10 Year Anniversary Celebrations at Barrow

Barrow started the millennium silent after an inspection declared the bells unsafe to ring in 1999, just as a major project completed saving the church with a new roof and west window tracery and glass incorporating stained glass from St John’s Windermere. The bell wheels were broken and crumbling; the ironwork rusted through; and the Verdigris on the bells from the salt air/steelworks pollution had taken their toll. There was little hope for any ringing in the foreseeable future… potentially generations.

In 2008 Geoff Pullin, a keen bellringer from near Daventry was visiting his son who worked in the shipyard. He questioned why the bells were not ringing, and hatched a plan to repair them.

The Ringing World published the sad news and obituary of Jack (John) Bagnall in 2009, and Dennis Ellsidon a ringer from London (but learnt to ring at Barrow) responded by offering a significant contribution that kick started a project for full restoration and rehang of the bells, with Geoff Pullin at the helm and support from church/diocese, grant awarding bodies, and volunteers.

Exactly 10 years after the rededication service on Sunday 9th March 2014, we organised a day of celebrations starting with a me-andy-ring ramble around South Walney Nature Reserve. We braved the initially bitter southeasterly wind and driving spits of rain, heading south on the East side of the island overlooking Piel Castle, passing the oyster farm and watched by a seal bobbing in the sea, and eider, cormorants, oystercatchers, gulls, and other birds flying past. We stopped off at Clarissa’s house at the most southerly abode in the county for some very welcome tea/coffee and biscuits (and brief shelter!). Clarissa joined us for the rest of the walk and we were grateful that the weather improved – finishing the round in 2 hours at the visitor cabin with its live video feed of the seal colony.

The walk was followed by a quarter peal rung by Geoff & Carole from near Daventry – who managed the restoration project, Ron from Carlisle – the Carlisle diocesan bell advisor, Dennis – who started the ball rolling, Andrew – the bellhanger from Bridport, Hugh – who volunteered to help physical removal and return of the bells, Andy – who recorded the restoration for posterity,  and of course Jayden who learnt to ring on the restored bells. Barring a couple of brief mistakes/hesitations the quarter was well struck and very enjoyable indeed. https://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=1707652 (feel free to copy and use the photo of the band or I can send a copy separately)

After the quarter peal a 30 minute video of clips from the restoration work (featuring the removal; Whitechapel bell foundry tuning; Nicholsons works in Bridport; and the return and fitting of the bells) was shown for the very first time, using the audio visual projector and screen that is part of the new Wombel. Afterwards it played a very professional video about the restoration created by students from Furness College, plus the latest promotional videos from the central council, and various other videos.

The next 2 hours heard more excellent ringing on the bells as part of the branch ringing meeting for the Furness & South Lakeland branch of the LACR, during which the public could listen to the bells, and tour the exhibits inside the church relating to the restoration and a selection of the many activities and achievements over the last 10 years. This was followed by an impressive spread of food for the ringers tea, and a short demo of the new Wombel one-bell simulator.

This Wombel was funded by generous donations including £3,000 micro to mighty grant from the Westmorland & Furness Council (underwritten by the Heritage Lottery Fund), £688 for the audio visual equipment from BAE Systems Community Investment Fund, £350 from the Diocese of Carlisle digital innovation fund, approx. £200+ from tower funds, and £100 from the Furness & South Lakeland Branch LACR.

Its purpose is predominantly for public education to demystify what we do, to promote bell-ringing, and to recruit, but can also be used for training days. It can be taken apart and transported on a large family car (but not a saloon car) with roof bars and back seats that fold down. This enables us to take it to schools, community centres, youth clubs, and other public spaces across Cumbria/Lancashire to demonstrate bell-ringing, give talks about bellringing with slideshow/presentation and videos, and offer the public a go ringing a bell on their home turf rather than expecting them to come to our church towers. It is hoped that this may reach many more people that might not otherwise come to see and learn about bell ringing. With luck this should help with recruitment or at least plant seeds that may bear fruit in years to come.

Finally the day finished with a meal at Francescas Restaurant in Barrow for 23 friends and ringers. A thoroughly enjoyable meal in great company, and a great finish for the day. My thanks to everyone who took part and I am especially grateful to those who travelled many miles to join us for our restoration 10th anniversary celebrations.

Andy Pollock, St James’ Tower Captain