New bells ring out in time for World War I centenary

St Mary the Virgin Saxlingham Nethergate is celebrating the end of nearly a decade of fundraising for a new set of eight bells which will form an integral part of their World War I commemorations

Published 25 January 2014
(Photo: Storm Roberts)
The new tenor bell at the workshop prior to hanging

Sunday will see the dedication of a new peal of eight bells at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Saxlingham Nethergate.

It marks the happy end of nine years of fundraising by the church and local community, including a grant of £100,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Work got underway in early 2013 to restore the church tower, and recast and rehang the peal of eight bells. 

The tradition of bellringing in the village of Saxlingham Nethergate goes back to 1455 when a John Gyles left 13s 4d for the purchase of a great bell for the church.

It is the first restoration of the bells in just over a century and the ringing of the new bells will form an integral part of the village's World War One commemorations. 

The previous bells were last restored from 1908 to 1910 and to mark the completion of the work, eight young men from the village rang a Peal of Bob Major on 14 October 1910. All of them would go on to serve in the Great War, with all but one surviving - Alfred Funnell who sadly fell at the Somme on 4 September 1916. 

To commemorate all those who died and served in World War One, the same Peal of Bob Major will ring out from the church on 4 September 2016. 

This will coincide with the unveiling of a permanent exhibition documenting the latest bell restoration as well as the service of the men in the village in World War One. 

Also looking to the future is Tower Captain Jeff Fox, leader of the current team of bellringers, who is hoping new ringers of all ages will be encouraged to give it a go. 

The bell project has enjoyed the full support of the community, with locals visiting the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, where the bells were cast, to take part in genealogy and calligraphy workshops. 

(Photo: Storm Roberts)
The church tower post repairs and strengthening work showing the restored clock face and new louvres

A new 'church trail' produced to guide visitors around the church and grounds has already been completed by the local Scouts, Guides, Cubs and Brownies. 

Local school children also visited the church to see the bells, and met representatives of the bell foundry to learn about the bells. 

The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, will bless and dedicate the new peal of eight at St Mary the Virgin on Sunday.

Churchwarden and Fabric Officer Geoff Blyth, speaking on behalf of the Parochial Church Council, said that the bishop's visit was a wonderful opportunity to say 'thank you' to the local community and all those who had worked on the project.

"We have had an amazing team working on this project - from the local community who have tirelessly worked fundraising for over nine years and the Heritage Lottery Fund who have supported us with a very generous grant, to the volunteers, very talented craftsmen who completed the building work and stone masonry and the bell foundry and bell hangers," he said.

"Because of all the hard work everyone has put in the bells will be able to ring out from St Mary's for several generations."

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: "It's wonderful that this grant from HLF means the church bells at St Mary the Virgin are ringing once again and that they will be able to play a very meaningful role in commemorating the upcoming First World War centenary events."

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