Historic bells getting re-pealed

Moving the bells from the Unitarian Church, Todmorden. Picture by Peter Thwaite. The bell-ringers and other helpers
Moving the bells from the Unitarian Church, Todmorden. Picture by Peter Thwaite. The bell-ringers and other helpers

The historic bells at Todmorden’s Unitarian Church have been removed for a major overhaul.

The bells were silent for the past couple of years until a final peal last month ahead of their removal for renovation thanks to a generous legacy from Geoffrey Cheetham - Geoff was a long-serving member of Todmorden’s bell ringing team over several decades and his bequest of £46,985 to the Historic Chapels Trust will ensure the bells will be rung again.

Roland Jeffery, director of the Historic Chapels Trust, explained that the deteriorating condition of the bells and their supporting frame meant they had become difficult to ring properly and if not restored could have become unsafe. Rusting iron parts could cause the bronze bells to crack in two.

That will no longer be the case once restoration has been carried out by John Taylor and Co of Loughborough, one of only two traditional bell foundries in the UK.

While the bells are away, the HCT also hopes to raise £10,000 for work in the tower itself.

On September 25, a team of helpers and bell ringers including Helen Rigby, Brian Owen, Colin Noden and Chris Swain, who was there to capture the occasion on camera, set to work. The wheels and ironmongery were lowered to the ground and the lifting gear removed and lowered.

Bearing housings and remaining pullies were removed from the frame and lowered and the clock and bell chamber traps were put back in place, said Helen.

A first clean proved there was a floor and all debris was removed. Only seven and a half wheels remained intact, the rest disintegrating either on removal or, spectacularly, on descent through the tower, she said.

The next jobs where the tower is concerned will be a thorough clean of the bell chamber with brushes and vacuum cleaners and possibly the installation of a sound control, the latter still to be confirmed by HCT. Helen thanked all the volunteers - it was a job well done and completed much quicker than anticipated, she said.

Then, on Monday, September 30, the bells were carefully loaded and secured aboard a wagon to take them to Taylor and Co.

When they return and work on the tower is completed, they will have a new lease of life and English change-ringing will be heard again from the church tower, which dates back to 1869 and is one of only two Unitarian churches in the country that have bells.