BBC Radio Leicester‘s Ben Jackson visited St James’, Ab Kettleby. to find out about the work we’ve been doing to add the three new bells to the tower. If you missed it on the radio today, listen again via the BBC Radio Leicester website
Following the completion of the augmentation, last week, we swiftly organised a band to ring the very first quarter peal in Ab Kettleby. It has always been promised that the primary benefactors would be given the first ring on the bells, before opening the tower to visitors.
Today started as a gloriously bright but cold and frosty day as winter seems to have finally kicked in – so the newly installed heating in the church was switched on promptly to provide a bit of comfort to the ringers!
The band consisted of the two benefactors of the new bells, and three members of the restoration and augmentation team, along with the Ab Kettleby Tower Captain, taking part in his very first quarter!
The ringers gathered in the church at 11am, and without much ado rang the bells up. A quick discussion on methods followed, and it was decided that Plain Bob Doubles gave the best chance of succeeding. The quarter attempt started at about 11:10 and was ringing for about 25 minutes before… disaster! Where had the treble gone? The band looked over and the rope seemed to be stuck just below backstroke. End of quarter, but what had happened? Stay broken? Unthinkable!! Slider problem? Highly unlikely. The rope had actually jumped off the wheel of the bell. The rope was easily put back on, but the band elected not to re-attempt the quarter, as there was no guarantee that the same issue wouldn’t manifest itself again.
The new ropes have a polypropylene top to them – which makes them light and flexible, and largely unaffected by weather. It also means that given the relatively long draft of rope in the intermediate chamber, the ropes can be a little wayward. Watching the ropes from the intermediate chamber, it’s almost as if there’s a harmonic standing wave in the rope.
As the quarter had finished early, there was an opportunity for some family members to have a short ring. (And for me to pop outside to listen to/record the new six.)
Then the bells were rung down.
There will probably be another attempt at the quarter in the summer.
The day has finally arrived when the Ab Kettleby team can ring all six bells!
The evening was more of a celebration than a practice night. It involved cake and Champagne!
But the serious task of ringing a brand new peal of six bells was the purpose of the evening. This video shows the first and second ringing of rounds on six.
The orange ‘glow’ in the first clip is from the heater – it was a chilly night in the church, tonight!
We had a bit of a mis-hap with the second – the slider is jumping outside of its stop blocks. There is still a bit of tidying up work to do in the bell chamber, and the bolt attaching the slider for number 2 is an incorrect size, and allows a bit of vertical play on the slider – enough to ride above the blocks. Fortunately, easy to reset and carry on ringing.
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.)
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.
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’!
First of all, apologies for the lack of news on the website over the last couple of months.* The augmentation is progressing, but progress has been frustratingly slow.
September seems such a long time ago when we excitedly received the bells at the church – at the time, it felt like real progress and it wouldn’t be many more weeks before we could be ringing.
The frame repairs were completed and all bells located in the correct place in the tower by the end of October. A couple of weeks later and the easy part of getting the existing three to a ringable state was completed. The ringers elected to return to the three bells at Ab Kettleby on practice nights, as the extended displacement was beginning to take its toll! So Wednesday night practices resumed in St James’ on 18th November 2015.
Because of the frame issues, the augmentation process has been ongoing much longer than anyone had anticipated. Which in turn means that various long-standing personal commitments from the volunteers have also prevented much progress in recent weeks.
That said, we are tantalisingly close to ringing all six bells. Some hard work today has seen two of the remaining three bells be fitted out and ready to ring! The second was up and running by about 17:00, and the tenor was completed at about 19:30.
So we had a bit of a delayed start to our Wednesday practice night while the tenor’s rope was adjusted to the correct length. (Not a problem – we had planned a more social night tonight, with tea/coffee and cakes galore to fill the void!!) We finally got going with some simple rounds on 5 bells – such a different sound and feel to the with the new tenor taking the peal to a major key!
The treble bell still needs a bit of adjustment to its frame position; then the pulley box, slider and stay need fitting, before the rope can be put in place and we can have our full peal of six. It doesn’t feel like there is much left to do. It was planned and hoped that we would be ringing them by Christmas this year, but disappointingly, some last minute hitches look likely to prevent the final few tasks from being carried out.
Good things come to those who wait..!
(* for more details, see BellBoard)
Saturday saw another step towards the completion of our augmentation project. Our volunteers spent a full day in the tower with the intention of getting the bells up into their pits. Unfortunately, a bit of a hiccup in the repair of the broken frame side meant that it wasn’t ready for the weekend, so the amount of work that could be done was limited.
