Thornbury Church – The Bells.
The graceful tower of Thornbury church, measuring 130 feet to the tops of the angle turrets and dominating the local landscape, is a fitting embellishment to this light and spacious church. It was built around 1540 and a resemblance to the towers of Gloucester Cathedral (c.1450) and St. Stephens Bristol (c.1470) has been noted. The pinnacles and battlements had become unsafe and decayed and were rebuilt in 1889 under the care of Mr Waller, then the Architect of Gloucester Cathedral, enhancing further the resemblance to that tower. The tower contains ring of eight bells, the largest weighing some 18.1/2 cwt. Their early history is not clear: the oak bellframe, hung high in the tower at the level of the louvres, is of traditional 17th century Gloucestershire style and appears to have been constructed as one unit, suggesting that there were eight bells originally.
But the six heaviest bells, all from the Gloucester Rudhall foundry, range in date from 1698 to 1828 and, although the fourth bell of 1698 bears the inscription`Abr Rudhall cast us all`, there is no mention of Thornbury in the catalogues of bells cast by the foundry between 1684 and 1830. Also, the two bells dated 1698 bear different names in their inscriptions.
The two smallest bells were recast by Evans of Chepstow in 1760, possibly because the original 17th century bells were unsatisfactory, but the Evan bells were again recast: the Treble bell by Llewellins & James of Bristol in 1886 and the second by the Whitechapel foundry of London in 1938.
The bells were rehung in 1893 by Blackbourne and Greenleaf of Salisbury, when oak beams supported on stone corbels were placed under the bellframe to help support it. By the latter part of this century, however, the bells had become increasingly difficult to ring and in 1996 a major restoration programme was undertaken. The bells were removed to the Whitechapel foundry in London. The fifth of 1788 was found to be cracked and was repaired by welding, and the Llewellins & James Treble, an inferior bell, was recast yet again. All the bells were then tuned together and rehung with modern fittings in a new metal frame some 18 feet lower in the tower, the oak frame being retained in its original position. The new frame has space for two further bells which, it is hoped, will be added at a later date.
With the retuning, the bells now form a fine ring and are an interesting mix of ages. It was gratifying that the 1788 fifth bell could be successfully welded and returned to use – it is hoped for another 200 years at least. In the inscription on the fourth bell, three of the letters N are reversed but perhaps this can be excused in a bell cast in 1698. On the second bell of 1938, the inscription from the former Evans bell has been reproduced and the Treble of 1996 carries copies of the inscriptions from both the former Evans and Llewellins & James bells.
Treble: 30.in 5-3-10, Whitechapel, 1996
GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST
17 W (bell) E 60 / LLEWELLINS & JAMES / BRISTOL 1886 / RECAST / 19 (Whitechapel Mark) 96 / WHITECHAPEL
M. VOOGHT – VICAR / V.MURRAY P.SAGE A.MULLINEX: CHURCHWARDENS
2: 31.in 6-0-10, Whitechapel, 1938
M`R IOHN SALMON M`R IAMES CULLIMORE CH W`NS W (bell) E J760
RECAST 1938 / (Whitechapel Mark) / H. E. McLEOAD. VICAR / R. A. BENNETT. L. T. THORSTON.:CHURCHWARDENS. / “GOD IS OUR HOPE AND STRENGTH”
3: 31.in 6-1-24, J. Rudhall, 1828
*M. F. T. STEPHENS VICAR J. FORD W.CORNOCK & W. COWLEY C. WARDENS. J828. I. RUDHALL FECT.
4: 35.in. 7-1-2, A. Rudhall, 1698
ION THVRSTON (arabesque) WM TANNER GOD SAVE THE KING 1698 (scroll) / (vine border all round) / (vine) (arabesque) (scroll) ABR RVDHALL CAST VS ALL
5: 38.in 8-1-20, J Rudhall, 1788
MORDECAI HIGNELL CHURCH WARDEN 1788 I. RUDHALL FECT.
6. 41.IN 11-1-19, j Rudhall, 1828
THE REVD. M.F.T. STEPHENS VICAR JAS. FORD WM. CORNOCK & WM. COWLEY CHURCHWARDENS. J828. I. RUDHALL FECT.
7. 44.IN 13-3-7, A Rudhall, 1698
THO: HARVEST (tree) IOH: HEWETT (tree)WILM: CLARKE: CH WRD: 1698 (arabesque)
Tenor: 49.in, 18-2-19, A. Rudhall, 1717
RALPH GROUE VICAR GUY HEWETT HEN: PRICHARD ROB: WYSE: C:W: 1717 A (bell) R (arabesque)