History of Wormshill bells
St. Giles, Wormshill, has a ring of six bells which are notable both for the lightness of the ring and the story of their restoration.
In 1944 a 16 year old resident, Michael Nightingale, opened a Post Office savings account entitled the “Wormshill Bell Fund” by paying in ten shillings. He invited Albert Hughes from Mears & Stainbank (bell founders at Whitechapel, London) to inspect the tower with a view to replacing the existing bells with a ring of six. Mr Hughes was somewhat surprised at being met at Sittingbourne Railway Station by a youth rather than the somewhat older gentlemen he was used to dealing with! Fifty years later he completed the full ring of six bells – one of which was original and five having been rescued from abandoned churches.
The oldest bell in the ring was cast as the original number 2 in 1718 by Richard Phelps. In 1731 Samuel Smith II of York cast three bells for West Bretton, Yorkshire and C & G Mears cast three bells for St Gregory the Great, Canterbury in 1851. At Wormshill the treble and tenor were replaced by two steel bells in 1863. Naylor Vickers carried out the work for free, the value of the old bell metal being enough to pay for the new steel bells. However, barely twenty years later in 1885 the tower was deemed unsafe and ringing had to stop. At some point the old number 3 bell appears to have been replaced by a steel bell.
Shortly after Hughes’ visit in 1944 the three steel bells were scrapped leaving just the old number 2. In 1963 the three 1851 bells of St Gregory’s were recast by Mears & Stainbank. By 1988 sufficient funds had accumulated so that the remaining 1718 bell could be welded. A new bell frame was designed and built for six bells, the one remaining bell being hung as the new number six. The new frame was installed at the level of the former first floor tower room. The west window was replaced by louvres, so two levels of louvres are visible from the road. The three St Gregory bells were obtained (St Gregory’s was now redundant) and hung as numbers 1 to 3.
In 1995 the three 1731 bells from West Bretton were obtained. The West Bretton 1 and 2 were hung as Wormshill 4 and 5. Nightingale’s dream of fifty years earlier finally came true on 8 October 1995 when the bells were dedicated by the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend David Say. In 2010 the treble was recast by the Whitechapel Foundry.
The present ring has the second lightest tenor of any six in the County of Kent (3cwt 1 qr 15 lb) and the combined weight of the bells is the lightest six in the county (12cwt 3 qr 16 lb).
For more information visit the Kent County Association of Change Ringers