History of the bells

Bell-ringing has taken place at Lilbourne from at least the early 1600s, and maybe earlier, since a massive beam in the bell-frame (still bearing the chisel-marks of its maker) has been dated as possibly 15th-century.

The five bells currently in the tower were preceded by a heavier set of four. A list dated 1700 gives their inscriptions as:

  1. Celorum Christe, platiat tibi Rex. 1626 (O Christ, King of Heaven, may this sound please thee)
  2. Sancta Katarina, Ora pro nobis (Saint Catherine, pray for us)
  3. Sit Nomen Domine Benedictum (Blessed be the Name of the Lord)
  4. Bryanus Eldridge me fecit. 1658 (Brian Eldridge made me)

It appears that the Latin inscription for the treble was either made or copied incorrectly, but the meaning stands! It is also interesting that the second bell was inscribed for St Catherine; it may be that the pre-reformation church was dedicated to this saint and was changed to All Saints' as a matter of expediency, to move away from Roman Catholicism.

These four bells had become 'unsuitable for purpose' by the mid-1700s. At least one had cracked. In 1762 the Revd John Robinson celebrated forty very active, busy years as vicar of Lilbourne; it seems likely that a project to renew the bells was made in honour of this anniversary. (The fact that he was eventually interred at the west end of the nave, very close to the tower, gives credence to the idea that he had been very interested in the bells.) The four were melted down, and a fifth was added when they were re-cast, by Thomas Eayre the Second, of Kettering. They are the last set he made, and are possibly one of only two full sets made by him still in existence.

The inscriptions are:-

  1. Sparkling I spread rapid tinklings through the ears. 1762 (30.5 inches, diameter, 5½ cwt.)
  2. Untouch’d am silent, strike me and I will ring sweetly 1762 (32.5 inches, 6¼ cwt.)
  3. John Robinson, vicar; Jos. George and Geo. Soden, churchwardens, 1762 (34 inches, 6½ cwt,)
  4. Wee are ordain’d for the praise of the Lord. Eayre, Kettering Fecit. 1762 (36 inches, 8 cwt.)
  5. Cum sona non vis venire, nunquam ad preces cupies ire. Eayre Kettering. 1761 (If you are unwilling to come when I call, to prayers you will not wish to go at all) (39 inches, 10cwt.) Tenor note : G .

The bells were quarter-turned by Geo. Day of Eye, as part of the 1909 restoration work on the church, and the frame was strengthened. Despite this, by the mid-twentieth century the bells were becoming difficult to ring and by the beginning of this century were almost unringable. Ringing in Lilbourne was infrequent, of short duration, and only to be undertaken by proficient ringers. In fact, as they were eventually removed for restoration, one of the men on the job commented that they were in the worst condition he had seen for bells that were still being rung at all.

The project to restore the bells was long and difficult, but the restoration was eventually done by Andrew Nicholson Bellhangers, Bridport. The bells were removed, taken away and refurbished, and a lot of work was done to restore and strengthen the ancient frame. (An alternative idea to install a new metal frame with the capacity for 6 bells had been rejected - and although the extra bell would have increased the ringing possibilities, it is good that the old frame remains in use.)

The work was completed in November 2012 and the bells rang a peal in December 2012 to celebrate both their restoration and their 250th anniversary. New ropes were provided by the Alexander family in memory of John Alexander, who had led the appeal but lived only long enough to know that the work would take place. His son Ian is now one of the Tower Captains.

Gallery of restoration works