The last few weeks have seen frenzied activity at St Mary’s Ashwell, preparing and removing the peal of bells for their refurbishment and rehang.
Initially a long Sunday afternoon was spent removing the facade of the tower, to allow for better access.
Unfortunately, there was no ‘ikea’ manual to determine how the facade was put together as the fixings were well hidden behind lots of panelling, but we managed to remove just enough to do the job.
Three days were spent in the company of churchwarden, Brian Farr, two local helps from the village and the bellhanger, Paul Mason, to commence the removal.
I had previously spent a day in the belfry with Simon Adams from Taylors to remove the bell wheels, clappers, ironmongery, pulley boxes and sliders. What should have taken two days took one as we both know our way around a frame or 2!
So, the main work began. The tower masonry was cut to home 4 steel ‘shoes’, to place the 6 lifting timbers above the frame and lock them into position.
They say bellringing can be hard on the arms …. you have no idea! In using lifting equipment for every tool, beam and part, in and out of the tower I discovered new arm muscles to add to my ringing ones!
So myself and Paul set about a day installing the beams and a day lifting the bells out – 5, 6, 4, 1, 2 and 3 in order. With some gentle encouragement the bells came out freely and were placed at the bottom of the tower.
Next was the problematical frame for the Treble, which we discovered was never pegged properly into the lower frame by Whitechapel in 1850, due to poor access in the corners. Iron support straps were installed instead to ‘push’ the frame into the tower corner, but this was always going to have some movement. Apart from one bolt to be cut, all the wooden pegs, tenons and smithied bolts came out freely, which was an interesting sight anyway.
The final morning was spent moving the bells out into the churchyard and lifting through the lychgate onto the flatbed lorry, fortunately this bit of the operation went really smoothly. All that remained to do was the tidying up of our mess and cutting some temporary beams for the hatch. The floor shows signs of woodworm and at one stage my foot went through it!
It was an emotional end to see the bells travel away from the church back to the foundry, but can’t wait for their return!