St Mary and St Margaret Church Bells

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Report on the Bells April 1991.

A Report on the Bells by Dr Paul Cattermole: of St Mary and St Margaret Parish Church of Sprowston Published by Charles Harrold for the Sprowston Heritage Archive There are three bells:

  1. ANNO DOMINI 1625.
  2. J TAYLOR FECIT LOUGHBOROUGH. OS = MEUM + ANNUCCIABIT + LAUDEM + TUAM + MDCCCXLIV + The Latin inscription is above the sound bow.

Type "G" capitals (including the upside-down "N" for "U" ) and cross "1.9" (see Church Bells and Bellringing, 1990, pp 163, 165, 167. The unusual cross and the form of moulding wires closely resemble those found on a bell c.1470 at Colney; while the letters are identical to those on bells at North Burlingham, probably cast by John Magges of Norwich c. 1440-1470. The bell has been severely chipped at the lip to sharpen the note. The oak bell-frame was designed for the bells to be rung in full circles and is presuma¬bly contemporary with the late 18th tower. In about 1975, when the bells were fitted with Ellacombe chiming hammers operated from a clavier at the base of the tower., the ringing fittings were removed. After 15 years regular chiming, a number of problems have become apparent; and ur¬gent measures need to be taken to prevent further damage to the bells. Most difficulties probably arise because the 1975 work was done on a tight budget; and because those who have chimed the bells since have been rather heavy handed, through inexperience. The two most obvious faults would be relatively easy to sort out, and careful use of the chimes could continue in the short term if repairs were done. First: the timbers on which the chiming hammers are mounted are now very loose; because they are too slight, and too weakly secured, to withstand the considerable pounding which they take the hammers fall to rest after striking the bells. Second: the bells still hang from their old headstocks, which have bearings at each end:; so that the bells rock backwards and forwards as the chiming hammers strike them. The net result of all this movement is that during chiming the hammers fre¬quently strike the bells in the wrong place, sometimes where the metal is too thin to withstand the impact. The tenor bell has a 4" scar, the treble bell has a 6" scar and the second bell 7" scar caused by hammers striking incorrectly. The two smaller bells have both been struck on their very edges by chiming hammers: with the result that the treble has a small piece, and the second a very much larger piece chipped out of the lip. This is very unsatisfactory; and is virtually certain to result in bells becoming cracked if chiming mechanism is not modified. In the short term the bells should be fixed so that they cannot swing in their bearings; by attaching stout battens (perhaps 42" x 2") between the headstocks and the bell-frame, secured by coach-screws rather than nails. The timbers which bear the chiming hammers should also be upgraded to 3" x 6"; and secured by a pair of 7" x 1/2" coach screws at each end, supplemented by angle brackets. It would also be sensible to treat all woodwork with a preserving fluid; to brush down and treat all ironwork with Jenolite before painting; and to carefully tighten all nuts, ensuring that each bell is pulled up evenly into the headstock. Those who chime the bells should be given some instruction and encouraged not to pull too hard. In the longer term, a more comprehensive scheme of professional restoration is recom¬mended, in order to ensure the preservation of the bells and their continued usefulness; and thought should be given to the various ways in which the bells might be used. Each bell has its full complement of six cannons; and retains the cast-in crown-staple which was placed in the head of the bell at the time of casting as a place from which to hang the clapper. The interaction of the two dissimilar metals (iron and bronze) can cause corrosion, and the staple itself very often rusts; the resulting expansion of the crown-staple can set up stresses which eventually cause a crack to start in the head of the bell. It is recommended that in any restoration the cast-in staples should be removed, and the holes should be carefully drilled through the centre of the head of each bell. Consid¬eration should be also given to having the bells tuned, if they are to visit a bell-foundry for proper restoration. The simplest scheme would be to have the bells drilled and tuned, rehung from proper deadstocks in place of the existing headstocks, and all fittings properly secured, to minimize the dangers associated with the existing Ellacombe chiming mechanism. Another option might be to have the bells rehung for swing-chiming in the existing bell-frame by means of levers. This would eliminate the danger of breakage associated with the present chiming mechanism; but would require three people to operate the bells be¬fore services. The bells would also sound very much better than they do at present. A third choice might be to lay the foundations of a proper change ringing peal of five or six bells, by rehanging the three existing bells in fittings for full-circle ringing in a new bell-frame, designed for future extension. The tower seems to be quite adequate for a peal of bells, - subject of course to a proper inspection by your architect. The initial expense of installing a ring of five or six bells is often repaid by the interest generated; and Bellringing provide a useful opportunity for those who may not be attracted to serve the church as choristers or in other ways to make their contribution to the life and worship of the congregation. I hope that these observations will be useful; please get in touch with me if you think I can help you to further any of the recommendations. FROM: THE ADVISOR ON BELLS, DIOCESE OF NORWICH. Dr Paul Cattermole, B, Sc., Ph. D. 2nd April 1991.

