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St Michael's: Historic bell restoration begins at Bishop's Stortford church



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The church bells at St Michael's will leave the tower for the first time since 1928 when a £300,000 restoration project begins in May.

The process of removing them will start on Tuesday May 3. By Friday May 6 the historic collection will be on show at the Windhill church for the weekend.

There have been bells in the tower since the early 1400s – records show there were five until a sixth was added in 1671. The present ring of 10 bells was installed in 1820 in the existing 1713 wooden frame after the tower and spire were rebuilt in 1819.

St Michael's Church - 10th Bishop's Stortford Scouts try their hand at bell ringing
St Michael's Church - 10th Bishop's Stortford Scouts try their hand at bell ringing

Since then, the only other work on the bells consisted of retuning in 1928. Now, nearly two centuries since the last major work, they are in urgent need of refurbishment and rehanging in a new frame.

The tower is cracking because the two largest bells are hung against the weaker west wall and swing in a north/south direction, resulting in increased stress to the building. This also makes the bells difficult to ring.

On Monday and Tuesday, May 9-10, the bells will be taken out through the 15th-century church's north door and loaded by telehandler onto a flatbed lorry and taken to Whites of Appleton Bell Hangers in Oxfordshire.

St Michael's Church in Windhill, Bishop's Stortford. Pic: Vikki Lince
St Michael's Church in Windhill, Bishop's Stortford. Pic: Vikki Lince

Anne Brolly, who has helped orchestrate the appeal to fund the restoration, said: "The bells haven't been taken out of the tower since 1928."

The three smallest bells are beyond retuning and must be replaced but the remaining seven will be refurbished and rehung in a new cast-iron frame positioned lower in the tower to improve stability.

A new floor will be installed and the bells will be reoriented with the 17cwt (771kg) tenor bell moved to the centre of the frame. The original will be retained for posterity at a higher level.

The restoration also includes the addition of acoustic roller shutters which will control the sound during bell-ringing practice without affecting the peal for Sundays and special occasions.

Bishop's Stortford St Michael's Society of Change Ringers, from left, Astrid Davies, Jonathan Knight, Suzanne Knight, Veronica Brand, Andrew Westwood, Nick Hughes, Claire May, Jerry Piron and Alan Padgett
Bishop's Stortford St Michael's Society of Change Ringers, from left, Astrid Davies, Jonathan Knight, Suzanne Knight, Veronica Brand, Andrew Westwood, Nick Hughes, Claire May, Jerry Piron and Alan Padgett

They rang out in 1630 when King Charles I dined at the former George Hotel – now Prezzo – in North Street and for national celebrations marking the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the turn of the new millennium and the 2014 centenary of the end of the First World War.

The project will be completed by replacing existing ladders with more modern and safer structures to provide much easier access. A metal walkway with handrails will be installed to act as a viewing platform.



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