New life for old bells

​Here is the story of a remarkable project at the tiny Cotswold village of Turkdean, which brought back to life four ancient bells, long since cracked and unringable.

Vivien Burford, the churchwarden, sets the scene:

“For the last fifty years, just one of Turkdean’s bells could be safely swing-chimed. Following a bell advisor’s report in 2022, the PCC concluded that even that one bell could no longer be chimed safely, due to the decay of the mediaeval bell frame”.

The oldest bell, from the mid-14th century, was cast by John le Belyter of Gloucester.   He was a skilled bell-founder, and is known to have cast four bells for Ely Cathedral, the largest weighing nearly two tons. Turkdean’s other three bells are by Edward Neale of Burford, 1641 and 1663.  

The smallest of the bells does not form part of the ring, which thus comprises just three: hardly a tempting proposition for change-ringing!  Coupled with difficult access within the tower, this led to the sensible decision to install electric chiming hammers for the restored bells, so they can now be used easily, whenever required.

The bells have not been tuned, nor indeed has anything been done which would compromise their historic character.  There is not a vast amount one can do with three bells, but a simple sequence of six-note phrases, divided by a two-beat pause, has been set up, and sounds remarkably effective.  

The cost of repairing and rehanging the bells was some £30,000: a considerable challenge for a tiny village church, over and above all the essential costs of maintenance and ministry. The generous response of local donors was augmented by fund raising performances of Palestrina and Byrd. To quote Vivien again:

“The return of the bells was celebrated in the 400th anniversary year of the death of William Byrd, by a wonderful candle-lit celebration of his mass for four voices of 1592, in a church full to overflowing. The ancient bells all now happily ring out once more, with sincere thanks to the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust”.  

We were delighted to have helped this renaissance, and we congratulate all who helped make it possible.

PS there is an excellent website for the church,  To hear the bells, while enjoying a panorama from the tower top, go to:  

News – All Saints Church, Turkdean (allsaintsturkdean.org.uk)

All Saints, Turkdean by drone
It is hard to photograph the south side of All Saints, Turkdean, but the drone has done the job!
The bells in their mediaeval bellframe, strengthened for a new lease of life
The bells in their mediaeval bellframe, strengthened for a new lease of life.