Our Heritage

This is a summary of the history of our bells, clock and ringers. Churchwardens accounts and ringers minute books hold many more details, but some of the key points are noted here.

The Bells

Details of the bells can be found here.

Six church bells, originally all by Bryan Eldridge of Chertsey were installed in a timber frame in 1658. It is not known if there were any bells before this date. Churchwardens accounts go back to 1664 and the earliest identified record about bells was in that year when: Paid to John Gray for ironwork for the great bell £0 7s 0d. Thereafter there are many entries which refer to work about the bells and bell ropes, and payments to ringers.

Over the years three of the bells have been recast. The first was in 1787 when the tenor was taken to Taylor’s bell foundry in St.Neots. We now know that the bell wasn’t recast but exchanged for one already in the foundry. The cost was £11 19s 0d. The story behind this can be found in Chris Pickford’s account, The Tale of Great Gransden’s Tenor.

In 1854 No2 bell was recast by C & G Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London. The bell cost £14 8s 2d, and ancilliary payments were made to various local people for related work and transportation.

In 1883 the treble bell was recast at Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough at a cost of £13. 7s.4d and Mr William Crane, the then clockwinder was paid 16 shillings for taking down the bell and rehanging the new one.

In1895 the fourth bell was recast, also at Taylors’, and at Christmas* of that year all the bells were rehung by George Day of Eye in Suffolk. (*taken from Owen’s Church Bells of Huntingdonshire).

Recast No4 bell

The next major work was carried out in 1953 when the treble, 2nd and tenor bells were rehung on ball bearings, but retaining most of the George Day fittings and fixtures. The bells continued to handle reasonably well for a further forty years but the unrestored bearings bagan to deteriorate and baldricks in the old 19th century clappers were worn out causing odd struckness in the bells. In addition, althogh the bell frame had been strengthened periodically it was beginning to move and so causing more difficulty in ringing.

The bells were rehung in 2000 and a full account can be found on the Restoration Project page on this website.

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The Belfry pre 2000

When the bells were in this location access and maintenance was more difficult. Being at louvre level a lot of dust and debris used to blow in making it difficult to keep clean. The bell bearings had to be oiled frequently and ropes changed failry often due to the weather affecting them. Protection from the birds was not very substantial and the bird wire often had to be repaired.

Photographs of the bells before 2000 can be found by clicking on the photo below. Notice the blue paint. This was typically used on bell installations and was the same as used on the bodies of agricultural wagons until around the end of the 19th century.

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The Clock and Chiming Apparatus

The clock and chiming apparatus arrived in 1683 and were supplied by Thomas Power of Wellingborough at a cost of £39 19s 4d. A local story says that the chimes are said to have been rejected at Stamford because they did not pay God Save the King!

A church rate of 7d was levied on the “owners and farmers of lands” and “the benevolence was collected from 59 others, and 45 more well disposed persons”. (taken from the churchwardens’ accounts).

Although restored over the years the clock maintains much of its original condition. It was hand wound until 1976 when it was converted to electric winding by Messrs Thwaites and Reed of London. Latter work on improving the winding mechanism has been done by the Cumbria Clock Company.

The chiming apparatus is believed to have rebuilt/restored in 1757, as the framework suggests that it is an 18th century design. The churchwardens’ accounts show that it was taken to St.Neots in that year and payment was made to Mr Eayres but it is not detailed enough to know what work was done.

The chime barrel is activated from the clock and plays every three hours. It has five tunes : Canaan, Nehemiah, Harvest Home, Nutbells and Marlbrook, the latter said to have added at the beginning of the 19th century. There is an entry in the CW accounts in 1816: Paid Mr. Taylor (St. Neots) as per bill £21 9s 6d but there is no detail to verify the work carried out.

Chiming apparatus

The photographs below show the clock and chimimg apparatus pre 2000 in what is now the belfry. Notice that the clock is positioned on the floor with the pendulum swingin in the room below.

