Shiplake Ringing Centre

The Bell Restoration Project 2009 - 2010


In September 2009, after two years of planning and fund raising, the project to replace the old ring of 8 bells at St Peter & St Paul Shiplake, Oxfordshire, got under way. The project involved casting a completely new ring of 8 bells and hanging them in a new frame slightly lower in the tower. It also involved provision of a Sanctus bell hung for swing chiming, fitting of adjustable sound control, construction of a platform to allow safer access to the tower roof and the installation of new lifting/Sanctus support beams.

The main contractors for the project were Whites of Appleton Church Bellhangers, with the new bells being cast by the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in London. The last ringing on the old bells took place on Tuesday 8th September 2009 and the tower work started the following day. However, much preparatory work had already been done, including replacing decayed wooden lintels and loose stonework in the clock chamber and pre-fabrication of the sound control units.


The two prime objectives of the project were radically to improve the ease with which the bells could be rung, and to transform their tone, making them a joy to hear. Subsidiary objectives included reducing the sound level of the bells in the immediate Churchyard area, spreading the sound outwards more and providing adjustable sound control to cause less disturbance to neighbours during practice ringing, yet retaining the full impact of the bells outside during service ringing. Hanging the bells lower in the tower would also be of benefit as it would reduce the stresses on the tower fabric. In addition, it was decided to take the opportunity to install a small Sanctus bell to be used for chiming before services when the full ring is not used. This would reduce wear and tear on one of the ringing bells which would otherwise have to be used for this purpose. The picture shows the old bells in the tower prior to dismantling.

The Old Bells in their frame
The Old Bells in their frame


Preliminary project planning started in autumn 2007 with employment of a specialist structural engineer, Adrian Dempster, to assess the suitability of the tower for a new metal frame slightly lower than the existing one and the acquisition of outline quotes from three different bellhanging/bellfounding companies. The structural report was favourable, subject to replacing the decayed wooden lintels over the blocked up doorway in the clock chamber and doing some re-pointing of stonework. Once PCC agreement to the project had been obtained, a small Steering Group consisting of John Penrose, Tim Woods-Ballard, Cyril Crouch and Bob Partridge (Project Manager) was created to oversee the project. After the scheme had been considered and fully supported by the Alan Frost the Bells Advisor on the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), a formal submission was prepared. The DAC subsequently issued a Certificate agreeing the work, subject to any comments from English Heritage.

Engaging English Heritage proved to be very time consuming, but eventually their representative visited and agreed the project, subject to the old frame side on the north side of the tower being preserved. They also required the old frame foundation beam holes to be filled with non-matching brick and a full archaeological record of the old frame to be made. The latter was produced by Dr John Eisel in May 2009. Copies were lodged with various libraries, Church Record offices and English Heritage. The Faculty for the work was issued by the Diocese in December 2008. The Faculty allowed for the old bells to be scrapped if buyers could not be found for some or all of them. The Keltek Trust (the Charity which facilitates the re-homing of redundant bells) were contacted and all the old bells listed for sale.

Fund raising had begun in March 2008 and by mid 2009 the estimated budget of £98,000 (net after sale of the old bells) had been raised, This was achieved through gifts, donation of individual bells, cash and charitable donations plus grant pledges from the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bellringers. Gift Aid was also a key component of the funding. In order to keep the project costs as low as possible the budget was based on the local Shiplake team doing as much work themselves as possible within their competence and included having a team of three people working with Whites whenever they were on site.

Clock Chamber Stonework

The clock chamber lintel replacement work was undertaken by CWA of Chichester in January 2009. First the triangle of loose stone over the doorway was removed and all the wooden lintels, apart from the outermost one, were then extracted. The ends of the lintels where they rested in the north wall were rotted through and the bearing under the innermost lintel in the east wall was loose. These lintels were replaced with pre-stressed concrete ones, as agreed with English Heritage and as specified by the structural engineer.

Replacement lintels
The new concrete lintels
The old wooden lintel
The old wooden lintel

The innermost wooden lintel was then reduced in width and replaced as a facade so that from within the clock chamber all the lintels over the openings still look the same. The picture above shows the new lintels in place prior to replacement of the loose triangle of stone. The picture on the left shows the completed work.

