Towering task for bell volunteers

Tower captain Dave Ward steadies the 250kg bell from the Robert Boby staircase
Tower captain Dave Ward steadies the 250kg bell from the Robert Boby staircase
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Moving a peal of bells is not for the faint hearted, the volunteers of Rattlesden have been learning.

This week eight volunteers have been helping professional bell hanger Steve Westerman to lower six bells and their frame from the tower of St Nicholas’ Church for the first major overhaul in 120 years.

St Nicolas' Church in Rattlesden

St Nicolas' Church in Rattlesden

Get it wrong, and you drop far more than a clanger.

Tower captain David Ward said: “The bell being lowered in the photographs was the third, which weighs about 200 to 250kg. The heaviest bell is about 550kg.”

The bells also had to be steadied as they passed the tower’s grand spiral staircase, cast in 1887 by Robert Boby, whose foundry stood where Bury St Edmunds’ Waitrose is now.

The operation was made possible by a £33,400 Heritage Lottery Fund grant on top of £29,500 raised locally and from other grants.

The bells’ Victorian wooden bell stops — the bar the bell swings on — will be replaced with modern metal ones and the oak beams supporting the frame will be replaced.

Dave said: “They could be away up to nine months, though I hope to have them back sooner. They’re going to be retuned. They’re not too far out but they’re not totally harmonious.”

That is partly because they have a 146-year age range, with the first four cast by Thomas Gardner in Sudbury and 1757, one by Thomas Osborne of Downham Market in 1787 and the sixth by John Warner, London, in 1903.

When they were last tuned, in 1893, bits were chiselled off but this time John Taylor of Loughborough will use computer controlled machining.