First, attention was given to the new treble pit. A new section of beam was to be installed first. A section of wall was removed to allow the beam to be anchored into the brickwork. As we did so, it revealed the end of a beam running the full width of the tower. During the clean down and restoration of the frame, we could not find any evidence of paint or preservation of the steel work, so considered that there probably hadn’t been any! However, the reveal of the beautifully preserved beam end, which has been protected from the weather embedded in the wall for 65 years, showed that the beams at least were painted up with black paint.
The new beam section was put in place and propped up with with wood and the brand new frame side (which was hoisted up in June!) could now finally be put in place. Once secured, the new treble was lifted in to its new home and bolted in place. The hole in the wall was then filled with concrete to complete the installation of the beam. There are still some braces to be installed around the new treble area to reinforce the the frame and control the additional forces that will be exerted when the bells are rung full circle.
Next, attention was turned to the new heavy tenor. The tenor’s pit was already in place, so the operation was much more straightforward. Additional acrow props were put in place underneath the lifting beam to reduce the span of the load. The tenor slowly made its way up to the bell-chamber and a second chain block helped to manoeuvre it to its new home at the back of the tower.
There are still two bells in the intermediate chamber waiting to be hoisted up, but it’s exciting to see that two thirds of the bells are now more or less in their final positions!
Last Tuesday saw 5 bells being delivered to St James’. The two old bells that were taken away for tuning and repair were joined by their new siblings; two brand new trebles and the tenor bell which has been relocated from Cornwall.
On Tuesday afternoon, an 18T lorry, courtesy of sponsor Brands2hands, arrived at the John Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough and loaded our five bells, along with the new wheels, stays, sliders, clappers, pulley boxes and other various fitments. The bells were put onto pallets to make transportation easier and were taken back to Brands2hands’ warehouse in Old Dalby for onward transport to Ab Kettleby by smaller vehicles during the evening.
The first bells and fittings arrived in Church Lane just before 17:30 to a patiently waiting crowd of local ringers. The first three bells to arrive were the smallest bells – the two new trebles, and the existing old treble – numbers 1, 2 and 3 of the new peal. They were unloaded from the van – the tail-lift and pallet trucks making short work of the process – and transferred to the church.
A ramp had been constructed to allow the step into the church to be navigated with ease.
Before we knew it, the first three bells were in the aisle ready to be winched up.
First up was the new number 2.
And then the brand new treble.
These bells only made it as far as the intermediate chamber, as the frame for them still needs to be constructed or reconstructed!
The two larger bells were fetched from Old Dalby in separate vehicles; the heavy tenor arriving on a trailer. The number 4 (old number 2) was taken off the van with the tail-lift, but we needed a special piece of equipment to take the new tenor from the trailer. Fortunately, help was on hand from a local farmer and his telescopic forklift – light work was made of moving the tenor from the trailer and a good way onto the path before pallet trucks took it the rest of the way to the church.
The number 4 was hoisted all the way up to the second floor and placed straight into its pit.
Then it was time for the tenor – we had already established that it wouldn’t be possible for the tenor to fit through the doorway into the base of the tower, so it needed to be lifted over the screen instead. Various combinations of winch were used in various different places, along with various people pulling on strops before eventually, with the help of a “chain pull”, the tenor made its gentle descent on the other side of the screen, before being slowly hoisted up to the intermediate chamber.
With that it was nearly 10pm, so we called it a day and made a weary beeline for the Sugar Loaf for some well deserved refreshment.
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
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.
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.
Work continued apace last night as the problem beam was removed, enabling all the heavy items to be winched down. The treble was first, shortly followed by the second, and finally the broken frame side. The beam itself had to be cut, so that has also been taken away for restoration/repair.
The treble and second will receive some light tuning to bring them into line with the other old and new bells. They also need new 'pads' (the section between bell and headstock) due to more weather related deterioration.
The frame side is also planned work - it was noted on a previous inspection, that the rust build up and expansion between the cast iron frame side, and the beam it sits on, had caused a fracture in the iron casting. While the bells aren't particularly heavy and leaving it in situ was, structurally, a valid option, it was felt while other bells were being removed, the opportunity to fix the frame shouldn't be neglected. Somewhat inevitably, this too also proved troublesome to dislodge. It's difficult to convey how much damage the rust has caused, but numerous nuts and bolts proved impossible to shift, the rust having effectively welded all the steel together! The trusty angle grinder was pressed into action once more.
Finally the bells and frame sections were hauled along the narrow paths and loaded into to the van. A heavy rain shower arrived just in time to give the treble another soaking - certainly no worse than it's seen in the tower.