Lamarsh Bell Restoration
I started to investigate the possibility of restoring the bell at Holy Innocents Church, Lamarsh in early 2003. I had heard of a very good bell restorer when I had attended the funeral of my old school housemaster. During that summer I persuaded this restorer, Matthew Higby of Matthew Higby & Company Ltd., to come to Lamarsh from Bath and inspect our bell. The subsequent report was somewhat alarming as it stated that the structure supporting the bell was unsafe as were the iron bolts that went through the gudgeons (hoops) on the top of the bell and which attached it to the headstock. Furthermore these bolts were badly rusted as was the crown staple inside the bell, which would have been cast into the bell when it was made, and from which hung the clapper. If the crown staple had been allowed to continue to rust it would have lead to the bell cracking due to rust expansion. Bells are fairly fragile if subjected to pressure, being made of a mixture of copper (73%) and tin (27%) The expression “It sounds a bit tinny” originates from bells that had too much tin in them! The bell was made in 1695 in Sudbury. In those days stainless steel was a long way from being invented and the original iron fittings were in danger of giving way or damaging the bell. Not to put too fine a point on it, if we had done nothing then the bell might have come crashing down causing huge damage on the way. The bell weighs some 6 cwt.
The restored bell hanging from the steel beam. Note the ‘chip’ on the left-hand side.
Lamarsh Church was recorded, by Philip Morant MA., (Rector of St Mary’s Colchester & Aldham & Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries) in “The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex” (Page 270) published in 1795, as only having one bell, although it is probable that at one time there were three. He wrote “The Church is small of one pace with the chancel and tyled. At the West end there is a round tower (which we have observed to have been the Danish way of building) and in it only one Bell. It is dedicated to the Holy Innocents.” He recorded only one bell at Alphamstone, an adjoining village. However here he is wrong as the Alphamstone Church Records show that they have had three bells since the 1500’s (Two of the bells are dated 1500 and the other 1550) Did Lamarsh add two bells after Morant’s visit? To have only one bell is apparently very unusual. As Morant was wrong about Alphamstone perhaps he was also wrong about Lamarsh! In 1797 the tower at Lamarsh was struck by lightning in a great storm, and the tower was neglected, with a huge gash in its West side, for over 60 years. It is conjecture, but it seems likely, that the two missing bells were hit by the lightning strike and disintegrated. The bell experts from English Heritage (EH), the Diocese and the bell restorer are firmly of the view that for a time there were three bells. The position they would have been in is where the side of the tower collapsed, and the bell frame has clearly been reduced in size by sawing off that part that would have held the two bells which would have been smaller than the one that has just been restored.
When the Victorians restored the church in 1865-68, they put a lath and plaster wall in the gash and clamped the tower with the present spire. The one bell had a wheel and headstock which would have allowed it to be swung, but it had in fact only been chimed by an external metal clapper, for some long time, and that was in the wrong place. As a result, the sound was neither as loud nor as melodious as it should have been! The headstock, which weighs over 1 cwt, is made of oak and had fixed to it the wheel which had a diameter of some 5 ft. It was also made of oak, apart from the perimeter which was made of ash as this could be bent to form the rim. The wheel had been subject to several renovations with soft woods which were severely wood wormed. It is thought that originally the bell rope was kept on the wheel by wooden pegs around the edge. However these had been replaced by soling, which is a circle of wood attached to the edge of the wheel. The bell rope went around the rim of the wheel and made it rotate. When being swung, it was stopped just beyond top dead centre, when the bell was upside down, by a slider on the bottom of the bell frame and a stay on the headstock. The bell then turned full circle in the opposite direction and was again stopped by the slider which moved to allow the bell to go just over 360 degrees. At each end of the headstock were gudgeons (pivots) which fitted into brass bearings attached to the frame. The gudgeons and bearings were fairly worn due to falling cement dust from the tile roof which then acted as an abrasive when the bell was swung! If the bell had been swung, in recent years, the lateral force would undoubtedly have brought the tower down! The lateral force would have been one ton and the downwards force two ton! Whether the bell frame would have collapsed first has to be left to conjecture! (The old headstock and wheel are preserved at the base of the tower. To have put them back in the frame would have risked more damage to the wheel which is in a very wood worm eaten state!)
During 2004 further meetings were held with the church architect and the church structural engineer leading to the design of a trap door to allow the bell to be brought out of the tower, and the installation of a new beam to support the unsafe bell frame from above.
In early 2005 the works were put out to tender resulting in what seemed like a reasonable quote from C J Starns of Glemsford, who specialises in church and old building restoration.
As the Church is Listed Grade 1, everything had to be approved by EH. I therefore sent them all the specifications and the final quote for approval. EH asked for a meeting which was attended by me, the structural engineer, the diocesan bell specialist, the builder, and the EH bell specialist. Having crawled all around the bell, the EH representative decided that he would like to support the bell frame from below rather than above, if that were possible, and to re-hang the bell in it’s frame. The diocesan bell representative wanted a working platform created around the bell for “future maintenance” (apart from a new rope every hundred or so years I could not think what maintenance was likely once the bell could no longer be swung, but no doubt “Health and Safety” had to be taken into account!) and he wanted more quotes for the bell restoration. So back to the drawing board!