Casting the new Bell

Two choices of profile for the new bells were offered by Whitechapel, either their latest Mklll design or one based on that of the founders Gillett & Johnson whose foundry closed in the 1950s. The local band had visited Enfield St Mary (Whitechapel Mk Il profiles) and Milton St Blaise (G&J profiles) to assess the merits of the nearest comparable bells to the two offered profiles. The band's preference was to opt for the Whitechapel’s own Mklll profiles. The new bells were cast in two batches, 4,5,6,7 and 8 on Friday July 24th 2009 and 1,2 and 3 on Friday 21st August 2009. A small group of donors, friends and supporters were able to witness these castings at the Whitechapel Bellfoundry in London. After tuning, the bells were delivered to Whites on 8th October 2009.

Casting the 7th and 8th bells
Bells 7 and 8 were Cast in the morning of 24th July 2009. This picture shows the 7th bell being cast.
Casting bells 4,5 and 6
Bells 4,5 and 6 were cast in the afternoon of the 24th July. This picture shows the 4th being cast.
The new bells on arrival at AppletonThe new bells on arrival at Appleton on 8th October 2009

Cutting the Holes for the new Frame Foundation Beams

The new bell frame is positioned 1.1m below the level of the old frame. The frame foundation grillage consists of 2 lower beams (254x146x43mm) with 4 upper beams (203x133x30mm) at right angles to them. Before tackling removal of the old installation it was decided to cut the holes in the tower masonry for these 6 new frame foundation beams and cast the four concrete pads need to support the two lower beams. Twelve holes with a required depth of 225mm had to be cut in the tower walls, although 6 of the holes had to be twice this depth in order that the beams could be inserted into the wall.

Concrete pads were cast in the 4 holes for the lower beams. The concrete mix used for the pads and later for concreting around all the beam ends had to be carefully controlled and vibrated into position bucketful by bucketful. Cutting the holes involved digging out a first layer of about 150mm of clunch (chalk) stone and then removing a compacted flint, stone and lime mortar infill. All the rubble had to be lowered out of the tower a bucket at a time. It is estimated that about 3 tons of rubble was removed to create these holes. The concrete pads were installed by Bob Hudgell, a local retired Civil Engineer who spent his career working with concrete on projects all over the world. After cutting the holes and casting the pads, scaffolding was erected immediately under the old bell frame to enable it to be safely removed and the other work at higher level to be undertaken.

Completed holes for the two lower main foundation beams in the east wall. The concrete pad has been cast in the one on the right and the shuttering for the pad casting is in place on the one on the left.

Holes for the main foundation beams
Holes for the upper foundation beams

Cutting the two holes for the upper foundation beams in the southeast corner. The completed lower beam hole in the east (left) wall can be seen with its concrete pad. The right hand hole in the south wall is complete whilst the left hand hole is partly finished.

Dismantling the old Bells & Frame

Bells 1-6 and associated oak framework were removed by the Shiplake team and bells 7 & 8 were removed by Whites with help from the Shiplake team. The Shiplake team then dug out the 12 ends of the old steel foundation beams from the tower walls before Graham Clifton from Whites came and cut each of the 6 beams in half. The old beam sections were then lowered by the Shiplake team and sold for scrap.

The old 5th being lowered into the ringing chamber

The 5th bell, the first to be lowered, appears through the trap door into the Ringing Room

The 3rd bell, (on the left) and the 4th bell (on the right), ready for lowering whilst Keith Vernon takes a well earned rest.

The 3rd and 4th being lowered into the ringing chamber
The dismantling team

The dismantling team, Bob Partridge, Cyril Crouch and Keith Vernon in the Church with the front 6 bells.

The old north frame side

The old north frame side temporarily suspended to allow the old foundation beam ends to be dug out of the walls ready for cutting and lowering

Building Work and the Sanctus & Lifting Beams

On completion of removal of the old frame, the first task for the Shiplake team was to fill in the old frame foundation holes with a mixture of stone, concrete and facing brickwork. On completion of this work, the old north frame side was secured to the tower walls sitting back in its old position on the original timber blocks on four small concrete pads. (The photograph shows some of the filled holes and the retained old north frame side back in position).

