TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th December 2003 (p1 & p3), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

TAKE A LOOK AT: CHURCH BELLS

Some Peakland villages still hear the New Year rung in on their old church bells. In days gone by the sound would have carried from one church to the next, just as it did at times of news of battles won, kings crowned and princes born. At the death of a monarch or member of the royal family the bells were muffled.

A wide variety of such occasions appears in parish records: in 1604 Youlgreave bells rang to celebrate the coronation of James I, then later that year gave resounding thanks for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot, beginning a custom which was maintained in Youlgreave until 1830. Similarly, Winster churchwardens' accounts show five shillings paid to the ringers on 5th November 1738. Early eighteenth-century military victories were also celebrated on Youlgreave bells: Romilles in 1706 and "victory over ye Spaniards" in 1711.

Wirksworth accounts contain interesting detail from expenses for candles for the 5 o'clock ringer to nine shillings-worth of ale for ringers at the birth of the Prince of Wales in 1688. However, within a year the same bells were proclaiming the accession of William and Mary.

Many parish accounts show expenses for bell repairs, oil and new ropes. One Youlgreave entry refers to the "ting-tang" bell, a name familiar in other villages too. At Ashford for instance the "ting-tang" provided the annual 11 o'clock Pancake Bell. This Shrove Tuesday custom was widely observed in the Peak within living memory, and meant that it was time to mix the batter.

Shrove Tuesday still marks the end of the ringing of Castleton curfew. This is the only place in the Peak where the once common curfew tradition continues, ringing out every Saturday night between 29th September and Shrove Tuesday (Peak Advertiser 21st October 2002).

INSCRIPTIONS

Bellringers' rules are still preserved at churches including Hathersage - demanding a fine of four pence "if you strike, miscall or do abuse" - Tideswell and Beeley. Bells can be cast with a wide range of inscriptions in addition to founders' marks. Each of the eight bells at Bakewell bears a rhyme appropriate to its task. Typical rhymes also decorate two of Castleton's bells:

"When of departed hours we toll the knell, Instruction take and spend the future well".

And from the old passing bell which was tolled at the death of a local person - "I to the church the people call, And to the grave I summon all."

Visitors to Alstonefield parish church can climb to the ringing chamber in the Tudor tower to see photographs of the bells in motion and their inscriptions.

SANCTUS BELLS

In addition to six fine bells, Hathersage has a rare medieval Sanctus bell of about 1460. It bears a prayer, in Latin, for the souls of Robert Eyre and his wife Joan (nee Padley), together with the Eyre and Padley arms. At one time this bell bore the local nickname of "Tommy Tinkler".

Another very early bell hangs in Elton church, this inscribed with an ornate and rare founder's mark and the words, "Jesus Be Our Spede". This inscription - with spellings of "spede, speed and speede" - is also found on three 17th-century Eyam bells. It is seen again at Chelmorton, where two of the five bells were re-cast in 1960 to incorporate metal from the bells of Derwent church which was lost under the reservoir. Another Derwent bell was re-hung in a new church at Chaddesden.

Ashford "ting-tang", referred to earlier, is in fact another pre-Reformation Sanctus bell. It is of similar date to the "old fifth" at St. Giles, Matlock, which bears an ancient symbol common to other early bells and known as a fylfot cross - better known in modern times as a swastika.

As for the more recent, a peal of six bells at Bamford was cast in steel by Firths of Sheffield and is rung by a system of hand pulleys. Unlike traditional, heavy bells they do not have to swing full circle. A unique peal of six bells also hangs in the distinctive "Rhenish Helm" tower of Wormhill church, these cast by Taylors of Loughborough and originally intended for trade samples. They are thought to be the smallest peal in existence: the heaviest bell at one cwt. compares with that at Youlgreave at 27 cwt.

The very weight and motion of some bells means that they have to hang silent for fear of damage to already fragile masonry. For this reason bell-ringing ceased at Stanton-in-Peak for 40 years, until a new peal was installed in March 2003.

As a footnote, it is recorded that about 130 years ago when Taddington spire was in a dangerous condition, a bell was suspended in the church porch and struck by a local deaf- mute, such was the importance of calling the faithful to prayer.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th December 2003.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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