Bricked up church tower door reveals bell ringing secrets of 150 years ago

Malcolm Currie at the newly opened up doorway in Hitcham church tower PICTURE: Nicola Currie

Malcolm Currie at the newly opened up doorway in Hitcham church tower PICTURE: Nicola Currie - Credit: Archant

A bricked up doorway in a Suffolk church tower has been reopened after a century-and-a-half to reveal its hidden secrets.

Hitcham Church PICTURE: Peter Cutts

Hitcham Church PICTURE: Peter Cutts - Credit: peter cutts

The work at All Saints Church at Hitcham has been part of a major restoration project to restore the bells which have been unsafe to ring full circle for 100 years.

The door was bricked up 149 years ago in 1871 when the musicians' gallery in the church tower become unsafe and was taken down.

Before there was an organ in the church, villagers used to play whatever musical instruments they had for hymns and psalms, usually violins. Hitcham is a large church with a massive tower so to help the sound fill the building better the players used the gallery.

When builders Cubitt Theobald Ltd started to remove the bricks and rubble it became clear that not only was the plasterwork intact but that there was writing on both sides of the door archway.

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Four names - George Fisher, George Death, Daniel Dickerson and John Carnall - had been written in pencil along with the name of the then rector Rev AR Grant.

Malcolm Currie, chairman of the Friends of All Saints Church, said: "More research is needed but if any readers recognise any of these names it would be nice to hear from them."

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Even more tantalising is a bell ringing sequence found pencilled on the other side of the door archway.

Mr Currie said: "It is very complex and so far all the bell ringers who have seen it do not recognise it. It would be wonderful if anyone reading this can help us. Is it a sequence which is no longer used, perhaps forgotten about? Hitcham's bell ringers must have been highly skilled to ring it, impressive when you think how impoverished the village was in the 1800s.

"Finding the ringing sequence means the gallery must have also been used as a ringing floor, something we did not know before. This is very exciting as it means it was being used this way when the Rev Prof John Stevens Henslow was our Rector as he only died in 1861.

"Henslow who was Charles Darwin's tutor and mentor, did a great deal to ensure all the parish children received a good education to help them overcome poverty. Perhaps that is why the ringers were so skilful."

The new information fits well into the church's £230,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund-backed restoration project 'Restoring Henslow's Bells' which is reinstating the gallery as a new ringing floor as part of restoring the bells on a new metal frame. The bells had been unsafe for full circle ringing for 100 years.

Thanks to a generous private donor the church's very rare, wooden original bell frame has been dendro dated as part of the project. Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating tree rings to the years in which they were formed. The results show that the timber felling dates for Hitcham's bell frame are 1520-29.

This fits with documentary evidence that says Dr William Cooke, Rector of Hitcham, in his will of 1522, gave 40 shillings "towards a litill bell to hang in the stepull of Hecham so the township will b[u]y it within the space of a yere after my departure".

This is the ringing sequence Hitcham is asking East Anglian Daily Times readers to help them with:

123456 // 214365 // 241356 // 423165 // 243615 // 426351 // 462531 // 645213 // 465123 // 641532 // 614523 // 165432 // 156342 // 513624 // 531642 // 356124 // 536214 // 352641 // 325461 // 234516 // 234156

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