History of St. Mary’s Church bells.

The History of the bells of St. Mary’s, Bishopstoke.

By Allen Guille

There has been a Saxon Church on this site at Riverside, but little is known of it. The old Church was probably destroyed when the Danes invaded the district in 1001.

This sketch is of a church which stood on the site near the River Itchen, prior to 1825. The church is shown with a wooden tower, dormer windows in the roof and steps leading up to an entrance above the ground floor, probably leading to a gallery. This church fell into disrepair and was demolished to make room for a new one in 1825.

A new Church was built in 1825 by the Rector Thomas Garnier.

These 3 Medieval bells were in the old St. Mary’s Church at Riverside.

These bells were removed from the ”old” St. Mary’s Church at Riverside, when this Church fell into disrepair and taken up to the “new” St. Mary’s Church built in 1891/92, opposite the Infants School in Church Road. These bells must have been stored here as there had been insufficient money raised to build a bell tower.

Photo of St. Mary’s Church, built in 1891/92, without a bell tower.

The money was raised for the bell tower and was added to St. Mary’s Church in 1909.

The new tower was dedicated as a memorial to the Hon. Sir Henry Keppel who served as Church Warden 1889-1895.

Henry White was a church warden at St. Mary’s. He donated two new bells to be added to the three 16th century bells from the old 1825 church to make a ring of five bells,

These were hung in the newly built tower of St. Mary’s church by the bell hangers in the photograph and rung in public for the first time on the occasion of the wedding of Henry’s eldest daughter, Alice, on June 24th 1910.

So we now have a bell tower with 5 bells, all we need now is some bell ringers!

A meeting was held at St. Mary’s Church on May 18th. 1910 in attendance were the Rev. S.N.Sedgwick, Mr. Titcombe, Mr. Collyer, Mr. Ayliffe, Mr. Winterbottom, Mr. Smirk, Mr. Tucker, Mr. George and Mr. Hutchinson. They were going to practise bell ringing at North Stoneham Church in preparation for opening those in the Bishopstoke tower.

These are the original minutes of the first meetings

Minutes & Reports of

Meetings, Peals etc.

From:- May 18th 1910

To:- Jan. 26th 1953


Bishopstoke Bell Ringers             1910

The first meeting was held at St. Marys Bishopstoke May 18th. 1910. Rev. S.N Sedgwick “ Rector” Presided Supported by H. White Esq. and the following, Mr. Titcombe, Mr. Smirk, Mr. Collyer, Mr. Tucker,  Mr. Ayliffe, Mr. George, Mr. Winterbottom, Mr. Hutchinson.                                                                                                                                            Permission having been kindly granted by the Rev.Kinworthy Brown North Stoneham it was decided to practise on the bells there in preparation for opening those in the Bishopstoke tower.

This is the photograph taken by the Rector of the bell ringers, as mentioned in the minutes above. Harvey Collyer (far right) then left for American on the RMS Titanic and he was lost at sea.

1911 band colourised

The Harvey Collyer memorial with plaque inside St. Mary’s Church.

Bishopstoke 1912

The annual meeting of the Winchester Guild of Diocesan Ringers was held at Winchester in June 1912. When our band was represented by Mr. Titcombe, Mr.Ayliffe, Mr. Grant, Mr. Webb.

The business meeting was held at the Guildhall and after service in the Cathedral.

Tea was served in the panel Hall and ringing in the Cathedral tower concluded the evening.

Three more bells were added in 1920/21. The tenor bell was called “Remembrance” and was cast from three clock bells from the Southern Railway Carriage works in memory of the Railway men who died during World War 1. This bell was very poor toned. Soon after installation it was quietly removed, returned to the Llewellyn & James bell foundry in Bristol and recast.

C:\Users\Allen\Desktop\Bell Ringing\bell history\weights.jpg

These bells were last rung together on Sunday 29th. January 1995.

This photo shows the old eight bells in the tower.

                                              To listen to a recording of the “old” bells,                                                                ringing a method called, Double Norwich Court Bob Major                                                  click play


The new bells of St. Mary’s

Over the years these bell being made from first three, then five and finally eight different sets bells and by the early 1990s the bells were becoming hard to ring, not very tuneful and needed a good overhaul. So it was decided to start raising funds for a brand new set of bells. The ringers decided to continue the augmentation process but completely replace the tonally poor bells with a brand new, modern tuned ring of ten. Consequently, most of the old bells were sold individually to various churches. The old bells from Bishopstoke can now be found in St. James Church, Immingham, Lincolnshire, St John’s church, Tredington, Gloucestershire, St. Anne’s Church, Limehouse, London and St John’s church, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia

So in 1995 the frame was strengthened and the Whitechapel bell-foundry supplied the current superb ring of ten bells. The tenor is now a little heavier at 11 cwt in G.

This photo from the Eastleigh Weekly shows “The Wedding Bell” being lowered into the frame by some of the bell ringers. This bell was paid for by the ringers from money that was paid for ringing at weddings. Bishopstoke ringers also rang for weddings at other Churches who didn’t have their own ringers to add to the fund.