Filled holes and the retained old north frame side
Galvanised beams to support the Sanctus bell

The next task was to cut the holes for the 3 new galvanised beams that would support the Sanctus bell and provide safe anchorage for the lifting gear used to install the new frame and bells. The Sanctus/lifting beam assembly was designed by specialist structural engineer Adrian Dempster. Unlike the new frame foundation beams, each of the these beams was joined with special plates in the middle so obviating the need to dig double depth holes in the tower walls at the upper level where the tower masonry is not as deep as the walls where the new bell frame is positioned.

Derek Brown, one of the Shiplake ringers, managed the purchase of the beams from CS Construction of Watlington who organised drilling and galvanising by appropriate specialists. They were installed by the Shiplake team on pads cast in the holes by Bob Hudgell. They were then concreted in and filled above with reclaimed stone and brick. The photograph shows the east end of two of the new beams with the Sanctus bell hanging in position.

The Sanctus bell which weighs 3/4 cwt was Cast by Gillett & Johnson of Croydon in 1929 and was purchased from the Keltek Trust. It came from the Church of St Ethelburga, St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex where a chime of 5 bells had fallen into disrepair and 4 of the 5 bells were being scrapped to fund re-hanging of the other bell. Whites provided all the new fittings for the bell to enable it to be hung for swing chiming.

Adjustable Sound Control

In order to try and improve and be able to manage the external sound footprint of the bells under service and practice ringing conditions respectively, adjustable sound control was installed. The design was based on the principles for sound control set out in the Central Council of Church Bellringers advice booklet, together with practical experience from installations used in a number of Middlesex Churches. The weatherproofing/sound control was prefabricated during the summer of 2009 in Cyril Crouch’s garage by Bob Partridge and Cyril Crouch.

Sound control louvres

The sound control behind each set of louvres consists of three separate sections. The lowest section comprises two sheets of 25mm plywood separated by a 50mm timber framework infilled with rockwool. This is designed to force more of the sound out through the top of the louvres so reducing the previously very high sound levels in the immediate Churchyard area. By doing this, the audibility of the bells further away from the Church will be improved. Above each base unit is a section containing two side by side opening trap doors, (except for the south side where only one trap is provided because of the space needed for the roof access ladder). The traps are opened for service ringing and closed for practices, quarter peals and peals. The uppermost section is a blanking plate covering the apex area of the arch.The louvres are large, typically 2.2m wide and 2.6m high to the apex and consequently the sound control units are substantial structures. They are fixed with steel galvanised angles and rawbolts, each section being independently removable if necessary. The traps are operated by ropes running over pulleys connected to galvanised steel angles bolted to each door and controlled from the ringing room. All the timber used was treated with wood preservative. The photograph shows the three sections of the west installation in position with the two trap doors partially wedged open.

Roof Access Platform

Finally, a platform with a handrail was built across the south wall to permit much safer two-stage access to the tower roof. This was built to a design by the Church architects, agreed with the structural engineer. This platform is accessed by a ladder from the end of the 3rd bell pit. The roof trapdoor is accessed from the other end of the platform by a step ladder which hooks over a purpose designed bar. The platform walkway flooring is made up from 150x50mm and 200x50mm treated timbers with small gaps to ensure that it does not act as a sound deflector for the bells on the south side of the tower. The picture shows the completed platform with the access ladder on the left and step ladder to the trap door on the right.

Roof access platform

Visit to Appleton

On the 14th November 2009, around 40 donors, supporters and ringers were able to visit Whites workshop at Appleton to see the new bells assembled in their new frame. After the visit, the installation was dismantled and all the beams that form the foundation grillage of the frame were sent away for galvanising. The picture shows the bells in their frame on that occasion.

The new bells in their frame at Appletons

Installation of the new Frame Foundation Grillage

Following completion of the high level works, the scaffolding (from Caversham Scaffolding) was lowered to form a secure platform for installation of the new frame foundation grillage and concreting in the 12 ends of the 6 main beams which form the grillage. The grillage was delivered by Whites on 3rd December and installed the same day by Graham Clifton and James Haseldine with the help of the Shiplake team.

The new bell grillage

The four prepared pads for the lower two beams proved absolutely level meaning that no shimming was necessary and all 12 holes were exactly to size so that no additional cutting was needed to get the beams into position. As the photograph shows, by the end of the day the 6 main beams, the 5 trimmer beams, 6 (blue) frame ends and 2 diagonal braces were successfully installed ready for Boshers to begin shuttering and concreting in the beam ends the following week. The photograph shows Graham Clifton, a Director of Whites and their head bellhanger, standing on the completed grillage in the 6th pit, with the 7th pit immediately behind. In the new frame, bells 2,3,6,7 swing north-south whilst bells 1,4,5,8 swing east-west.