The clock pre 2000
The pendulum swinging in the former silence room
The chiming apparatus pre 2000

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Ringing Traditions

The Rev T M N Owen states in his Church Bells of Huntingdonshire (1899) that the gleaning bell is rung at 7am and 6pm during harvest. At the death knell, rung morning after death (and on tenor for a man, fifth for a woman, second or treble for children, according to age), 3×3 are given for a male and 3×2 for a female, both before and after the knell. Tenor chimes for about 20 minutes previous to the funeral.

On Sundays the second is raised at 8 a.m. For divine service sometimes all are chimed, sometimes all six raised and rung according to the number of ringers present. “Toll in” five minutes on the tenor.

On New Years’ Eve, a peal for about a quarter of an hour, then the tenor alone for five minutes “tolls out” the Old Year, after which the New Year is duly “rung in” by all six. Ringing is practised during winter and more or less up until July. Peals for weddings when paid for! On November 5th the bells are “shot”, i.e. all struck together. The tenor bell is rung for vestry and town meetings.

We have no idea when these traditions ceased but it is probable that the great war caused a change in ringing practices. The only one which survives is the “firing” of bells on Bonfire Night, or the practice nearest. We also fire the bells as part of our wedding ringing. We have rung the New Year in but not for many years, but we try to ring a quarter peal on New Year’s Day, having done so since 1994 (except 2021 due to Covid).

Handbell Ringing

A set of eight handbells were given to the ringers by the Miss Dealtries of Gransden Hall in Meadow Road. They were known as “the ladies of the hall”. The ladies were particularly “liberal” to the church bell ringers, whom they rewarded handsomly for ringing on the 29th May and 5th November, and other loyal and festive occasions+ (+from The History of Great Gransden by the Rev A J Edmonds 1892).

The ringers used to go around at Christmas time in the late 19th century entertaining parishioners. The tradition diied out but handbell ringing was re-started from the 1960’s under the leadeship of Richard Medd. More bells were added to the collection, seven more by Mrs McKay and further bells added by the ringers, funded by collections made at concerts and musical evenings. The handbells were rung regularly for a time and featured in the choir concert given annually at Christmas time. There is currently no handbell ringing.

The photograph below is of the ringers with the original eight bells. The gentleman in the centre is believed to be Enoch Medlock, and to his right, George Crane. (George Crane’s father, William, was one time captain of the ringers and used to wind the clock and chimes).

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Former Ringers and Succession

Ringers pre 1914

The earliset photograph we have of the ringers shows them outside the west door and was taken before 1914. They are L-R: Charles Sherman, Herbert Sherman, Enoch Medloch, Frank Sherman, Fred Drury, George Sherman and William Fuller. Charles Sherman in the father of Herbert, Frank and George.

William Fuller was killed in Great War on 26th October 1917, in Belgium with the Bedfordshire Regiment during the third battle of Ypres.

A minute book, started in 1945 suggests that meetings were infrequent and such minutes which are available are almost illegible. But we can clearly see that Frank Sherman was elected as tower captain in 1950, (and his photo hangs in the ringing room to this day). He was succeeded in 1951 by Frank Bartle but there are no further minutes until 28th July 1960 when once again Frank Sherman became tower captain.

The following year the captaincy changed again, this time going to Leonard Jeffries, and he remained in post until 1969. Ringing had continued during his term in office but at the 1969 annual meeting it is noted that “It was hoped that new, younger ringers could be found and then the possibility of re-starting practice night would be considered”. The new master, elected in that year, was William Frank Sherman, always known as “Son” and he remained as tower captain until 1972 when Sheila George (nee Hughes) took on the roll. “Son” continued as steeple keeper, a job which had always been part of the tower captaincy, until he handed over the work to Phillip George (Sec/Treasurer) in 1974/5, co-incident with the clock being converted to electric winding.

Ringing has continued under Sheila’s leadership and together with Phillip and the support of all the ringers the tower is one of the most active in the district. The old minute books record discussions about condition of the bells, the poor tower steps and there being no lighting. Now, thanks to the restoration project in 2000 we have a modern, comfortable ringing environment and a bell installation which is regularly maintained and looked after, ready to welcome ringers from near and far. New training techniques and facilities make our tower an attractive place to learn to ring, and will enable us to pass on our ringing skills to future generations.

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