In early August 2015 I met with the bell engineer Mathew Higby at Harrington and later at All Hallows churches to inspect the towers for the possible hanging of rings of bells. Matthew travelled on to the North East and passing by Brough thought he would stop and take a look at the redundant ring of four bells, thought to be the heaviest ring of four bells. By chance, the churchwarden Judy Dobson was in the church and Matthew was able to see the bells. Judy remarked ‘What we need is a bell engineer’. Matthew answered ‘I am a bell engineer’ to which Judy replied ‘The Lord has sent you’.
So began an eight-year project to restore the bells at St Michael’s church for full circle ringing. Both John Taylor and Matthew Higby gave quotations ranging from a conservation repair to a full restoration and Matthew’s was chosen for a full restoration. Dave Kelly of the Keltek Trust offered two bells at no cost to the project to augment the ring to six bells but the PCC took a leap of faith (the bells had not been weighed at that time) to restore the four bells as the heaviest ring of four bells. A faculty application was made to the DAC a structural engineer’s report obtained and the decision finally made to submit an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for £68000. The community had also donated £11000 to the project so we knew that there was local support for the project. Then Covid struck but this was fortuitous because there was now time to prepare the very detailed and costed bid for the grant and in November 2021, we received confirmation.
A bat survey of the tower was required and revealed that bats were using it as a daytime roost so we were not allowed to begin the work until late September 2022.
The frame was lifted off the floor on temporary steel beams and the bells were taken down to be transported to Higby’s works in Somerset for restoration. The tenor bell (cast in 1500 and a maiden bell) was listed and could not be tuned but the treble and bells 2 and 3 were lightly tuned to a best match. Finally, the bells were weighed and confirmed as the heaviest ring of four bells.
The unstable and decayed floor and its supporting timber beams were taken down. Pockets were cut in the stonework and concrete padstones were cast to support the new steel frame. The steelwork was erected, a new floor inserted and the bell frame lowered and secured. Meanwhile the bells had returned from Somerset with their new headstocks, clappers and restored wheels and were put on display in the church for the community to see over a weekend. Finally, the bells were rehung with a new rope guide in the tower and test rung. What a glorious sound! Shortly afterwards the bells were blessed by Bishop James Bell at a special service in the church that was packed with local people and visitors.
Meanwhile Janet Shepherd, Nick Harrop and I have been teaching a new band of nine ringers at Appleby Church on a simulator installed as a part of the project. They have just moved on to the much heavier Brough bells for further teaching and practice.
The first quarter peal on the bells was rung in October by three of the project volunteers who came from the Cathedral – Barry, John and me – together with Andrew Warboys. Shortly afterwards the first visiting band to ‘grab’ the tower arrived and left £120 for the church. Several more visiting bands are booked to come.
Let us hope that the project has brought a new focus on the church in the community and a place for visitors to learn about and even ring those bells again.