(Updated on Wednesday 11th November 2015 05:34pm)

The bells at St. John the Baptist church, Beckford are popular with local bellringers for ease of ringing, for their pleasant sound and for the reasonable size of the ringing chamber. The total weight of the bells is around 2½ tons, with the tenor at nearly 14 cwt. Bell ringing at Beckford Church is performed by a group of bell ringers who also ring at Aston-under-Hill Church and Overbury Church. Bell ringing practice is held every Tuesday from 7:30 to 9:00 pm, with the first and second Tuesdays held at Beckford, the third and fourth Tuesdays at Ashton and the fifth Tuesday (when there is one!) at Overbury.

For those of you who wondered what the bells look like while they are being rung, the small video to the right shows the Beckford Bells being rung...

The Bells at St. John's Church

This section has been updated from information supplied by Chris Pickford, who has been spending much of his time touring the bell towers in this area with a view to updating the now out-of-date book about the bell towers of Worcestershire.

There are six bells in the key of F (680Hz or F minus 46 cents) and a small disused bell in the ringing room.

Bell  
Inscription
1
ABR : RUDHALL BELLFOVNDER (arabesque border) [no date]
2
182 / GOD PROSPER OVR BENIFACTORS (sprig) .A.R. (bell) (bell) 1697 (scroll border)
Waist: (Taylor’s circular mark) / RECAST 1954
3
GOD GRANT TO ENGLAND PEACE & VNITY (arabesque) 1697 (border)
4
147 / IOHN PEARCE (scroll border) I.B: (arabesque) A R (bell) 1697 (scroll border)
Waist: (Taylor’s circular mark) / RECAST 1953
5
208 / HEN : IZZARD ION. DOBBINS CH : WARDENS ION HULLS (arabesque) A : R (bell) 1714 (border of crosses)
Waist: (Taylor’s circular mark) / RECAST 1953
6
BENEDICT . WAKEMAN ESQR . (arabesque border) LEBEUS . LUNN : VICER .
ANNO. DO 1697 (two sprigs) / ION Morris (border) Iam wood (arabesque)  A R (bell) (arabesque)  WM: ROBERTS IOHN ROBERTS CW (arabesque) 1697 (arabesque)

Bell

Foundry

Date

Pitch

Diameter
(Imperial)
Diameter
(metric)
Mouldings

cwt

qrts

lbs

Treble

Abraham Rudhall I, n.d

1697

D (1145Hz)

30¼

738mm 2:2-3:3:2

5

1

6

2

John Taylor & Co

1954

C (1019Hz)

30⅛

765mm 2:2-2:3:2

5

1

0

3

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

B (908Hz)

33⅝

854mm 2:2-2:3:2

6

1

4

4

John Taylor & Co

1953

A (858Hz)

35½

902mm 2:2-2:3:2

8

0

17

5

John Taylor & Co

1953

G (764Hz)

39½

1003mm 2:2-2:3:2

11

2

0

Tenor

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

E (680Hz)

44¼

1124mm 2:2-1:3:2

13

3

0

The total weight of the bells - 2tons 10cwt 27lbs

These bells are the remains of a complete ring of six cast by Abraham Rudhall I of Gloucester in 1697. The treble is undated, but probably belongs to the original ring. Three bells were recast in 1953-4, but their original inscriptions have been reproduced in facsimile. Several of the Rudhall bells had reversed N’s in the inscriptions as noted above. The canons of the old bells have been removed and the modern bells were cast with flat tops.
   The bells hang in a cast iron lowside frame (Bellframes type 8.3.A.h) installed by John Taylor & Co in 1954. It is arranged with bells 1, 6, 2 and 3 in parallel pits and bells 4-5 swinging north-south at right angles (Bellframes layout 6.1). The fittings also date from 1954 and include cast iron stocks, ball bearings and Hastings stays.
   There is an Ellacombe chiming apparatus, the manual of which is in the base of the tower in the crossing. An inscription on the brass plate on the manual is inscribed:

This Chiming Apparatus / and the Mural Tablet / in the nave, were erected / by Public Subscription / as a Memorial / to William John Smith / Churchwarden – 1904-1930

   In the ringing room, Mary Bliss noted disused bell. It was a general foundry casting with a peg argent, fitted with a wooden stock with drive-in gudgeons, stock hoops and a wooden wheel.