By 1995, the Whitechapel foundry had only cast three complete rings of ten bells since the Second World War and the one prior to Bishopstoke’s was for Westminster Abbey!

This photo is of the new 10 bells, shortly after they had been installed into the tower at St. Mary’s in 1995.

                                           To listen to a recording of the “new” 10 bells,                                                                                            ringing a method called, Stedman Caters                                             click play


History of bells at Bishopstoke   (part 2)

By Roy LeMarechal (Tower Captain)

The first known bell in Bishopstoke was one of 3 which were cast at the end of the 16th century. It was cast by John Wallis of Salisbury in 1589. Another bell was cast in 1598 by the itinerant founder, Robert Beconsall. In 1600 John Wallis augmented the bells to a ring of three. This trio rang together in 3 different churches, two of them on the old site, opposite Glebe Meadow. In 1910, after the new tower was added to the new church on the new site, the bells were transferred, installed in an 8 bell frame and augmented again with two new bells to make a ring of 5; they were dedicated on June 19th.

It was from this time that, as far as the ringers were concerned, problems began. The frame was only fixed down to two base girders, allowing considerable flexibility and movement when the bells were rung. Also, the bell founders, John Warner and Son of Cripplegate, London, cast the new bells to make the peal the front 5 of a ring of 8 in the key of F#. A tenor bell for an F# ring should be about 14 cwt and about 3’6″ in diameter. Unfortunately the frame, as constructed, would only accommodate a tenor bell with a diameter of 3′ 3″ – too small for a good quality F# bell.

After WW1 Llewellyn and James of Bristol, a now defunct firm of bell founders, not noted for the fine tone and quality of their bells, augmented the ring twice. In 1920 they cast the 6th (Thanksgiving) and the old 1589 bell was recast following an ‘accident’ caused by the rector and the chiming apparatus. Then in 1921 the 7th (Peace) and 8th (Remembrance) were added. The tenor was cast, in part, from three clock bells from the Southern Railways carriage works as a memorial to the railwaymen who lost their lives in the Great War.

On 23/09/1919 L&J quoted £141/10/00 to recast the 5th and supply a new 6th. The ringers organized sales of work, asking at the “big houses” in the village, concert parties, social evenings, whist drives, dances and operettas. By the end of 1919 the target had almost been reached – £136/8/9 had been raised. On 10th April 1920 a receipt was received from L&J and casting began for the 5th and 6th.  On 22/09/1920 L&J allowed £62 for the 3 railway bells given by the directors of the L&SWR. This left £246/12/00 to be paid for the final 2 bells, the 7th and 8th. The bell fund was still short by £112/04/00. With costs rising all the time, 6 people each guaranteed £10 leaving another 6 benefactors to be found.

A letter from L&J apologized for the delay in supplying the 2 new bells, however they were now cast and being tuned and would be sent down “next week”. This was duly done and hanging was completed on Thursday 21st April 1921. The bells were dedicated on Saturday 14th May by the bishop of Southampton. The problem of casting an F# tenor to fit the frame was too much for Llewellyn and James. Given free rein they may have produced an acceptable F# bell of about 14cwt. However the thin 10cwt bell they produced must have been a disaster since shortly after the bells were dedicated the tenor was removed, shipped back to Bristol and replaced. This fact is not publicly recorded anywhere. However, the hole cut in the ceiling under the tenor pit plus receipts found in the parish records tell the story well enough.

In 1955 the three remaining English bell foundries were asked to quote or overhauling the bell fittings. For ringers who know that Gillett and Johnston of Croydon stopped doing bell work in the mid 50’s it is interesting to see the different quotations:                                    Whitechapel – £58.00    Taylors of Loughborough – £86.00   Gillett & Johnston – £259.00      Needless to say, G&J did not get the job and priced themselves out of the business soon after.

So, with this one foundry overhaul and just routine maintenance, the eight bells were in use for about 75 years. For all this time there has been a continuous band ringing the bells.            Despite many derogatory comments made by some more insensitive visitors, the local band has always been defensive about the bells. In fact, since the best form of defense is attack, a song was produced back in the seventies which extolled the virtues of Bishopstoke bells and ringers and was severely critical of many other local towers:

Yet, with all these public displays of loyalty to the bells, the ringers were not satisfied with either the ‘go’ or their audible quality. In fact, in 1960, a survey was done by the Whitechapel Foundry, with the subsequent recommendation that the bells be completely recast or replaced. A brand new ring of 8 on that occasion would have cost just £1309. Unfortunately the project was not taken up.

In 1990 the rector, Gordon Rose, came across a copy of the 1960 report which he passed on to the ringers. This put the idea in front of them again that it would be very nice to have a decent set of bells to ring.

So, early in 1991, they decided to go for it. The initial idea was to replace the bells with a 2nd hand set which had come onto the market. From this the plan evolved fairly quickly to getting a brand new set of bells, strengthening the frame and continuing the augmentation process by increasing the peal to ten.

