Headington history: Miscellaneous

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The Bells of St Andrew’s Church

Bells lined up on the grass

In the Public Record Office can be found Inventories of Goods belonging to some Oxfordshire Churches in 1553, and these state that the Church of Headington possessed three bells. Of these three, one survives: it forms the Seventh of the present ring of eight, and was cast c.1470. We do not know the name of its founder but he is thought to be the successor of John Danyell who cast bells in London between 1450 and 1470.

It is likely that the Sixth and Tenor bells were in the original ring of three but if they were, they have since been recast. The present Tenor was cast in 1613 by William Yare who had a foundry in Reading. The Sixth bell, dated 1624, is a very unusual and ornate casting by Richard Purdue. Purdue was an itinerant founder and because of this we may assume that this bell was cast in, or close to, the churchyard. The bell bears two large coats of arms. One is of the Prince of Wales and the other is of Thomas Whorwood, “Lord of Heddingtonn”. The bell is also adorned with an ornate border above its inscription.

The Fourth bell was cast in 1654 by Michael Darbie who was also an itinerant. Some of his bells can also be found at New College in Oxford and Stanton St. John. The Third and Fifth bells are by John Briant of Hertford, cast in 1792. Briant also cast bells for St Ebbe’s in Oxford, Adderbury, Cuddesdon and Wheatley.

Until 1967 these six older bells hung in a timber frame made by Michael Darbie who cast the Fifth bell. It was similar in design to the older part of the one at New College, also by Darbie. The new cast-iron and steel frame was made to hold eight bells. In 1974 the Treble and Second bells were cast at the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in London and hung in the same year.

The two new bells have always been considered a bad match with the six older bells and they have seldom been used. The elm headstocks, which were fitted to the six older bells in the 1967 restoration, have twisted quite considerably over the last thirty years making the bells more difficult to ring.

In 1998 steps were taken to restart a resident band in Headington. Under the leadership of Mark Walker a new band was formed. After months of tied-bell practice and a re-established weekly practice, the bells were again ringing for Sunday Services twice a month. The strength of the band slowly grew and much support was given by local towers and the return of some Headington ringers who had gone into “retirement”. A year later, ringing was taking place every Sunday. Ringing was, with the occasional exception, on the back six.

In 1999 the band considered the possibility of re-hanging the bells so they could ring on a better-proportioned ring of eight. With the backing of the P.C.C. an estimate was obtained from Whites of Appleton for the remodelling of the ring of eight bells. The P.C.C. were particularly keen to keep the old six in use and so attention turned towards the mechanics and “go”of the bells and also the possibility of replacing the two trebles.

The belfry

It was decided that the two trebles should be recast, adding about 1 cwt to the weight of each bell. The third would be re-tuned to try and line up the partials with the new and old bells. As the back three bells are listed, tuning of these would not be permitted again. All eight bells would be rehung on new steel headstocks, the back six being of the canon-retaining type. Fund-raising went extremely well and within four months of starting, the £25,000 needed to carry out the project was collected. Graham Clifton and Mark Walker of Whites of Appleton removed the bells from the tower on 11 January 2000 with help from the local ringers. Prior to this, the local band had spent a couple of evenings dismantling wheels, stays clappers and other fittings. This picture shows the refurbished 3rd bell in the workshop.

A group of ringers and members of the congregation travelled to the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in London on 20 April 2000 to watch the casting of the new trebles. The rehanging took place in May 2000 when Graham, Mark, and their helpers put everything into place. All eight bells were hoisted up to the belfry in one day: as one bell was being put together and bolted into place in the belfry, another was on its way up. The back six were ready for a wedding on 19 May – a great relief for the couple concerned! The official tryout on all eight took place on Ascension Day. The difference was staggering – a very different ring of bells and a well-balanced eight.

Over the following weeks the ringing room was painted and carpeted, new ropes were fitted, and preparations were made for the Service of Dedication. This took place on Sunday 17 September 2000. The bells were dedicated by the Rt. Revd. Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford.

Practices started up again and the band’s progression from six to eight-bell ringing is going from strength to strength, also thanks to the efforts of many visiting ringers whose help is vital and very much appreciated. The first peal, rung on Saturday 30th December 2000, was Grandsire Triples, conducted by Graham Clifton in 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Mark Walker
Ringing Master, St Andrew’s, Headington

© Stephanie Jenkins

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