Nothing seems to be known of the history of the earlier bells here. In 1697, Abraham Rudhall I of Gloucester provided a new ring of six of which two (or possibly three) bells remain. Of these, only one required recasting until modern times – the fifth, which was recast by its original founder in 1714. The Rudhall catalogues from 1705 list “6” bells cast for Beckford. The new bells may have been installed when the present upper stages of the tower were built.
   The bells were rehung in a new oak frame (Bellframes type 6.A) by Thomas Bond & Son of Burford in 1910 at a cost of £154. The old frame was removed. Bond’s frame had pits for eight bells (layout 8.3), and he also provided new ringing fittings including stocks cut from lengths of I-section steel girders. The canons were probably removed from the bells at that time. The parish magazine for August 1910 states that a brass plate was installed in the church to commemorate the rehanging, inscribed as follows:


The bells were re-hung A.D. 1910 in memory of John Crump, for many years People's Warden. He died Aug. 27th, 1909.


   The papers among the parish records include accounts, subscription lists and correspondence relating to the rehanging and also about the fund-raising bazaar and fete. Bond, apparently, took away the old bearing brasses. It was fairly common practice for old bearing blocks and bellmetal from canons to become the property of the contractor (i.e. in part payment) when bells were rehung and canons removed. Nevertheless, this led to a minor dispute and Bond had to return the old brasses to the parish in the following September. The chiming apparatus is also mentioned both in the papers relating to the rehanging and also in undated entries on Thomas Bond’s own notebooks, but it isn’t entirely clear whether it was installed in 1910 (with the rehanging) or in 1930 (the date on the manual). Bond’s notebooks also show that he was involved in installing a heating system at Beckford church, perhaps around 1930.
    After Bond’s restoration, the bells were a ring of six as follows – the weights being those recorded subsequently (i.e. as received at Loughborough prior to retuning and recasting in the 1950s). These compare with estimated weights of 6½, 7¾, 8¾, 9¼, 11¾ and 15 cwt recorded on a framed Mears & Stainbank card in the ringing room.

Bell

Foundry

Date

cwt

qrts

lbs

1

Abraham Rudhall I, n.d

1697

5

2

6

2

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

5

2

12

3

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

6

2

9

4

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

7

3

8

5

Abraham Rudhall I

1714

11

1

16

6

Abraham Rudhall I

1697

14

0

15

Alarm Bells

In 1952 during the night after workmen had been repairing the lead roof of the tower, a devastating fire broke out. An extract from the local paper describes what took place that day in Beckford:

BECKFORD BELLS RING OUT FIRE WARNING
Vicar helps fight church tower blaze

Bells of Beckford Parish Church rang out a warning which could be heard all over the district when the roof of the central tower of the Norman church burst into flames this morning.
The tower of the church, described by the Vicar, the Rev. Graham Snell, as one of the three most beautiful in Worcestershire from an architectural point of view, was seen to be blazing just as the tenor bell, worked by an electric clock in the tower, chimed the hour of eight.
Other bells joined in as if sounding a warning to the villagers that their church was in danger. Burning timbers from the roof, which had fallen into the bell chamber and destroyed the stops of some of the bells, caused them to swing down and ring.
The flames were soon seen by the Vicar's wife, Mrs. W. G. B. Snell, while getting one of her children ready for school.

VICAR FIGHTS FLAMES

She looked through the vicarage window, which is about 100ft from the church, and saw the flames leaping from the the roof of the tower.
She called her husband, who was formerly of St. Mark's, Cheltenham. With Mr. John Cowley, the church treasurer, of School Cottage, Beckford, he called the fire brigade from a kiosk.
Then they grabbed a fire extinguisher and went up the stone stairway to fight the blaze.
Mr. Cowley told the "Echo": "We reached the ringing chamber, but could get no further. Blazing debris was falling from the belfry above us on to the floor, so we sprayed the floor and ceiling, but could do no more.
The fire brigade arrived at about 8:15 and played on the flames from below before mounting to the roof
."
While firemen from Evesham ..................

 

through three floors of the tower and on to the roof of the church.

CHILDREN CLEAR WATER

A band of school children on half-term holiday helped to clear away the water with brooms and a stirrup pump.
Water damaged plaster seeped through stonework and damaged the organ beneath the tower.
An Evesham firm of builders were completing a £570 contract for renovating and repairing the roof and there was only minor interior work to be done.
An appeal for the money for these repairs was to have been launched just before Christmas.

SMOLDERING ALL NIGHT

Scaffolding had only just been removed from the outside walls.
Yesterday two plumbers with blowtorches had been repairing cracks in the lead covering the tiled roof.
Fireman thought the tower had been smouldering all night and that it was very fortunate the flames did not spread to the main roof as a high wind had been blowing throughout the night.
Serious damage was confined to the tower roof, which has been burnt away. The floor of the belfry was also slightly damaged.
The tower structure has not been affected, and none of the six bells, which date from 1698, fell, beyond swinging free.
Firemen were busy some time after the blaze had been extinguished, erecting temporary sheeting where the roof had been destroyed.