Report on the Bells June 2005.

ST MARY AND ST MARGARET Church Lane, Sprowston. The square west tower was built following the collapse of an earlier one, probably in 1782.1 The plinth is built from flint rubble interspersed with brick and bits of limestone;2 and the main construction is also of flint and brick rubble, that was probably salvaged from the original tower, with a neat external facing of brickwork. Limestone traceries in the sound windows may well have been recovered from the earlier tower.3 The bells are a ring of three, to which Ellacombe chimes have been fitted. The tenor has a diameter of thirty five and three quarter inches, weighing about 7 cwt and sounding A.

  1. Anno Domini 1625 - ‘’(Mott mveription band A WB monogram)’’
  3. +: OMNIS : SPIRITUS : DOMINUM - (lettering type G; cross 1.9; colon stop; no founder's mark)

The treble bell is by William Brend. The second has unusual cannons with a square section, like those at Brettenham. The tenor has a puzzling combination of: lettering as¬sociated with John Magges of Norwich (mid fifteenth-century), and a cross associated with Austen Bracker (1550s). The 1706 terrier records the value of the three bells : £200 for a total of 7 cwt of metal, but later terriers up to 1760 re-assess their weights as 6 cwt, 8 cwt and 9 cwt. In 1773 one bell was spilt, and the number of bells was reduced to two in 1782. This coincides with a visitor's report in the same year that the "Church is under a great Repair at presents It seems most likely that the reference alludes to the rebuilding of the tower, whose details would be entirely consistent with a late eight¬eenth-century date. The" two bells in good frames with good ropes" reported in 1791 continued to be rung through to the major repairs to the belfry reported by Caddy Thomas in 1884, in which year a new bell arrived.s The bells hang in a neat timber frame designed for three bells, probably dating c.1844. The design, although it has the simple trusses with long frame-heads, is unusual. The frame sits on two substantial beams running north-south, with the bells swinging in parallel east-west pits. The unusual feature is that the bottom cills of the middle pit (which contains the tenor bell) are longer than the outer cills, and are built into the tower walls. Although the timbers are relatively slight, the bell-frame is very neatly constructed, and is probably the work of Joshua Hurry. Remains of ringing fittings show that the bells were formally rung in full circles; but they were fitted up for chiming by means of an Ellacombe mechanism installed in 1974. This is now (2005) disused, since over vigor¬ous action by chimers has resulted in damage to the two smallest bells: the mediaeval tenor is fortunately unscathed.

  1. See below.
  2. II has been suggested that the plinth is in fact the lowest part of an older square tower, but the fact that limestone details respect the position of the stair turret goes against this.
  3. Caddy Thomas. ‘’Sketches for an ectiesiology of the Deaneries of Sparbant Taverham and Ingworth..... Norwich lc. t8461’’, p.155 says that rectangular brick tower has supplanted the round one, which fell about sixty years since; but its ancient

[Perpendicular) style windows have been inserted in the upper stage^. This fits well with the evidence of terriers, and visitation records. The contemporary churchwardens' accounts at the Norfolk Record Ogee are too fragile to be consulted.

  1. Perpendicular and Exempt Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich NRO, DCN 76.
  2. ‘’Ibid’’ At the same time the belfry underwent a thorough repair.

It was in May 2005 that the Reverend John Bennett asked if I would contact Dr Paul Cattermole, who had requested if the Vicar would allow him access to the Church Bells of St Mary and St Margaret. This I agreed to do, and contacted Dr Cattermole by telephone, and agreed a suitable date when we could meet. As the tower of the Church is kept locked, I contacted Robert Huntley and Robert delivered the key for at my home, on the Sunday before Dr Cattermole was due. Robert advised, "keep to the outer edges of the floors". I arranged to meet Dr Cattermole at the Tuesday Group, when the Church was conveniently open. With access to the Tower, we donned Safety Helmets and ascended the winding brick stairs to the first floor level. On the first floor, a ladder ascends to the next level, and I watched whilst Dr Cattermole disappeared through the hatch to the third level. I slowly followed and arrived much later, where I secured myself with Camera in hand to take photographs. Unfortunately the original photographs which accompanied this article have been mislaid so a scan of the A4 sheet of illustrations with key has been appended.