The additional bell restorers, whose names were given to me, seemed very reluctant to come out and quote and one got kicked into touch. The other, Tony Baines of BTK Services from Diss, eventually came out and produced a very competitive quote and his report threw into doubt the date the bell had been recorded as being made. The inscription on the bell reads “JOHN LILLY RECTOR AD GA HP MADE ME 1695” Until then it had been recorded that the bell was made by Henry Pleasant (HP) of Sudbury in 1693. The date was wrong! Church records show that John Lilly was the Rector at the time.
EH gave their approval of the restoration in June 2005, subject to a final decision being taken on whether to support the bell frame from above or below, when the bell was out of the tower and there was scaffolding in the tower to allow a full inspection.
New plans were prepared by the structural engineer and the work was re-quoted by the builder leading to a 43% increase in costs for the additional works! The total building and bell restoration works then came to some £11,500. On top of this there were the professional fees which had been met by The Friends of Holy Innocents Church that far, but were in total likely to amount to some £5,500. We therefore needed to raise some £17,000.
The trap door was created in January 2006 and the bell was removed on 8th February 2006. The bell restorer found that when he came to lower the bell it was snagged by a bolt that protruded from the bottom of the bell frame. However he had noticed a piece missing in the rim of the bell, so he turned the bell and lined up the missing chip with the bolt and it then exactly fitted the gap. It therefore seems probable that whoever built the frame had wrongly measured the required gap to get the bell into the frame and when the bell was being hung Henry Pleasant, or one of his workmen, took the easy option and knocked, or filed a chip out of the rim so that it would go past the protruding bolt! Hacksaws had not been invented in 1695! The headstock, to which the bell was attached, is a huge piece of oak weighing some 1 Cwt. Interestingly it, like so many parts of the wooden structure, had been altered and had clearly held a different bell at some stage. Had it held one of the other bells? We will never know.
Following removal of the bell, the restorer’s report on the bell frame suggested that we would be wasting money to try and repair it. It had been repaired, and bodged up so many times that it was a real mess and very badly decayed. At a meeting on 21st March 2006 the EH representative agreed with the consulting engineer, the diocesan bell expert and the restorer that the bell should be re-hung on a steel beam, below the existing frame, which in turn would be used to support the old frame from collapse. A new specification was prepared by the consulting engineer and the work was re-quoted. The cost was less than before as there were very few Health and Safety considerations. The total figure became approximately £15,000. However the aborted works proposed by EH had involved us in Engineers fees of some £600.
By mid June 2006 I had done most of the fund- raising, having started the previous autumn, but was expecting a contribution from EH not least because of the additional costs that they had forced upon us. I completed their application form, which was the most detailed and onerous of any I have ever seen, and sent it off with a whole host of attachments, including a CD of photographs of the church inside and out, and inside the tower, in time to meet their deadline for grant applications. On the 8th August 2006 EH rejected the application stating that they felt we could manage without their help! I responded pointing out that the least I expected was for them to meet the additional costs they had forced on us. Again rejected! One of the reasons given was that they had to approve the expenditure in advance of any work being undertaken. (When we knew that the bell was unsafe we would have been negligent if we had left it where it was, once we had sufficient funds to take it down, even if we did not have enough to restore it and put it back) Not being prepared to accept this decision, without a further fight, I suggested that they could meet the final fees of the Engineer who had still to sign off the project. This was rejected as it would be “deminimus” Their attitude, towards giving us a grant, was thoroughly negative and showed a total lack of flexibility.
The steel beam was installed in September 2006 and the restored bell was returned to the church on Thursday 9th November 2006 and hung on the new galvanised steel beam, being attached by stainless steel bolts with an oak spacer between the bell and the beam. The new clapper hangs inside the bell and strikes the sound bow where it should. It is swung onto the bell by means of a separate trigger to which is attached the bell rope. It was a joy to work with Tony Baines whose immense knowledge was fascinating. Unfortunately for others looking for a restorer, he is shortly due to retire, although he tells me he continues to be asked “can you do one last job?”
The final cost of the project was £11,792. There is no doubt, in my mind, that the larger the project the more likely you are to receive support. This was borne out in the early 1980’s when I raised, single-handedly, the funds to replace the lead roof on St James’s Church, Nayland. In todays money this would have been about £250,000. I would like to think that my fund raising days are now over!
Donations were given or pledged by the following charitable organisations/Companies: The Far Hills Trust, The Catalyst Trust, Jardine Lloyd Thompson Plc Charitable Fund, All Churches Trust Ltd., Sudbury Grammar School Old Boys Association, The Friends of Essex Churches, The Essex Association of Change Ringers, Round Tower Churches Society, Intersure Insurance Brokers Ltd., The Sharpe Trustees, Garfield Weston Foundation, Man Group Plc Charitable Trust, The Pilgrim Trust.
The Trustees of “The Friends of Holy Innocents Church, Lamarsh” are very grateful for the financial help amounting to £14,515 given in total. In accordance with an undertaking given by the Trustees, Charitable organisations will be re-funded pro rata, the amount raised in excess of the cost.
There are a number of photographs in the Church showing the bell, the missing chip, and the bell, back in the tower, with the new chiming mechanism. There is also a rubbing of the inscription from around the crown of the bell.