St Peter & St Paul Church – Charlton Adam
The Charlton Adam bells last rang in 1916 but only when the belfry was cleared of rubble in 2005 did the reason why become apparent. The south west corner of the oak frame and the south supporting main beam in the clockroom had significant rot probably progressive over at least 150 years and caused by a minor leak in the tower roof. Inadequate tower roof repairs had been completed in the 1930s and additional major roof repairs at a cost of £28,000 were completed in 2007. With scaffolding in place the opportunity was taken to re-gild the clock face. The tower roof weather vane was also gilded, probably not done since its installation in the mid-1800s.
In 1920 a new church clock was installed in the original ringing gallery as a memorial to those from the village who had died in the first world war. The clock required winding every 5 days and the substantial lead weights dropped down to vestry floor level. In order to optimise the limited space available an electric winding mechanism was installed: this had smaller weights now confined within the clock room. The size of the clock effectively made ringing impossible from the old positions. A new ringing gallery was installed at mid-level between the vestry floor and the ceiling below the clock room and an engraved glass balustrade was commissioned (see the Churches page).
The focus of the work in the belfry was on restoration thus retaining as much as was feasible of the original structure and fittings. This was successfully achieved although major steel supports were required to improve the stability of the frame. The bells were removed to Hayward Mills bell hangers premises in Nottingham where they were refurbished and the original crown staples drilled out. A complete new belfry floor was required. A small display area in the ringing gallery shows some of the original fittings from the bells and frame as well as items found in the 20 cwt of rubble removed from the belfry.
The opportunity was taken to upgrade the electrics in the tower, to fit new emergency lighting and also replace all of the poor quality Victorian storage cupboards in the vestry: substantial woodworm and rot were discovered when the cupboards were removed to free up space for the bells to be lowered into the vestry. In addition to the roof repair costs, a further £80,000 was spent on the bells and other ancilliary work.
There were many generous financial grants awarded to support the project as well as considerable local assistance with the provision of accommodation for the bell hangers, and voluntary labour to assist whenever required: all are recorded on an inscribed oak plaque that now hangs in the new ringing gallery, visible from the west end of the nave. One of the last grants to be awarded was a substantial one from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which included support for community education events and projects,The bells rang prior to a service for the first time in 92 years on Christmas morning 2008, and were re-dedicated by The Venerable Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells on 22nd May 2009.
It is probable that there was a ring of 5 bells at St Peter & St Paul church in the 15th century shortly after the re-build of the tower. However, the evidence is not conclusive and it is possible that a pre-reformation single tier of 3 bells was augmented with another 2 bells in the 17th century, and certainly no later than 1714 when, as shown by the inscription on the 2nd bell, Squire ‘Stranways’ paid Edward Bilbie of Chew Magna to recast one of the existing bells. Certainly the 3rd bell, inscribed “Sancta Magareta”, is of pre-reformation date circa 1470, and the 2nd, as recorded by the inscription, was recast in 1714 from an earlier bell. The Treble, 2nd & 3rd bells are listed. The bells remain much as their founders left them; they all retain their canons and cast in crown staples.
Individual bell details are:
Treble & 2nd Cast by Edward Bilbie of Chew Magna Somerset in 1714. Edward worked between 1698 and his death in 1724.
3rd Cast by r.t. , circa 1470, a Bristol bellfounder. Little is known of him other than he was working in the last half of the 15th century but not in the 16th.
4th Cast by Thomas (The Great) Bilbie of Chew Magna in 1738. It is possible that this is a re-cast of one of his father’s bells or an earlier bell. Thomas worked between 1725 and 1768, and died in 1779.
Tenor Cast by Thomas Mears II in 1832 at the Whitechapel foundry in London. Thomas worked between 1810 and 1842. This foundry is still working on the same site that it has occupied since about 1570. The bell is a re-cast of another whose date is unknown.
The bells hang on a two-tier listed oak frame: the lower tier contains the 3rd, Treble and Tenor bells and the upper tier the 2nd and 4th bells. The frame is rare and it is of very considerable historic significance. It is manifestly the work of a competent frame maker, of solid construction with substantial section timbers. The feat of building a complex two-tier structure in a confined space was a triumph and raises questions over the genesis of the design, and the incorporation of timbers of different ages adds further interest.
The lower tier of the frame is late 15th century and the heads of the lower frame trusses have been cut to accommodate three larger bells than are there now. The majority view is that the upper tier is of the same date, but if the bells were augmented to five at a later date as predicated above then the frame may have been adjusted to mortice in the uprights now existing.