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Helmingham: Historic bells removed from parish church for repairs

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 May 2011

George Pipe and Dr John Blatchley examine one of the bells

George Pipe and Dr John Blatchley examine one of the bells

Archant

THEY were once rung by one of the finest bands in the land.

But the peal of eight bells at St Mary’s Church in Helmingham, near Ipswich, fell into disrepair from being rung so much and have been silent for more than 10 years.

Now the huge bells, which are nearly 200 years old, have been taken down to be sent away for repairs as part of a £109,000 project.

They are set to return to the 12th Century church in August, when their treasured sound will be heard across the parish once again.

The bells – once rung to wide acclaim by a band of estate workers in the 1930s - fell silent in 2000 and have only been heard once since, for the wedding of the Honourable Selina Tollemache to James Hopkins in September last year.

Doris Haas, project manager and secretary of the parochial church council, watched yesterday as a forklift truck removed the iron bells, the biggest of which weighs just under one tonne. They were lifted on to a lorry to be taken for repairs at the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in Bethnal Green, which is also where they were made.

Among those watching were bell expert George Pipe, Dr John Blatchly, of the Suffolk Churches Heritage Trust, and parishoners Liz Styles, Alison Balaam, Alan Cutting and Robert Mayhew, whose ancestors would have celebrated the bells first being hung.

“The bells were in a two-tier wooden frame and they had been so well used and worn that we were told it was unsafe to ring them again,” said Mrs Haas.

“Everyone was in a despair as we are only a tiny parish and it was a lot of money to raise but we have had a lot of help and it’s very exciting to be at this stage.”

The fundraising was helped by a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £7,000 from waste company Viridor. The remaining amount was raised by grants from various organisations, including the Suffolk Guild of Ringers, and fundraising in the parish.

The peal of bells, which will be hung on a single steel frame on one level, will be rung for weddings, festivals and events of national importance.

They were commissioned by Wilbraham Tollemache, the Earl of Dysart, in 1815 to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo.

The bells were cast by the Thomas Meares Foundry – which is now the Whitechapel Bellfoundry – and were hung in June 1816.

During the 1930s, a team of bellringers, mainly made up from workers on the Helmingham estate, built up a fine reputation for their long and complicated changes, making Helmingham one of the leading bell towers in the country.

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