Sydling St Nicholas Church Bells
It is now 120 years since any major work has been carried out on the bells at St Nicholas church and following an inspection by the Bellfounder and Bellhanger John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough, we are now fundraising to embark on a restoration project. Following a meeting with the Churchwardens and a presentation of the report to the PCC in 2015, I thought it a good idea to write an article on the bells, their history and ringing at Sydling in recent times.
St Nicholas church has a ring of five bells hung at approximately the level of the louvre windows in the tower and rung from the tower floor some fifty feet below. The details and age of each bell are as follows:
Inch / mm
Cwt / Kg
7.5cwt (381 Kg)
The last restoration was in 1900 by John Warner when the present Treble and Second were added and the existing third, fourth and fifth re-hung. A new cast iron frame was installed to house the five bells with a provision for a sixth if ever required.
Details of ringing at Sydling are a little sketchy before the 1920’s. Conversations with older residents in the 1990’s indicated that there were two services every Sunday and the bells were rung before both although it is unclear if all five were rung or just the treble ‘chimed’ on it’s own. What is clear is that an active band of ringers existed by 1933 as the first full peal* on the bells was rung on 31st October on the occasion of the Golden Wedding anniversary of the then vicar, Rev. J. Wynne Wernick. The band included George Thomas, Wilfred Lambert, Miss May Ridout, Kenneth Bowditch and was conducted by Bill Shute from Blandford. It took 3hrs 25min to ring and was a first peal for all four ‘local’ ringers. A ‘Peal Board’ hangs in the tower to record the event and interestingly, May Ridout was actually the vicar’s housekeeper.
Ringing was stopped nationally just after outbreak of World War 2 as the government instructed that bells must only be rung as a warning of invasion. The ban was relaxed in 1943 although it is highly likely a number of the ringers would have been serving in the armed forces or elsewhere as part of the war effort. After the war, ringing at Sydling recommenced and the band included Dick Newman and Albe Lovell among others.
Dick Newman became ‘Tower Captain’ and taught several villagers to ring over the years before handing over to John Symes. For a number of years, ringing for special occasions and weddings was organised by John and the band included himself, Dick, David Symes, Mike Lock, and Roy Rose. Sunday ringing was usually taken care of by Mrs Dolly Bugler who ‘chimed’ the treble bell for about five minutes before the service. Mrs Bugler used to look after the church, hand out and collect hymn books and sometimes pump the organ before the installation of an electric system in the 1960s.
Regular change ringing became restricted to weddings during the 1970’s and 1980’s although a peal was rung by a Salisbury Diocesan Guild band in 1973. Two further peals were then rung, one in 1982 by a Dorset County Association (DCA) band and another in 1989 by a band from the Winchester and Portsmouth Guild.
After John Symes sadly passed away, his brother David became Tower Captain. He regrouped the remainder of the local band and began teaching a group of younger villagers so that the bells could be rung regularly again. Teaching bell handling at Sydling is not easy due to the older style of fittings and the long rope length however, with help from the DCA who ran a six week training course, several new recruits were found. Ringing was then possible two Sundays each month along with special occasions and weddings. The Sydling band also rung for weddings at Frampton and at Stratton before the bells in the latter became unringable in the mid 1990’s.
It became clear that some quite urgent maintenance would soon be required and a report was compiled by a local bell hanger in 1995. One of the ringers, Kevin Rose, did a sponsored ‘bungee jump’ from a crane at an event held at the Greyhound Inn. This helped finance a new set of bell ropes and other small repairs were dealt with by the band although major fund raising would be required for a complete re-hang of the bells.
During the late 1990’s regular service ringing declined once again. Apart from 30 minutes of half-muffled ringing following the announcement of the death of Diana Princess of Wales in 1997, the only notable performance was a peal for my parents wedding anniversary on 17th July 1998. Having been granted permission by the church wardens, I was joined by four other DCA members and the peal took 3hrs and 13min to complete.
David Symes stopped ringing due to a hip operation and moved to Cattistock which left the band without a captain. Several other ringers either moved away or stopped ringing for personal reasons which meant no regular ringing for some time. Graham Millard approached me shortly before the millennium and asked if I would take over and try to re-introduce some service ringing. I re-grouped the band to ring on 1st January 2000 and since then we have tried to ring for some Family Services along with special occasions and events. It has sometimes been difficult as at one stage, there were only five ringers so if someone was absent due to holidays or family commitments, we had to cancel.
I arranged another peal (the last rung here), for the Golden Jubilee of H.M. The Queen on 2nd June 2002. I was joined by a group of friends from the Salisbury Diocesan Guild who have a fondness for heavy and difficult-going bells and completed it in 3hrs and 17min. Since 2000, over twenty quarter peals have been rung and two of the current band have been successful in recording there first, Ros Lovelock and Kiri Tucker. Regular ringing still takes place on the second Sunday of each month where possible and for special services at Easter and Christmas along with weddings. The current band are seven in number and consist of Andrew Newman, Keith Durden, Ros Lovelock, Dylan Reisenburger, Diane Tucker, Kiri Tucker and myself.
I’ll conclude as I began on the subject of maintenance. Like all machinery, anything made from wood, metal and with moving parts will not last indefinitely and require regular inspection, servicing and the occasional repair. Church bells are no different and the ‘technology’ at Sydling dates from 1900 when this style of bell hanging was commonplace. Most bells have now been re-hung using modern ball bearings, cast iron head stocks, double metal pulley blocks and modern ‘bushed’ clapper fittings. The current arrangement here consists of plain bearings that require lubrication each time the bells are rung, heavy elm headstocks, single wooden pulleys and ‘Baldrick’ style clapper fittings with timber spreader boards and leather strap bushes. Two of the older bells have ‘cast-in’ crown staples which should be removed to prevent damage through cracking and although the frame is in very good condition, it requires cleaning and painting.
The nature of the required restoration work is specialist and should be undertaken by a suitable bell hanger. I was fortunate to meet an engineer from John Taylor (Bell founder) of Loughborough who was working in Dorset in October 2013. He carried out an in-depth inspection and compiled a report on the condition of the bells which hi-lighted some urgent work. Many of the frame and bell fitting bolts had slackened off over time causing some frame movement. He returned the following week and assisted by Tim Collins from Bradford Peverel, Diane and myself; spent an afternoon tightening all the bolts. This has improved the handling of the bells and is the beginning of what I hope will be a successful restoration project.
I have copies of the bell hangers report if anyone would like to see it and have presented a copy to the PCC. The cost of a complete re-hang of the existing ring will be in the region of £40,000 although that may be reduced if local help is provided. Due to the age of the bells it should be possible to obtain a grant but will rely on substantial fund raising. The bells are fine to ring at present but are unattractive to ringers not used to heavy, difficult going bells and are not ideal for teaching new recruits in their present state.
* Peal – A peal is a continual piece of ringing in excess of 5000 changes. The length of a peal with five changing bells is 5040 changes made up of 42 ‘extents’ of 120 changes.
* Quarter Peal – A quarter peal is exactly that, a quarter of a full peal i.e. 1260 changes usually 10 extents of 120 changes and a sixty.
The Sydling St Nicholas ringers would like to thank all those who have kindly contributed to the bell restoration fund. If anyone has any questions about the bells or bell ringing in general, please contact me on 01300 341018 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org