By the end of 1994 sufficient funds had been raised to place an order with the Whitechapel foundry for a brand new ring of ten bells. The old bells were rung together for the last time on 29th January 1995. Over the next few days everything was dismantled prior to sending the most of the bells to the foundry.

After nearly three months of sometimes frantic activity the new bells were installed. The work was carried out under the supervision of foundry bell hanger Martin Waldron with massive help from the ringers and friends. They sounded superb, were easy to ring thanks to the extra foundation beams that had been installed and were worth every bit of the £50,000 they had cost. They were dedicated to the glory of God on 18th June 1995. With routine maintenance, they should now last into the 22nd century before any major work is required again.

And what of the old bells? Well, they were not all lost forever. The seventh and tenor refused all attempts to be sold. They were just not good enough! However, the others are still doing sterling service calling people to worship.

Four of them are still in England. The treble is at St John, Tredington in Gloucestershire. The third and fourth, the two old bells, are now ringing out at St Andrew, Immingham in Lincolnshire. The sixth has been installed as part of a chime at St Anne, Limehouse in London. The other two have travelled far. The 2nd is now part of a ‘new’ ring at Wagga Wagga in Australia while the fifth went to an Anglical chapel in Venezuela!

As well as ringing the tower bells, for many years the Bishopstoke ringers also rang tunes on handbells. This was started under the leadership of Tom Chapman in the 1960s.                Each year, the ringers got together at Christmas time and practiced carol ringing. Then they visited various places in December to entertain people and often collect money for various charities. Over the years they performed at supermarkets, shopping malls, bazaars and pubs near and wide. They also performed each year at the carol service at St Mary’s on the Sunday before Christmas.

                                             The one armed bell ringer

George PULLINGER (1892 – 1966) represented the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild on the Central Council (of church bell ringers) from 1933 to 1961 and attended 22 meetings. George Pullinger was born 15th February 1892 at Owslebury, Hants. He began ringing in 1908 at nearby Upham. He died October 23rd 1966 in the belfry of St Mary’s Cheltenham during service ringing and was buried in the Garden of Rest at the parish church of Willingdon, where he had spent the last seven years of his life as a ringer and churchman. He was a member of Woolton Hill tower during 1913/4. From 1919-1927 he was a member of the far-famed North Stoneham tower, then a ring of eight. From 1927- 1959 he became a regular member of Bishopstoke tower. After his retirement he moved to Cheltenham. He was an excellent striker and achieved better results with his one arm than many achieved with two. Peal ringing was a secondary interest: his passion was teaching, good striking and encouraging method ringing. Wherever he went he showed a lively interest in local ringing and never lost his Hampshire accent! He rang his first peal in 1913 at the village of Owslebury where on March 1st George Williams conducted Plain Bob Minor for him. It was shortly after this that he moved to Woolton Hill, near Newbury. This is the one peal he rang with both arms. He would be willing to stand in the occasional peal, especially if it was someone’s first, though he found this length of ringing a strain for his one arm, which he lost at the Mesopotamia in the Battle of Nasiriyeh. A gunshot wound to his right arm resulted in its amputation on July 15th, 1915. George started his working life as a gardener in the Stargroves country house in Woolton Hill in the employ of Sir Frederick Ardagh. From here he enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment and was sent to Mesopotamia. He was a school attendance officer in the 1920s and also took his place in the choir as well as in the belfry. He was able to steer a novice through a touch of Grandsire on the treble while keeping most of the rest of the band right as well. He made a point of seeing that any of his tutees looked up the methods they were supposed to ring before visiting other towers when he cycled around the country with them.

Though of dour demeanour, he had a good heart underneath this. At his memorial service he was described as having all the steadfastness and stability “which we have learned to associated with those reared in the rural setting”. His memorial service was supported by the great and the good of many ringing Associations. The address was given by the Master of the Guild, the Revd. Canon K. W. H. Felstead, who described him as “a truly great man and a perfectionist in all that he undertook”. It was decided at the service to ring quarter peals at various towers in the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild. Those rung at Bishopstoke, East Tytherley, Sherfield English and Lyndhurst were successful but others were lost. George held many offices in the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild; Peal Recorder 1921- 23; General Secretary 1924-29. It was during this time that the Guild was split up into what were to become the Winchester and Portsmouth and the Guildford Guilds. The formation of these two Guilds was largely the result of the work of George Pullinger and George Williams. He was Master 1949-55 and upon his retirement was elected a Vice President of the Guild. Concurrently he was Southampton District Secretary from 1932. He was elected to the Central Council in that year and continued until 1955, attending 22 meetings. George was one of the last of the older members of the Winchester Guild before its re-emergence as two Guilds. He was a lifelong friend of Frank Knapp, a pre-war captain of Kingsclere and took part in the first peal on those bells, Cambridge Surprise Major in 1929, conducted by George Williams. Tributes to him appeared in The Ringing World in 1966, pages 759, 771,791 & 809 and 1967, pages 8 & 21.