The fire caused severe damage to the roof of the belfry, as seen from the photo below. All but two of the bells survived in-tact, but two were cracked by the water used to put out the fire. firedamageAfter the fire, two of the major bell foundries in the country were asked to quote for the repair. The village accepted the quote from John Taylor and Co and the work to restore the tower was completed in 1955. A copy of the accepted quote can be seen here. A steel frame was installed with enough room for eight bells, although only the original six were installed.

This caused burning debris to fall among the bells. According to the report it the Ringing World of 7 Nov 1952 the fire destroyed the stays and caused some of the bells to ring themselves down. Two of the bells were badly cracked (the fourth and fifth) by the fire. Although the Bond frame was not seriously damaged it was felt to be unadvisable to reuse it.
   The bells were subsequently restored by John Taylor & Co, the rededication taking place on 27 May 1954. The work involved the provision of a new frame and fittings and the recasting of two bells that had been damaged in the fire (nos.4 and 5). While the bells were at the foundry it was also found necessary to recast the second.
   There has been a clock here since the eighteenth century. The catalogue published by Thomas and John Steight of Pershore in 1753 lists “Beckford, a Clock” in the list of Gloucestershire churches for which clocks had been supplied. Thwaites & Reed supplied a new clock at some time before 1902 but it was damaged in the fire.
    The present clock was installed by English Clock Systems Ltd of Wharfedale Road, Kings Cross, London. It is not dated, but it was probably installed in about 1954. It is a flatbed clock with mechanical auto-wound going train with gravity escapement and an electrically-operated striking train. It shows the time on a copper convex dial on the south face of the tower.

Ropes

In 2004, new ropes were ordered for the Tower and were made by W.R. Outhwaite and Son, in Hawes, North Yorkshire. This extract from the Yorkshire Post, shows Tony Knowles making one of the Beckford ropes.

new ropes

Bell Ringing Group

The Bell Ringing Group belongs to the Tewkesbury Branch of the Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers. Due to it's location, Beckford Church is also listed in the Worcester and Districts Change Ringing Association .

The Tower Captain is Nick Hopkins from Ashton-under-Hill and can be reached on 07790 831787. Past tower captains included....

Alf Pulley 1930's
Trevor Newbury 1940's
David Cotton 1950's - 1986
Nick Hopkins 1986 - present

There have been a number of successful peals rung at Beckford Tower over the years.....

Date Rung
Method
9 June 1923
Minor (7 methods)
26 December 1944
Grandsire Doubles
24 November 1948
Minor (3 methods)
28 April 1951
Minor (7 methods)
29 September 1954
Minor (5 methods)
6 October 1956
Minor (7 methods)
12 February 1958
Minor (7 methods)
4 June 1977
Minor (7 methods)
13 May 1989
Minor (7 methods)
8 February 1997
Doubles (5 methods)

If you would like to see how much the bellringer were paid for their services in times gone by, take a look at the following Parish Magazine entries....

Another entry in the local paper of September 23rd 1937, related how the bell-ringers in Beckford were again active...

COMING OF AGE


Beckford Presentation To Mr. John Davey


Beckford officially celebrated the coming of age of Mr. John Davey (son and heir of Capt. and Mrs. Davey, of the Manor House) at the Village Hall on Friday evening. Mr. Davey entertained nearly the whole adult population of the village to supper, and at the close the village presentation was made by Mr. H. W. Baker, chairman of the Beckford Parish Council.
In givingMr. Davey a "Sailor's Companion." consisting of a compass, altimeter and aneroid barometer, in a suitably inscribed pocket case, together with an album of subscribers' names, Mr. Baker offered him congratulations and best wishes from everyone in the village, at the same time reminding the large audience that in honouring Mr. John they were reciprocating in some small measure the kindliness and good feeling always existing between his good parents and the villagers.
Mr. John Davey, who was evidently thrilled by his reception, suitably replied.
On behalf of all guests the Rev. W.
W. Baker, vicar of Beckford; in a charming speech thanked Mrs. Davey for her hospitality and paid a high tribute of appreciation for all that she and Capt. Davey and their family do for the village.

For the remainder of the evening Ken Larner's band officiated for a dance, at which the village hall was again filled to overflowing with the guests of the ''Manor servants," and all were entertained with a lavishness typical of Mrs. Davey's hospitality.


BECKFORD BELL RINGING

The Beckford bell-ringers, Messrs. P. Hawker, T. Gardner, H. Harris, T. Newbury, J. Phipps, S. Hopkins, C. Diston and R Collins, under their leader, A. Pulley, rang merry peals on Saturday in honour of the coming of age of Mr. John Davey, of the Manor House. One team rang 360 changes of Grandsire Doubles, and during the evening the bells were fired 21 times.