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers the Haberdashers’ Company and Newnham Parish Council.
Work to the bells and frame was carried out by Nicholson Engineering, Bridport. The ringing gallery was built by local firm, Fieldhouse Building Contractors. Ruth Nicholls, of Integrated Architecture, was the architect and Adrian Dempster of Ward Cole was the structural engineer.
We have kept our costs down by using volunteers wherever possible. Thirteen local men gave altogether around 1600 hours of work in the belfry assisting the bellhangers. And we are grateful to have had local photographers Cozmic Dave and Graham Champken, to photograph the project as it develops. See our Galleries. You can read more about all those who have contributed in this article
Why did we do this project?
Our bell fittings were damaged and worn, our cast iron bell frame corroded and unstable, the belfry floor rotten. For years the bells have been so difficult to ring that most ringers avoid us and it is impossible to teach newcomers. We had also been advised that our bells are oversized for our slender medieval tower. We’ve known for years that action was needed. Our thanks to Steve Coleman of the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers for opening our eyes to what was possible and for inspiring us to do more than the bare minimum.