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

40 Joe and Ian with bell on truck GC

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!


                                   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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Photo 27 360 degree image of bell frame lower level

After years of planning and fundraising, the long awaited work on the bells of Newnham church is about to start. It was back in 2012 that the parish learned that its eight bells were in such a poor state, that without a major restoration, they would fall silent.
For many years, bell-ringers at St Peter’s, Newnham have struggled to ring the heavy bells, which are hard to control and almost impossible to learn on. Surveys revealed that not only were the bell fittings damaged and worn but that the bell frame was unstable. And the Victorian trend for increasing the weight of the bells had left them too heavy for St Peter’s slender medieval tower.
Andy Vivian, one of Newnham’s bell ringers said: “We’ve been patching up where we could but it is a great relief to know that we can now finally get the bells working properly. We’re adding a new raised ringing floor to help control the bells, recasting three of the bells to make the peal lighter and adding a glass screen to the ringing chamber which will allow more light into the church. Creating a more accessible bell tower, with bells that are easy to ring, will make this an ideal venue for bell-ringing courses and learners.”
The overhaul aims to bring benefits to the whole bell-ringing community. Speaking for the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers, (known as the G&B), their secretary Steve Coleman said, “Our grant to Newnham on Severn is currently the largest we have ever approved because, in our view, the project is so important. The project team’s plans for the future are every bit what we want to see – especially as they intend to make the church a ringing centre for the whole of the Forest of Dean.” Continue reading

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