Monday, 18 July 2011

Willingale: The Bells of St Christopher

The bells of St Christopher’s, Willingale (traditionally Willingale Doe) rang out for the last time on 25 June 2011 ahead of a project to restore the tower and augment the number of bells from four to six. 
The church was open for visitors to ascend the bell tower by ladders to see the bells in the frame which will become redundant.

The existing four bells date from 1610 to 1797.  According to ‘Church Bells of Essex’ by Revd. Cecil Deedes (1909), a classic book on the topic, the bells in Willingale Doe are dated and inscribed as follows:
1.        Thomas Mears of London Felict 1797  [29 in.]
2.       Joh. French Henrie Pavit: Churchwarden IC Made Me 1634  [30½ in.]
3.       Thomas Bartlett mead this bell 1631 [33½ in.]
4.       Wilhelmus Carter me Fecit 1610 [35½ in.]
Bell dated 1797 - taken in tower prior to its removal
The oldest bell, made at the Whitechapel Foundry, dates from 1610 and comes from the brief career of William Carter (1609 -1616).  This makes this example particularly rare, although locally there were two others in neighbouring the neighbouring churches of High Ongar (1610) and Stapleford Tawney (1611).
Thomas Bartlett’s (founder, 1616 – 1631) bell of 1631 is one of only 18 examples, making it also a rare bell.
John Clifton (founder 1632 -40) made the bell bearing the churchwarden’s name.

To make up a new peal of six the village has acquired a “2nd bell” from Prittlewell cast in the early twentieth century.

Bell from Prittlewell
The five bells (four from the tower plus the Prittlewell bell) left the village for Whitechapel Bell Foundry for retuning in early July.

Meanwhile a new bell will be cast at the Foundry to complete the ring of six.

A final bell from the bell tower was removed.  It is used for chiming only, and came from neighbouring Shellow Bowells, will be returned.

In the meantime work to construct a new bell frame will proceed.  This will be placed lower in the tower to place less strain on the structure and create a better sound out of the louvre windows.  The Victorian bell frame (1853) will remain in situ unused.  Ringing will in future be performed from a new mezzanine floor placed in front of the west window and in full view of the congregation.   The project is supported by a National Lottery Grant and funds raised locally and is expected to be completed in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Deedes’ book is subtitled “Their founders, inscriptions, traditions and uses”.  In 1909 the following notes were made about these bells:

“Death Knell 24 hours after death; tolling for one hour.  On Sundays bells chimed followed by tolling for last five minutes.  Ringing at 5am on Christmas Day and midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Gleaning Bell at 8am until about ten years ago”.

For more information on the project go to

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