New Ringing Chamber nears completion

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This picture, taken on Wednesday October 31st, is our first published view of the new  ringing floor.  To give you an idea of the height of the floor you may remember that the window cill, at the back of the room, used to be twelve feet above floor level.  When this photo was taken, there was still some stonework to be done on the cill and, as you can see, the glass screen and glass balustrades had just been delivered and were about to be fitted.  The coils of wire at the end of the room are for a CCTV monitor and for two heaters.  The belfry camera will allow us to see what the bells are doing when we pull the ropes – a useful learning aid for new ringers.   The heaters will keep us warm while practicing in the winter.  Eventually, we will lay a carpet on the floor.

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Access to the new floor is via a spiral staircase which our contractor, Fieldhouse Builders, installed last month.  We very much appreciate the dedication that Paul Dowding and his team have brought to this contract.  The glass was fitted last week by the fabricators, Ion Glass, from Sussex.  Their team leader Daniel is pictured here discussing the arrangement of the panels with our conservation architect, Ruth Nicholls.

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The height of the new floor becomes apparent in this shot of the new balustrade in place.  When the builder’s screen is removed the gallery will be a brilliant place to admire the whole church.

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The last job that Ion Glass carried out was the attachment of the dedication on the glass screen, celebrating 1000 years since Newnham was first given its own priest, making it a parish in its own right.

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In the belfry above, work has been progressing to prepare for the return of the bells.  In September, volunteers Bruce Leigh and David Hill helped Nicholson’s bellhanger, Chris Cozens, to remove the floorboards in the bell chamber, (below, top right).  This was in order to expose the steel beams which support the bells and their frame. 

Website montage

Later in September, we made repairs to some damaged stone louvres in the belfry and installed much needed new lighting.  Our thanks to stonemason, Shaun McKenzie, (pictured) and electrician, Shawn Comiskey.

In October David Hill returned to help bellhanger, Ian Hasman, wire brush the beams and prime them with a rustproofing compound.  When the primer was dry, volunteers, Jeremy Reader and Mark Ward applied two coats of grey enamel to complete the preparation of the beams, (bottom right). 

In the next few weeks, Ian Hasman will return to install four Galebreaker screens behind the stone louvres to stop the rain getting in.  And with the help of volunteers he will also fix cross trimmers to the four steel beams in preparation for the return of the bell frame.

Sadly the return of the frame and bells has had to be delayed until to January 7th.  Nicholson Engineering, our bell contractors, find themselves running behind schedule due to a previous commitment taking longer than expected.   The frame has been sandblasted and recoated and all the hammers and transmission cranks for the carillon are ready.  But there isn’t yet space in the Bridport workshop for Nicholson’s to assemble all our bells in their frame in order to adjust the hammer platforms and to carry out stability tests.  Our new target date to have the bells ringing and all the chimes working again is now around the middle of February 2019.

Andrew Nicholson tells us that the tuning of the bells went exceptionally well and he thinks they will form a very musical peal.  We are looking forward to hearing them!  You may like to know that the diameters and weights after tuning are as follows.

Bell Diameter Weight Note Source
Tenor 39 1/8” 11-0-3 G New bell
Seventh 34 13/16” 7-2-1 A Old fifth
Sixth 32 13/16” 6-2-8 ½ B Old fourth
Fifth 30 3/16” 5-1-1 ½ C Old third
Fourth 28 5/8” 4-3-17 D Old second
Third 27 1/16” 4-3-1 E Old treble
Second 26” 4-0-22 F# New bell
Treble 25 1/16” 3-3-21 ½ G New bell

Photo credits: Cozmic Dave (http://www.cozmicdave.com) except the last two small photos which were taken by Andy Vivian.

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Return of Newnham’s church bells postponed

Our new treble bell being cast at Eijsbouts Bell foundry, Holland

An unforeseen problem with the casting of our new treble (top) bell means we have had to set back the date when we expect the restoration to be complete.   Therefore, we have postponed the planned bells rededication service due to take place on Friday November 23rd. 

In the casting of any bell there is always a chance that the result is not perfect.  The Royal Eijsbouts Foundry near Eindhoven in Holland was tasked with making three replacement bells for us.  The casting was carried out at the end of August, and two of the bells – the second and tenor (bottom), came out well.   Earlier today, the foundry recast the treble (see photo) and later this week it will be on its way to Bridport, in Dorset, home of Nicholson Engineering, our appointed bell hangers.

Meanwhile, the repairing, cleaning and recoating of our bell frame and all the bell hammers is nearly complete.  Once the full set of bells is available Nicholson’s will put the frame together in the works, hang the bells, and stress test the frame to ensure that it no longer wobbles.  Then the carillon and clock hammers will be refitted.

