The Bells of St Peter's Church
A church inventory of 1553 lists the tower as containing four bells, a fairly common number for a small church at that time. It is not known when, but at some time during the next two hundred years or so a further bell was added.
1777 to 1924
England was the only country in the world to develop, from the 17th Century, the system of ringing in rounds and changes with controlled full-circle ringing. In 1777 our present bells were cast as a peal of six, originally hung on wooden headstocks with ‘plain bearings’.
Work was carried out in 1910 to rehang the bells, but before the days of modern wood preservatives many wooden frames were attacked by death watch beetle or affected by damp. Given our proximity to the sea and the dampness of our tower, it is highly likely that the frame was affected by both. Even if it had been built completely new in 1777 it would, by this time, have been over 130 years old.
The 1928 Rehanging
By early 1924 there was cause for serious concern and at the Parochial Meeting of April 22nd 1924, it was reported that the bellframe was unsafe and the bells unfit to be rung, or even to remain hanging! An estimate was obtained from Gillett & Johnston for the sum of £346 to recast the cracked fourth bell, retune the Tenor, and to rehang all the bells in a steel and cast-iron frame with all modern fittings. This was an enormous sum in 1924; probably not far off £50,000 now! Apparently also then, as now, finances were tight and it was decided to carry out the first part of the work only, namely to make the bells safe, at a cost of £25.
During the summer of 1924, the bells were taken out through the west louver opening and lowered to the ground, were they were to remain resting on raised planks for the next four years. Finally, by Friday 25th May 1928, the bells were back in the tower and ready to be rung. They were dedicated at a Thanksgiving Service on the evening of Wednesday 13th June.
1928 to 2012
Since 1928 the bells have been well looked after with regular maintenance and periodic painting of the frame. The ban on ringing and the absence of many of the ringers during the years of the Second World War resulted in the bells being idle for a long period. After the war work was done to get the bells going smoothly again, but the effort was mainly on renovating the ropes and freeing some of the pulleys which had seized through lack of use. The only other work of note was the strengthening of the end of one of the foundation girders. This was an early sign of the type of corrosion which is now affecting the remaining foundation beams.
2012 to 2016
A common problem with steelwork, especially in towers close to the sea, is that it is likely to corrode where it is embedded in masonry. Nowadays steel bellframes are almost always galvanised to reduce the problem, but that was not the case in 1928.
Not surprisingly the steelwork in our tower has been so affected and in late 2012 it was found that the ends of nearly all the frame foundation girders had reached a stage where action was necessary. Reports and estimates were obtained from four bellhanging firms, and in 2013 the PCC approved a scheme from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to remove the bells from the tower, rebuild the frame with all new steelwork galvanised after manufacture, carry out some further tuning of the 1777 bells and rehang them.
As part of the refurbishment 2 new "front" bells were added to make up the full octave.
This work was undertaken in 2016. (See Project Plan for details of the work.)