The Restoration of the Belton Church bells has been undertaken with Funding support from The HERITAGE LOTTERY, The Lincoln Guild of Church Bell Ringers Repair Fund, The Lincoln Guild of Church Bell Ringers Southern Branch, the Barron Bell Trust, Allchurches Trust, Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, The Sharpes Trust and over 40 individual contributors to our crowd funding appeal.
Preparation for the restoration began in June 2021. The bells had probably not been removed from the tower since 1872 although work was carried out to the bells in 1901 but it is believed that this involved the strengthening of the bell frame which had been installed in 1872, some of the corner joints had opened and parts of the frame had twisted, this was clearly remedied by the addition of heavy cast corner braces which have been successful to this day. The first priority was to gain access for the bells to be lowered, a trapdoor in the tower ceiling had been plastered over and required careful cutting to allow the trapway to be opened without other damage to the lathe and plaster ceiling. Two further trapdoors were opened to allow a clear passage for the bells to be lowered the 50 feet from the bell chamber to the floor.
In July 2021 after over 18 months of planning and waiting, the day arrived for the bells to be lowered. A team of 4 from the Belton band assisted James Haseldine from bell hangers Whites of Appleton. After half an hour of strenuous carrying of chain blocks up the spiral staircase to the bell chamber the process of dismantling and removing the bells went very smoothly. It soon became apparent how compact the bell chamber is and that space is at a premium especially as two bells and part of the frame have to be moved out of the way before any lowering can begin. It equally became apparent that to the experts this is nothing new and under James’ guidance the bells were swinging across the tower in to a position ready to be lowered. By early afternoon the bell chamber was empty and the bells sat in the churchyard on pallets ready for transportation to Appleton near Oxford. A Steel beam was then raised to the ringing chamber ready to be installed in the void below the bell chamber. Villagers, supporters and other local bell ringers had been invited to see the bells before they left for restoration and the bells were given a fitting “send off”.
After the euphoria of the bell lowering reality soon hit when the full scale of the necessary work in the tower was assessed. With the bells out of the way and the bell chamber cleared the full extent of the long term water damage from 50 years ago became apparent. Half of the 65mm thick floor boarding was rotten or missing and worse still the 300mm x 300mm supporting foundation beam was also showing up to 50% rot. While we were aware of these problems the full extent was on the upper limit of our expectation. It had been anticipated that the bells would be away for about 4 months however it soon became clear that due to the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the country it would be difficult to stick to this timescale.
All rotten timber was removed from the bell chamber and the rotten foundation beam was cut back to sound timber and a profile taken for shaping a replacement section for stitching in place. A small section of the bell frame was also found to need similar treatment. A seasoned Oak beam was sourced and cut to shape for the beam repair and recycled timber was cut to size to replace the rotten floor. Thanks to some innovative thinking from one of the bell ringers the 90kg beam section was raised up the tower and in to place – it fitted! Pockets were let into the tower walls and the new stabilising steel beam fitted and finally the new floor installed, some of which is removable for future access. Yet again a huge clean up took place ready for painting of existing steel fitting and the reinstallation to begin. While much of this work during the preparation phase may seem straight forwarded, much of the more difficult parts were carried out in the void between the ringing room and the bell chamber which at maximum has less than 36 inches of head room!
While we had been busy in the tower Whites of Appleton had been working on the bells. Because of the age of some of our historic bells we were limited to how much work could be done. The oldest bell No4 dated c1500 and the No3 bell c1606 were not to be tuned and were to remain intact. The No2 bell c1540, which had been cut (lower edge removed) in an earlier attempt to tune in 1872, was to be tuned to correct the earlier damage – its harmonics were completely out of key leaving the bell sounding dead when rung. The Treble and Tenor, both new bells in1872, were to be tuned down to be in key with the other bells as near as possible. All new wheels, headstocks and clappers were to be manufactured ready to mount the 5 bells on new ball bearings.
Members of the Belton Band collected the bells from Whites and brought them back home to Belton to be welcomed by villagers and bell ringers. A short ceremony was held to bless the returning bells in the churchyard, The Reverend Stuart Hadley officiating and ending with the signing of the cross on each bell with anointing oil. Shortly after, the Belton team of helpers, now well versed in how to manoeuvre heavy bells, assisted in raising the bells back up the tower, while straightforward to the experts, this still required skill care and expertise to ensure all went safely. Much more work was still needed to be completed, again helped by the local ringers before the bells could finally be commissioned on Tuesday 22nd March 2022. The first ring was without incident and with great pleasure for the ringers. The bells were now noticeably more in tune and so much easier to ring and control and finally the odd-struckness was a bad dream from the past!
A huge thank you to all who supported this project – financially, by helping with the work in the tower or just by giving encouragement along the way – We did it!