Alarm sounded over unique church bells

Date: Monday 7th January 2019

AN appeal has been launched to save what is believed to be the heaviest set of four church bells in the world.

Worshippers at St Michael’s Church, Church Brough, are trying to raise at least £2,500 to refurbish the bells, which an engineer fears are falling into disrepair.

No serious work has been done to the bells, which date from the 1500s, since the 1880s and enthusiasts are hoping to gain funding for repairs through grants, fundraising and donations.

The Rev Sam Held said: “It will be a challenge to raise the funds and get the work done as they compete with other priorities of the buildings, but key to these bells is they are a unique set and the heaviest set of four in the world.

“They’re a unique treasure and we need to raise the conscience of not just people locally but the wider communities that we have such a treasure among us. They have a unique selling point. They are irreplaceable.”

The local benefice and wider Diocese of Carlisle are hoping to raise the funds in order to get the work done within the next two to three years. While they believe minimal repairs will cost £2,500, a full renovation could be between £5,000 to £7,000 if worst comes to worst, according to church bell engineer Matthew Higby, who inspected and surveyed the bells three years ago.

Mr Higby, of Bath, said: “Brough has the largest set of four bells hung for full circle change ringing in the world. The largest bell (the tenor) weighs about one ton. The last major work to the bells was undertaken in the 1880s and they are falling into disrepair.

“The bells are heavy, difficult to ring and the attraction of such a small numbered peal can be somewhat less attractive than peals of five or more.

“The peal of bells were cast over a period of approximately 390 years. They have been minimally ‘patched up’ and rung recently but really do require some proper rehanging work and refurbishment before they can be rung on a regular basis. It was a crying shame they are no longer able to be rung for full circle in change ringing.”

At the end of November the bells were chimed for the first time in 30 years by a group of travelling ringers, some from as far as Hampshire, but cannot be rung in a full circle, as nearly all other bells are.

Ideally the church would also like to refurbish the area surrounding the bells, which is boarded up to protect them from birds and natural elements.

The bells are historically significant, dating back to a time of greater wealth for the area when it was a major stopping point for travellers. Famous Lakes poet Robert Southey wrote a poem about them called Brough Bells at the turn of the 19th Century.

Mr Held added: “Over the next few years we will look at grants and fundraising to restore them to full working condition and make the most of them.

“Being a unique set of bells we will want to get a group of home-grown bell ringers from the parish who can regularly ring them, as well as travelling ringers, in order to celebrate them.

“Local people are proud of the church and its bells. It is a small but proud community and the bells are a central part of that.”

Churchwarden Judy Dobson said: “I believe we will get these bells back to the condition they should be in. I believe in fate, and so many things have happened that make me believe this will and must happen. The vicar and the parochial church council are keen to explore any ways of getting the funding and we’re hopeful the bells will last forever. It’s sad the condition they’re in as they are a vital part of the area’s history and are irreplaceable.”

Anyone wishing to donate for the bells refurbishment or help in any way can email Sam.Held.SH57gmail.com