THE BELLS have fallen silent for a time at St John’s Church in Hatherleigh after being shipped off for some TLC at a foundry near Bath.

In October they were carefully lowered from the bell tower by the bellringers, then displayed in the church for a week before being taken by lorry to the workshops of the bellhanger, Matthew Higby and Co near Bath. Transport was provided free of charge by powder coating company Right Angle of Hatherleigh.

Work on the church tower and bells also made it necessary to remove the church clock out of harm’s way while work in the ringing chamber is carried out. The opportunity will also be taken to restore the clock itself. The total cost of the work needed is £75,000 to include replacing the current oak bell frame with a stronger steel one ready for the bells to be rehung. So far the bellringers have raised £50,000 through fundraising from bingo to village cream teas and coffee mornings along with donations from far and wide from those with a personal connection with the church, from christenings to funerals.

 Bellringer Isabella Whitworth even contributed to the fundraising with a sleepover in the church tower where she overcame her fear of spiders.

She explained: “Bells have probably rung in Hatherleigh since the bell tower was built in the late 1400s, and several bells were added over the centuries. In 1929 the then existing eight bells (which, apparently, were rather out of tune) were recast at the famous Whitechapel Foundry to produce the present set of beautifully tuned and toned bells.”

She went on to explain that the oak frame that supported them dates to 1883 and in 2021 Hatherleigh’s team of bellringers consulted experts to assess its condition, because it was flexing and needed constant adjustment.

“The verdict was that the bells urgently needed a new steel frame, and the bells some TLC. The bells do not need to be recast, but new fittings and maintenance will be necessary to keep them ringing into the future.

The work on the bells has been carried out alongside a major project by Hatherleigh Church itself to repoint the tower and reorder the church interior. The lowering of the bells and sending them to Matthew Higby and Co’s foundry near Bath represents phase one of the project.

 The ringers are still hard at work raising money and need around £25,000 to complete the project, and pay for the steel frame. A major event in the pipeline is a world-class concert in Hatherleigh Church early next year. Sir Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare, together with Carol Hughes, widow of the poet Ted Hughes and the Iddesleigh String Quartet, are generously donating a concert to the bellringers’ cause and will perform a programme of music and poetry on Saturday, February 24 2024. The title is My Heart was a Tree, which is a line from one of Ted Hughes’ poems, and the title of a recent book by Michael Morurgo. All proceeds will go to the restoration fund.  The concert programme features poetry by Sean Rafferty, Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo. The musicians, who all play with leading orchestras (including the LSO) have selected a programme including works by Boccherini, Vivaldi, Vaughan Williams, Schubert and Elgar.  

There will be two identical performances (at 3pm and 5.30pm). More details on Hatherleigh Bellringers Facebook page.