Concreting in the Main Beam Ends

Boshers arrived on site on 7th December and, working to a specification from Whites, built temporary shuttering around each of the 12 main beam ends, They then poured concrete around the beams ends, compacting it with a vibrating poker as they went, This work was completed by a team of three in just over 3 days and involved mixing and hoisting up the tower over a ton of concrete. The photographs show some of the shuttering and some of the resultant concrete once the shuttering had been removed.

Shuttering with feed-in hoppers

Shuttering with feed—in hoppers in the south-east corner (3rd pit)

Completed concrete in the northwest corner (7th pit)

Completed concrete, norhwest corner

Following removal of the scaffolding two new wall plates were installed along the north and south walls respectively and new rebated 50mm thick timber floor boarding cut to size and fitted between the lower flanges of the east-west beams and the wall plates. This forms a secure and robust floor under the whole bell frame which also provides good sound attenuation.

Delivery of the New Frame & Bells

The new bells were scheduled for delivery on 7th January, but a major snowfall two days previously meant that the large lorry with a tail lift that was booked to carry the bells was stranded elsewhere and all roads in Oxfordshire were very treacherous. This put the Service of Blessing the Bells planned for Sunday 10th January at risk. However, Graham Clifton from Whites organised alternative transport for the 8th January using one smaller lorry and his Landrover with his large trailer. The trip from Appleton was tricky given the state of the roads but both vehicles arrived safely and managed to get down Church Lane.

The new bells arrive at Shiplake

The only problem then was how to offload the larger bells and frame sides without a hoist or lift. The day was saved by Stephen Doble from Shiplake Farm who brought his tractor with front forks to offload all the heavy pallets. The picture shows the 7th being offloaded.

The bells, frame sides and other components were then moved into the Church ready for the Blessing Service. The picture to the left shows the bells safely in the Churchyard prior to being moved into the Church.

The new bells at Shiplake in the snow The new bells being offloaded

Installation of the New Frame & Bells

The Shiplake team spent much of the weekend clearing the Church Hall car park of snow so that those attending could park. Despite the poor weather on the Sunday, 75 people attended the wonderful and joyous service conducted by the Rev Stephen Cousins, (seen pictured right blessing the tenor).

The new bells being blessed by Rev Stephen Cousins
The 6th being hoisted up into the tower

Work on installation started on Monday 11th January and by the evening of Tuesday 12th, all the bells were in the frame. The picture above shows the 6th being hoisted up. The tenor and 4th were the last bells to go up and they had then to be temporarily suspended (see pictures below with James Haseldine from Whites left and Tim Haigh one of the Shiplake team right) whilst the frame sections over the trap door were bolted into place. The two bells were then lowered into their pits. Wednesday and Thursday mornings were spent attaching all the fittings, drilling rope holes, resetting guides and adjusting clappers etc.

The 4th being hoisted up into the tower  The tenor being hoisted up into the tower

Ringing the New Bells

The bells were rung individually on Wednesday 13th January 2010 in order to set the clapper positions. The first test ringing of all 8 bells took place at 3pm the following day, 14th January. Rounds, plain courses of Grandsire Triples and Bob Major were rung involving 4 of Whites staff and members of the local band including the donors of the treble, second and tenor. All agreed that the bells sounded absolutely superb, the Whitechapel Mklll profiles producing a very impressive sound.The bells ring very easily and after installing a layer of carpet on the clock chamber floor, the internal acoustics are excellent. The picture shows the new bells in their frame with old North frame side preserved above.

The new bells fully installed in the new frame

The bells were first rung publicly for a wedding on Saturday 30th January with Sunday Service ringing resuming on Sunday 31st January. Practice ringing resumed on Tuesday 2nd February.

Measurements of the sound levels outside the tower show that the sound control is working effectively. The previous highest sound level of 85 dBA in the Churchyard immediately behind the Church has been reduced to 79 dBA with the adjustable sound control open and 68 dBA with the sound control shutters closed. In the Churchyard immediately in front of the Church, the previous 85 dBA has been reduced to 75 dBA with the shutters open and 64 dBA with them closed.

