I recently visited Taylor’s bell foundry in Loughborough for two reasons. It was where my grandfather, delivering milk on his horse and cart, met my grandmother who was working at the foundry and it was where Harston’s church bells were made or re-cast. I won’t bore you my family history but here is some history of the bells.
It is believed that by the beginning of the 16th century, there were three bells to which a fourth was added about 1560. This bell was made by Austen Bracker who is described as an itinerant bell maker from Norfolk and the last pre-Reformation bell maker. There are only six other bells by Bracker – one at Newton and the others in Norfolk. As a historically important bell, it was retained in the church’s north aisle after it was no longer useable. It is inscribed in Latin ‘Austen Bracker made me’ but the letters are all reversed which may have been a mistake when the mould was made.
Over the next 200 hundred years, the three other bells were re-cast; one by Miles Graye in 1634, one probably by Christopher Graye and one by Thomas Newman in 1717.
These bells continued to be rung until a fatal accident in 1859 when William Young, 20, fell from the bell rope he had been climbing and broke his neck. The ringers were ringing for a wedding, at intervals went to the wedding party to drink. When they were refused entry as they had drunk enough, they decided to retaliate by muffling the bells. Young climbed up a bell rope and it gave way. The parish records state ‘he died in the church from a fall from the ceiling of the bell tower.’ His fellow ringers had a slightly different take and scratched on the outside of the church that he was ‘killed by the bells of this church.’
It is not clear when the bells were rung again but by the 1920s their poor state and that of the bell frame meant that they could not be used. Led by the vicar Percy Ward, a nine year fund raising effort started and in 1937, the church was in a position to order a new bell frame and six bells – 3 re-cast from the existing ones and 3 new ones – from Taylors foundry at a cost of £375
Each bell was engraved with a Saint’s name – George, Edmund, Thomas, Etheldreda, Stephen, Mary (and All Saints) – and has a second inscription. These are:
The gift of Florence Phillips 1937. In memory of a beloved King George V
The gift of W Graham Greene KCB Vice-Chairman PCC 1937
Miles Graye 1634 Re-cast 1937
Thomas Newman 1717 Re-cast 1937
1684 Re-cast 1937
Harston Tower & Bells restored 1927-1937. Percy G Ward vicar G Royston TH Smith Churchwardens
The bells were delivered to Harston on 18 June 1937 and at a service on 20 June, each bell was consecrated by the Bishop of Ely. They were hung on 21 June and first rung on 4 July. As the village had no bellringers, a team was assembled from the Ely Diocesan Association of Bellringers. Visiting ringers continued until villagers responded to the vicar’s appeal for ‘all young men willing to learn’ – equality not yet having reached Harston!