The fortnight’s delay at the foundry has unfortunately had implications for the overall schedule.  Nicholson Engineering was aiming to return the bells to Newnham on October 15th.  But having run behind schedule, we now find ourselves competing with other work to which the firm is committed.  We have been warned that it may be the middle of November before the bells and frame return.  This is four weeks later than was planned and would take the finish date to the middle of December.  Given the proximity to Christmas, the Bells Restoration Committee anticipates that the rededication service may now need to take place in the New Year.

In our last blog we said that we would combine the bells rededication with a celebration of 1000 years of the ecclesiastical parish of Newnham which received its first priest in 1018.  Although the two can no longer be combined, we still hope to press ahead with a service to mark that millennium this year led by Bishop Robert of Tewkesbury, on Friday November 23rd.

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August Newsletter

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The bells and all their fittings in the back of the church.         © Cozmic Dave Photography

Newnham’s feat

We expect to spend up to £155,000 on this project and, astonishingly, a third of this sum has been donated by the residents and friends of Newnham. We think it is amazing that so many care about getting our church bells into proper working order and giving a new generation the chance to learn to ring.

The story so far

The St Peter’s Bells Restoration Project is the biggest undertaking by the church for more than a century. The bells are away being refitted and retuned. Three of them will be replaced by new ones, which are being cast this week. The wobbly bell frame is being cleaned and repaired. If you go into the church you’ll see the most eye-catching part of the project. Continue reading

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A Curate’s Tale

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July 13th: Transport day. Joe and Ian take the first bell to the lorry on a pallet truck

Joe Knight, St Peter’s new curate, recounts his somewhat unusual introduction to life in Newnham

During my training to become a vicar I had no idea that in my first week I’d be at the top of the tower, wrestling with a giant steel bell frame, helping the team reclaim eight church bells. I knew the role would be varied, but I missed the module on bell restoration! However, I found myself in good company. Apart from Ian, our esteemed professional, our team of volunteers were highly enthusiastic amateurs. We found ourselves together in the dizzying heights of a new world, a world of great complexity, inspiring engineering, and heart-warming knowledge and care. Continue reading

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Work begins – how the first fortnight went

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The bells and all their fittings in the back of the church

This photo shows almost the entire content of the bell chamber dismantled, lowered and stored ready for transit.  There are bells, wheels, chime hammers, frame sides, and much besides.  You can follow the progress of the first fortnight in our photo gallery.

Nicholson’s bellhanger, Ian Hasman, led our team of volunteers over the fortnight with great good humour and consummate skill.  Afterwards he told us it was the most difficult job he’d every done.  Two reasons….. Continue reading

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Good news from the National Lottery

Meanwhile children from Newnham primary school get up close to the bells

Photo 45 Year 5 and part yr 6 with 3 bells

Children in Newnham have been enjoying a once in a lifetime opportunity to see and touch the church bells of their parish church. That’s because instead of being out of reach in the belfry half of them are down on the floor of the church.

Work started on the £155,000 bells restoration project at St Peter’s last week. At the same time, the parish announced that the project had secured National Lottery funding of £30,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This funding, raised by National Lottery players, will enable the full restoration of the bells and bell frame, as well as a programme of heritage learning and engagement activities.

On Monday 9th June, nearly a hundred pupils from St Peter’s School, Newnham, heard from bellhanger Ian Hasman who gave them a talk about the bells and all the associated paraphernalia brought down from the belfry. After being photographed with the bells, children were invited to strike the tenor bell with a rubber hammer. The top class had a chance to explore the bells and bell ringing further with a series of five activities, including making a rubbing of an inscription on a bell and sketching the different parts of a bell. Continue reading

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We’re off!

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                                   From left to right: David Hill, John Simms, Cozmic Dave, Bruce Leigh, Ian Hasman

If you’ve been out and about in Newnham today you’ll have heard occasional dongs and bangs coming from the belfry of St Peters.  That’s because we have finally started work on the restoration of our bells.  And the first task is to do a lot of dismantling so that the bells and frame can be taken away to be refitted and refurbished.  But before we can remove the bells we have to clear a path so that we can lower everything through the three hatchways in the tower to ground level.  This is no simple task, because entangled around the bells is the mechanism for controlling the carillon, whose hammers strike the bells to play seven different tunes.

Our main restoration contract has gone to the Bridport company, Nicholson Engineering.  Their specialist bellhanger, Ian Hasman and Newnham volunteer, Bruce Leigh, have spent the morning labelling and storing over 60 rods which, with the help of roughly 40 levers, transfer the motion of the carillon drum up to the bells above.  The levers and hammers will go away to Bridport for shot blasting.

While that was going on, three other volunteers, John Simms, from Minsterworth, and David Hill and Andy Vivian from Newnham, were removing the fittings from the bells.  These include the stays, sliders, braces, wheels and pulleys, which will all be replaced as part of the restoration.  And project photographer, Cozmic Dave, was on hand to record it all for posterity. Continue reading

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