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The bells returned to Newnham almost a year after they were taken away. They are now working again 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. The most obvious change 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 refurbished, 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 in the articles you’ll find on our Blog page.
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’re currently working on installing teaching aids such as a bells simulation system for teaching learners. This is used while a new ringer is learning to handle a bell. The bell has its clapper tied so that it doesn’t sound outside but inside the ringing room the sound is reproduced electronically from sensors linked to each bell.
This autumn we are conducting a school curriculum project in the belfry, and we’ll be offering the top primary class an after school Bells Club followed by a half term Bells Camp. There are two Tower Open Days in September and they will be followed by a taster day for potential adult ringers. Please come to one of our Open Tower Days, we would love to show you around the improvements and introduce you to our Victorian carillon and Ellacombe chimes and to help you to ring a bell. Read about the Open Days.
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. Come along to one of the Open Days or else call Jane Curtis, our tower captain, 01594 516716.
The £160,000 project has been made possible thanks to the many generous residents and friends of Newnham who raised nearly a third 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 1500 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 advisors from the Gloucester and Bristol Association for opening our eyes to what was possible and for inspiring us to do more than the bare minimum.