Our church has a ring of six bells. These are rung regularly by a local team, some experienced and others less so, led and trained by our bell captain Simon Cottingham. Our team rings rounds and call-changes. Practice night is currently Wednesdays at 6.30.
On special occasions, Simon assembles teams from neighbouring parishes to ring more ambitious touches. Thus, on 21 April 2006 the Queen’s 80th birthday was celebrated with a quarter peal of 1,280 mixed doubles (four methods). And we often receive visiting teams from various parts of the country who apply for a ringing session on our bells.
We know that Simon Blacklock, the then Rector, left £1 in his will dated 1558 for “reparations of the seats and bells”, so our church had a ring of some sort at least that early. (The same Rector also, incidentally, bequeathed £2 “to buy a Chalice for the Parish of East Hoathly”; the church still owns a silver chalice and paten dated 1567, but nowadays Communion is served with modern plate and these old vessels are on permanent loan to a display in Chichester Cathedral.) Our present bells have a shorter history. The Church acquired a minor ring of five bells in 1723, cast by John Waylett. Waylett was based at Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, but he worked as an itinerant bellfounder, casting bells on site for many Sussex churches in the course of two visits to our county. (During his retirement, in 1740, Waylett was elected an honorary member of the Worshipful Company of Founders, one of the City livery companies.)
In 1876 our bells were rehung, with the old tenor recast and a new tenor bell added to make a ring of six in a major key. (The tenor bell is the largest, deepest-noted bell in a ring.) The recast and new bells were by Mears & Stainbank, as it was then – nowadays trading as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and regarded by the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, having been in business continuously since 1570. (The same company made Big Ben, and the original U.S. “Liberty Bell”.)
By 1990 the bells and their frame required major refurbishment. The bellringers themselves shouldered the responsibility for raising funds and organizing the work. Thanks to the help and support of very many people in the village, the daunting sum of £23,000 was raised from grants, a number of very generous donations, and finally a “Bells Week” with a vast assortment of fundraising events.
The work began in 1991, supervised by experienced members of the Sussex Churches Bell Restoration group but with a great deal of physical effort on the part of our ringers and many other villagers – whether taking turns on the pulleys to move the bells, remove the solid oak beams, erect the new metal frame, manually raise 12½ tons of concrete bucket by bucket 36 feet up to the bell tower – or providing copious quantities of tea and buns.
During the reconstruction work, a time capsule was built into the tower; mementos of many village organizations were included in exchange for their contributions to the bells fund.
The picture shows the bells under guard while waiting to be transported to the Derbyshire workshop of Messrs Eayre and Smith where the refurbishment was carried out.
The refurbished and rehung bells were ready to ring at Christmas 1992.
The bell inscriptions and weights are:
(Coins were often used by bellfounders as readily-available objects suitable as dies to contribute visual interest to the inscriptions.)
The previous inscription on the fifth bell, the original tenor, was:
YE GIFT OF HIS GRACE YE DVKE OF NEWCASTLE & HIS BRO- THE HON- HENRY PELHOM 1723
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