St Peter’s tower houses bells which were made and fitted 122 years ago.
As well as our own teenagers finding the weight and motion of the bells to be difficult, so do all local experienced ringers. So much so that monthly meetings are no longer scheduled by the Forest of Dean Association to be held in Newnham; instead of the normal 30 or so ringers attending the event, Newnham would be lucky to get a handful of ringers willing to take on the challenge of ringing ‘Newnham’s Bells’!
The bells hang in a cast iron frame on two levels: three bells above five. Bells 2, 4 and 5 hang above bells 1, 3 and 6 respectively; the 7th and 8th with no bell above them. Bells 1, 2, 7 and 8 swing East/West in the tower whilst bells 3, 4, 5 and 6 swing North/South. Along with the 30 hammers from the Carillon, Clock and Ellacombe Chime mechanism plus three and a half tons of bell metal and all associated fittings, this comprises a phenomenal amount of apparatus in a small tower. If you read the Project Details you can understand how these bells were put together 122 years ago. However, despite our efforts to keep the bells at St Peter’s ringing out regularly, we now understand that……
‘The Tower was never suited to bells of this size’
We would like people of all ages from Newnham and the surrounding area to be able to come and learn to ring the bells again. The main difficulties posed at present are these:
- The bells are very heavy, particularly for learners.
- They are difficult to control: a) the ropes from the belfry to the ground floor are unusually long and b) some of the wheels are too small for the weight of the bell owing to restricted space.
- They don’t swing evenly due to worn out bearings.
- Some of the other components are in a dangerous condition
- The cast iron frame rocks when the bells are run, which may be caused by the rot which is showing on the belfry floor.
All these problems can be overcome by re-laying the belfry floor, refurbishing the bell frame, having a lighter ring of bells with new fittings, and providing a ringing floor above ground level.
Bell Weights and Inscriptions
Bell Weight Inscription
8th tenor 17cwt + From lightning and tempest, from plague, pestilence and famine, Good Lord, deliver us
7th 11cwt+ Gloria in Excelsis Deo
6th 10cwt+ Now thank we all Our God
5th 8cwt+ Ad marjoram Dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God)
4th 7cwt+ Day by Day we magnify thee
3rd 6cwt+ Lift up your hearts
2nd 5cwt+ Awake thou that sleepest
1st treble 5cwt+ When I do call, come serve God all
Tower captain, Jane Curtis, says:
“We’ve been patching up as best we can for the last thirty years but despite our efforts the seventh is now silenced due to a cracked bearing, and most of the other bearings are badly worn and uneven. The headstocks have dried out, the bells are out of balance and the clappers need replacing. Ringing the Newnham bells has become so challenging that only a handful of ringers in the whole of the Forest are still willing to try.”
St Peter’s has the benefit of being one of the few belfries in the Forest of Dean to have 8 bells. Rob James, the vicar of St Peter’s, has been a driving force behind the project.
“I strongly believe that ringing church bells is an important part of village life. Bells mark the cycle of festivals, marriages and sometimes deaths. And of course on Sundays they remind everyone of what is going on inside the church. Our peal of 8 is part of Newnham’s heritage and we shouldn’t allow them to fall into disuse. This is a once in a century opportunity to do a complete refurbishment which will secure the future of bell ringing in the village.”