Then there were six!

With great delight, it is announced that the Ab Kettleby bell augmentation is now complete! Work finished on the treble bell late last week, completing the full peal of six.

It’s been a long journey, which started just over two years ago when the original three bells were repaired following the church restoration. With the promise of a new tenor being donated to the church, plans were made to start regular ringing, with a view to building a local band to ring the augmented peal. Shortly afterwards, two further bells were found and made available to Ab Kettleby, but they weren’t a good musical fit. It was decided instead to cast two new bells, and two donors came forward to fund the castings.

Bell handling teaching commenced in June 2014 amid much enthusiasm for the project from villagers. Slowly and steadily, the newly formed band built handling skills, and new members joined the team with ages ranging from 9 to 60! At the time of writing, the Ab Kettleby band totals 14 ringers and learners. A further 3 ringers from neighbouring towers provide regular valuable assistance!

With the bells secured, and bell hanging being offered on a voluntary basis, funds were needed for the fixtures and fittings – both fittings for the bells, but also a new frame side as the existing frame had been created for five bells, even though there was an obvious space for a sixth. Grants were applied for, local businesses approached for help, and fundraising from individuals took place. In just a few months, the modest sum required was reached, and November 2014 saw the go-ahead being given for casting bells and frames.

Around the same time, preparation work started on the bell frame – decades of weather had taken its toll on the iron and steel frame, with multiple layers of rust and corrosion. Each part of the frame was painstakingly brushed and rubbed down to remove all loose debris. The frame was then sprayed with a rust converter to provide a suitable surface for overcoating with primer and paint.

The two new bells were cast at the John Taylor Bell Foundry on 5th February 2015, and a delegation of parishioners visited Loughborough to witness the spectacle.

The augmentation commenced in July 2015, with the dismantling of the existing three bells. Two of the bells needed to be removed for repair – the wooden bell ‘pads’ had also succumbed to the forces of weather, so were to be replaced by modern resin pads. While these bells were out of the tower, they received some light tuning to allow a correct match with the full peal of bells. The third bell was removed from the frame, but kept in the bell chamber as it was the frame side needing repair – the force of the rust underneath had caused the base of the frame to fracture. The weather damage to the frame meant some parts were extremely stubborn to remove – a last resort of angle grinding was necessary on some sections. With only one bell left in the chamber it provided the perfect opportunity to finish off the painting jobs.

September 2015 saw five bells arrive at Ab Kettleby – the two old bells, two brand new bells and the relocated tenor bell. Some villagers made the most of the warm autumnal evening and came to watch the bells being transported into the church and winched up in the tower – certainly not something to see very often! Frame repairs were taking longer than anticipated so it wasn’t until 31st October before the frame was reassembled and all of the bells had made it to their final destinations.

The old three bells were straightforward to get back to ringing again – no holes to be drilled, no sliders to fit, or pulley boxes to be lined up – just drop the rope down and attach to the wheels! The ringers were keen to return to Ab Kettleby for practice nights, so ringing returned to 3 bells at Ab Kettleby on 18th November 2015.

With unfortunate timing, the volunteers could not return until nearly Christmas to progress the augmentation any further. A significant milestone was achieved on Wednesday 23rd December, just prior to practice night when the new Second and Tenor bells were ‘roped’ and five bells rang out for the first time from Ab Kettleby! Time, however, had run out on getting the new treble up and running in time for Christmas.

That brings the story pretty much up to date – the missing parts for the treble arrived in Ab Kettleby on 7th January and with works completed, the treble was rung up and down a couple of times to test all was well.

Today, Wednesday 13th January, sees the Ab Kettleby bell-ringers ring the brand new six bell peal for the first time at the practice evening!

(Please note: The benefactors have requested that until they have been given the opportunity to ring the Ab Kettleby bells, visiting ringers will not be permitted to do so. The inagural Quarter Peal is planned for Saturday 16th January for the benefit of the donors, after which visiting bands will be welcome by arrangement.)

Spiders

A new addition has appeared in the Ab Kettleby tower – a bell-rope spider!

