Church bells stolen from workshop

A CHURCH bell restoration project that villagers have tirelessly raised money for over several years has suffered a set back just weeks before it was set to be complete.

Thieves have stolen four bells that were due to hang in St John the Baptist Church in Campsea Ashe, near Wickham Market.

An impressive �120,000 was raised for the project - a great deal of which came from the pockets of local residents.

As part of the scheme three bells were removed from the church to be restored while another three were cast from scratch by Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London.

All six were recently sent to Nicholson Engineering Ltd in Dorset to complete the works in time for October 4 - when it was hoped they would be installed in the church tower ready for ringing by the end of the month.

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However the business was raided between 5.15pm on Monday and 8.15am the next day and four of the six bells taken.

The property has a large level of security and the burglary is believed to have been highly professional and well organised.

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A total of nine bells - complete with the pallets on which they were sat - were stolen.

Although the insurance pay out will cover the financial cost, Tim Holmes, Campsea Ashe church bell project co-ordinator, said the theft was bitterly disappointing.

“Four of ours have gone,” he said. “Two of the older ones are still there which is a relief. However one of the oldest ones dates from 1729. The others are the three new ones that were cast this year.

“It’s because of the metal. The bells are made up of an alloy of copper and bronze. They all had steel headstocks but these were removed. Whoever has taken them knew what they wanted.

“It’s hugely disappointing. People in the village had done an awful lot of fundraising. It was a lot of hard work. Even people who had nothing to do with the church, they just wanted to see the bells restored and ringing again.

“One bell in particular - the Village Bell - that cost around �7,000. It was funded by donations from local people. That has gone.

“Two of the other bells were sponsored by individuals. One gentleman from outside the village who stayed here and another woman who dedicated the bell to the memory of her family. It’s very upsetting.”

Mr Holmes said it was now difficult to tell when the bells would be back in the church tower.

“Financially we are covered,” he said. “Hopefully the insurers will act quickly.”

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