Stowe-by-Chartley Parish Council		V 1 13.07.31

The Church Bells

For 1500 years the Christian Church in England has used bells to announce a service and before the Reformation, bells kept time for people living in an age of almost complete silence apart from the noises of humans and animals. Priests would divide up the day by ringing one stroke at 6.00am (prime), three at 9.00am (tierce), three at mid-day (lauds), three at 3.00pm (nones) and at 6.00pm they would ring many strokes (vespers). In Stowe the two oldest of the six bells date from the late 15th century. The tenor, and the 3rd bell are 16th century, the 2nd was cast in 1632 and the most recent addition, is the treble. They all have inscriptions. Details can be found on the notice board in the church tower. There are many legends, traditions and customs associated with bells such as the ringing of the Nine Tailors (or Tellers) to mark a passing – 9 strokes for a man, 6 for a woman, 3 for a child. The Curfew continued to mark the end of a working day long after it was officially repealed and curfew was rung at Stowe as late as 1873. In many parts of the country, before honeymoons became the rule, it was the custom on the morning after the wedding to ring a Bride’s Peal to wake up the happy couple. In 1914 a letter from the vicar and the churchwardens was read at a meeting of parishioners. It stated that since 1884 it had only been possible to chime the bells due to the poor state of the tower and that now the wooden framework supporting them was so decayed and unsafe that they could no longer even be chimed. A restoration fund was set up to raise the money to carry out repairs. Local people gave generously and on December 18 of 1914 the bells, now re-hung in a metal frame in the newly strengthened tower, were re-dedicated by the Archdeacon of Stoke, along with a new bell in memory of Mr Bromhall. In subsequent years many local people learned to handle the bells, for many years under the captaincy of George Robinson and since 1970, Michael Brown. During the 2nd World War village bells were silent, only to ring out in the event of invasion but since then, apart from a few breaks, Stowe’s bells have been rung regularly and certainly over the last 36 years have never once missed calling the people to worship for a Sunday service, which is, after all, that is what the bells were originally meant to do. Bells have always been associated with landmark events, both nationally and personally – they ring out joyfully for a wedding and the single bell tolls for a death, whether it be the marriage of a member of the royal family, the funeral of a monarch or that of a member of the local community. In view of all this regular activity it is not surprising that some 92 years after the restoration work Stowe’s bells again needed attention. It was agreed that bell hangers carry out work to fit new ball bearings in place of the old plain bearings on the bells, to re-bush the pulleys, to restore the profiles of the clappers and re-bush them too. A significant reduction in cost was achieved by using local labour, thus requiring only one bell hanger to oversee the work. Volunteers cleaned out the bell chamber, helped the bell hanger and dismantled the bells so that the headstocks, clappers and pulleys could be taken away to the factory. Volunteers also prepared and painted the frame and then re-assembled the bells over the course of 3. Another volunteer kindly videoed all this. Hopefully, no more significant work will be required for another 100 years! Mike & Jenny Brown