Ab Kettleby is a home to a number of horses in the various stables and studs dotted around the village. The most famous of which would be Desert Orchid, who spent his summers in the village, and lent his name to help raise funds for the restoration of the church a few years ago.

Spider

So as a nod to Dessie, and our other equine neighbours, the spider has been formed from six horse shoes, each providing a hook for a rope. A welcome addition to the tower which is starting to feel a bit more ‘professional’!

Rust

While the frame and beams are being repaired, and tuning of the two removed bells is taking place, the bell chamber is looking a bit empty. Therefore, it’s an ideal opportunity to clear up the debris that’s been created by recent works, treat and prime the newly exposed metalwork, and prepare for a top coat of paint. Here’s the rather empty looking bell chamber

Empty Bell Chamber

Also, here is a closer view of the rust and corrosion that we’ve been faced with. This is the beam between underneath the fractured frame side that supported the current tenor. The loose surface rust has been removed, and the surface stabilised ready for priming, but the erosion is very noticeable.

Corrosion on beam

This is a bolt which held the frame side to the above beam. The frame side sits on ‘feet’ on top of the beam, so there is a gap between beam and frame side where the bolts hold everything together. Weather is, of course, able to get into the gap – the bolt clearly shows the difference between exposed and non-exposed metal work.

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Another New Stay

Over the last couple of weeks, it has been noticed that the treble bell has become increasingly deeply set. Examination of the stay show that it had fractured and had become rather crooked. However it was still clinging on as long as we were very gentle with the bell and avoided giving the stay a bash!

But the time came last night to remove the stay and organise a replacement. The stay removal from the treble was much easier than the last one removed from number 2. As this stay had not been completely broken, there was no spreading of the wood inside the headstock.

Examination of the wood showed some early signs of rot; testament to the age of the wood, along with the frequent wet/dry cycle that the bell chamber has endured before/during the church restoration. (For more details of the spire leak, see the Bells page.) These little issues are bound to happen with such an old installation which hasn’t been used for many years. Now we’re actively ringing the bells again, we’re forced to work through the problems as they present themselves.

First thing this morning Taylors of Loughborough, made a new stay and it was in place and fitted by 10:30am! One of the many advantages of having a bell founder just down the road!

Wheel returns

Number Two Wheel

Number Two Wheel

Number two’s wheel has been refurbished and replaced. Took a bit longer than anticipated, but we’re all set for practice night, tonight!

Wheel Maintenance

This evening’s practice involved our two most advanced ‘learners’ getting to grips with call changes! Amazing effort – just two months ago, they didn’t know a tail-end from a sally! Bells at Ab Kettleby

However, we had to finish practice night a bit earlier than normal, as work is required on our number 2 bell’s wheel. Some of the shrouding was already missing when we started to ring back in June, but the ‘broken stay’ incident caused it to shed a bit more. Advice was given that the wheel ought to be looked at sooner, rather than later.

After practice tonight, we managed to remove the wheel and lower it out of the tower. Removing nuts and bolts that haven’t been touched for 64 years is not the easiest thing to do!

It is a great thing that we are so close to a bell foundry – the wheel should be back by next week!

New Stay

New Stay #2

New Stay Bell #2

The replacement stay was installed on Sunday afternoon, in plenty of time for our Wednesday night practice. It’s been fitted with a new bolt, along with the old bolt, and a lick of paint applied to Hastings toggle too.

During the installation of the new stay, we noticed that some more of the shrouding (rope guides) of the bell wheel has become detached. It was already missing a small section, but it’s going to need some attention before too long.

Broken Stay

Broken Stay Bell #2
Oh dear – we had a bit of a mishap at our practice session tonight. A broken stay on number 2 bell.

Its failure was a bit strange – but was explained when realised that the stay hasn’t completely sheared off. We heard a bit of a thud, which was put down to just a heavy bash on the stay/slider/toggle (we have Hastings stays) and the bell seemed to set without issue. It was rung again, and once again, set  – but something did look a little amiss when the bell stopped – but the rope was tied up as normal. About 30 seconds later, while we were just discussing the ringing, the stay finally succumbed and the rope disappeared.

We’ve all learnt a thing or two. Although there’s some work to be done over the next few days!