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Hungerford Tower - Our Bells
History of the Bells
From the 1552 inventory, we are informed that there were three bells and a sanctus bell at Hungerford. At least one bell, “A Treble Bell”, was added by Godwin Baker in 1601 and by 1667 it seems that there were five bells as both the “fourth bell” and the “tenor wheel” are entered in the accounts. There were subsequent entries recording that the Tenor was recast by Samuel Knight at Reading in 1698, and again by Henry Bagley at Witney in 1736.
Other interesting items from the Churchwarden’s accounts include:
“1706 – Gave the ringers for ringing on ye news of the Duke of Marlborough’s Victory – 4s.0d.”
“1736 – Gave ye men in Beere for helping take down ye Bell and putting up – 15s.0d.”
“1736 – for casting ye Sts Bell 63pd weight at 6d per pound - £1.11.6d; for 7pd of new metal added – 7s.7d.”
These bells have now vanished without record, although a print of about 1800 now hanging in the vestry depicts the partially demolished tower and a bell hanging in a nearby tree.
In 1812, to commemorate the opening of the new church, an order was made to James Wells of the neighbouring village of Albourne to recast the old ring of five into a ring of six with a tenor of 15cwt. These bells were not cast until 1816 and hung in the new tower in two tiers. It is interesting to note that Mr Wells’ estimate of 1812 for the complete ring and their fittings amounted to £251.00. The tenor was subsequently recast by Thomas Mears II in 1830 and in 1847 the sanctus bell was cast by William Taylor at Oxford.
In 1927, two trebles were added and the complete octave hung in a cast iron side frame on one level by Mears and Stainbank, with a tenor of 13-2-3 in the key of F. From then until 1978, the bells received little attention apart from basic maintenance and being rung regularly.
In December 1977, following advice from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the scheme to recast the bells in a lighter ring of eight was approved by the Parish Council and a firm order was placed with the foundry.
In February 1978, a fund raising campaign was launched and within 10 weeks donors had been found for nine bells! So overwhelming was the response from the Business and Industries of the Town, together with the Townsfolk and Commoners, that an additional order was placed with Whitechapel for an Ellacombe chiming apparatus. Over £600.00 was raised for this by a sponsored knit completed in one evening.
On Sunday 23rd April 1978, the old ring of eight were rung for the last time and were dismantled the following week. The lowering of the bells was undertaken by the local firm of engineers and contractors, Messrs. Shellabear Price, and the bells delivered to Whitechapel by Messrs. Rawling James and Phillips of Hungerford. During the three succeeding weeks the frame was cleaned down, primed, undercoated and painted by the ringers, who in turn visited the Foundry on the 24th May to witness the casting of the new bells.
Not only did the ringers raise the money for one bell, but they also saved up to £2000 of the total cost of nearly £10000 by dismantling, lowering and delivering the old bells to the Foundry with local help and providing labour etc. to assist the bell hanger. The whole scheme took place within a remarkably short period of time and indeed the new bells were hung and dedicated 12 weeks to the day from the last ring on the old bells! This would not have been possible without the close cooperation, and remarkable speed and efficiency of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry who produced a delightful light ring of bells which will hopefully peal out from the tower for many centuries.
The bells were dedicated by the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, The Very Reverend Sydney Hall Evans, at a special ceremony on Sunday 16th July 1978 at 11am. There was open ringing briefly after the service and the tower was open for general ringing from 2.30 to 6.30pm.