After completion of the roof access platform, ladders, trapdoors and replacing the wooden bosses on the rope guides for quieter metal ones, the ringing room lower walls were lime plastered by Boshers, the old asbestos sheet material having been removed by specialists. This was followed by decoration and completion of the sound control operating system. The clock hand drive was modified and the hour strike reinstated to sound on the 7th bell.

Listen to the sound of the new bells: Sound symbol- St Peter and St Paul Date: 2011, Stedman Triples.

The Dedication

The bells were dedicated at a service conducted by the Bishop of Dorchester on Sunday 2nd May 2010 attended by over 150 ringers, parishioners and friends. During the service the bells were rung in rounds by members of the local band: Cyril Crouch, Joyce Vernon, Rachel Piercey, Michael Bland, Derek Brown, Keith Vernon, Joanna Knight and Robert Partridge. Immediately after the service a touch of Stedman Triples was rung by an Oxford Diocesan Guild representative band: June Wells, John Wells, Patricia Newton, Robert Newton, HiIarie Rogers, Graham Clifton, Joanna Knight and Stephen Smith. This was followed by open ringing.

The Bishop of Dorchester, Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, Cyril Crouch, Bob Partridge and Brain White

The photograph shows the Bishop of Dorchester, Rt Rev Colin Fletcher with on the left Cyril Crouch (Tower Captain), and Rev Stephen Cousins, and on the right Robert Partridge (Project Manager) and Brian White (MD Whites of Appleton Church Bellhangers).

First Peal on the new Bells

The first peal on the new bells was rung on Saturday 22nd May 2010.
SHIPLAKE, Oxon, St Peter & St Paul Sat May 22 2010 2 hours 47 minutes
Tenor 9cwt 15Ibs in G#
5056 Plain Bob Major
Composed by J R Pritchard
Treble Joanna Knight
2 Joyce Vernon
3 Patricia M Newton
4 Robert H Newton
5 Stephen R Smith
6 GrahamJ Clifton
7 L Roy Woodruff
Tenor Robert A Partridge (Conductor)

The first Peal Band
Standing left to right: Robert Newton, Roy Woodruff, Robert Partridge, Graham Clifton, Stephen Smith Sitting left to right: Joanna Knight, Patricia Newton, Joyce Vernon.

The Old Bells

The final destinations for the old 8 bells are as follows:

1 & 2 (cast by Warners 1902) to Newnham Hampshire (used in the augmentation from 3 to 5)
3 (cast by Warners 1868) to Winterborne Stickland Dorset to replace the existing treble in the ring of 4
4 (cast by Warners 1902) to Thoroton Notts to augment a ring of 3 to 4
5 (cast by Warners 1902) to Nunton Wiltshire to augment a chime from 3 to 4
6 (cast by Warners 1868) scrapped and the metal reused by Whitechapel for casting new bells
7 (cast by Mears & Stainbank 1925) swopped by Nicholson Engineering of Bridport for a bell discovered to be cracked and destined to be used in a future project
8 (cast by Mears &Stainbank 1925) scrapped and the metal reused by Whitechapel for casting new bells
We are indebted to the Keltek Trust for all their help in facilitating the re-homing of bells 1-5.

The New Bells

TrebleSimon PeterThe gift of Mavis and Cyril Crouch "Although I am both light and small, I will be heard above you all" Laus Deo3-0-3
2HildaThe gift of Joyce and Keith Vernon. In memory of loved ones3-0-19
3IgnatiusIn loving memory of May and Col Dunesky3-1-11
4PaulIn loving memory of Simon Grant Gallyer 1954 - 2007. "Of love I tell"4-0-16
5LukeThe gift of the Pugsley family4-3-7
6AgathaIn memory of Lilian Elizabeth Gallyer 1921 - 1984. "Of love I tell"5-1-4
7KatherineThe gift of the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust6-3-19
TenorEdmundIn loving memory of Kathleen Partridge 1917 - 1999 and Joan Dove 1919 - 20029-0-15
All the bells are inscribed "Whitechapel 2009" with their foundry mark. All bells except the treble are also inscribed: "Whites of Appleton Church Bellhangers".

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