Ringing in the changes in Combe Raleigh

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 131

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 1314. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Combe Raleigh bellringers will be ringing the changes for 2017 with three bells being added to the church tower.

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 131

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 1314. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Combe Raleigh bellringers set themselves the target of adding three bells to the church tower.

Callum Lawton spoke to the team behind the project.

When the bells ring out in Combe Raleigh next year, they will echo around the village louder than ever before.

For all change is happening at St Nicholas’ Church – three new bells are set to be fitted.


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This will take the existing ring of bells up to six, double the number currently there.

For members of the Combe Raleigh Bell Project, a small fundraising group behind the expansion, this development is a triumphant success.

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 131

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 1314. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

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In only five years, they have raised almost £75,000 to make sure the ambitious project goes ahead.

Lisa Clarke, a tower captain, and Trevor Hitchcock, a Honiton resident an avid bellringer in Combe Raleigh, has been part of the driving force to raise £75,000 in order to implement three more bells into the tower.

Trevor spoke to the Resident to provide the latest on their project’s progression.

An inventory of the church carried out in 1553 detailed St Nicholas’ Church as having three bells – the oldest of which dates from 1430 and was cast by Robert Norton of Exeter.

Trevor says that the need for more bells in the church tower became apparent when an active group of bell ringers began to use them more in recent years.

“Over the last five years, we have been ringing regularly for the family service each month,” he adds.

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 131

Trevor Hitchcock with Little Me a bell dating from 1430 at Combe Raleigh church. Ref ehr 44-16TI 1314. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

“We are now expanding our ability to meet the needs of the parishioners by widening our repertoire to include six-bell methods in our own tower.”

The formation of the Combe Raleigh Bell Fund paved the way for fundraising efforts to begin.

Several events are held each year to support the project, as well as contributing towards the upkeep of St Nicholas’ Church.

And while the money is raised, Trevor and his fellow volunteers are on hand to ensure most aspects of the operation are being carried out correctly.

“When we originally looked at starting this, we only had a five-bell frame in the tower,” he says.

“We really needed six bells – six is more usual these days. Most people with five bells have done their utmost to change them to six.”

However, when the proposal was first put forward to get rid of the existing frame, in lieu of a steel one that could hold six, a stumbling block arose.

“English Heritage, among others, was not keen with us getting rid of the existing frame,” Trevor says.

“Andrew Nicholson, a bell-hanger from Bridport, came up with a scheme to modify the frame so we could put six bells on it.

“We had estimates of how much it would cost to do it, and it seemed an achievable thing – so we made a decision we would try and raise the money and then make a decision later on when we actually did it.

“You can’t go ahead with these things if you haven’t got the money.”

As part of the renovation, the group has decided to restore another part of the church’s history.

“There used to be a gallery at the back end of the church as well,” Trevor adds.

“We thought it would be convenient if we could reinstate the gallery.

“It was taken out in the 19th century because it was described as being ugly so we put forward a proposal to put a gallery back in and that increased the cost quite considerably.”

Again, the group had to get the green light from English Heritage and the other powers-that-be before putting in proposal to reinstate the gallery.

The group then put in a faculty application to the Diocese of Exeter.

Once everything was approved, the next stage of the renovation began.

“We went back to the bell-hanger and said ‘When can you fit this in your schedule of work’”, Trevor says. “The current situation is that the existing bells and framework will be taken out at the end of January and the bells will be sent to Whitechapel in London for tuning, except for the medieval bell.

“The medieval bell is listed, so it has to be protected.

“The other five bells will be tuned to make sure they match the medieval bell so they sound right.”

The three bells that will be fitted to the ring have come from all across the UK – one from St Phillip’s Church in Bolton and one from Poole Sanatorium in Middlesborough, near the suburb of Nunthorpe. The other was a Trinity House bell buoy which was redundant.

Trevor says he expects the renovation to start by the end of April 2017.

“The six bells and revised frame will be returned at the end of April,” he adds. “It’s estimated that it will take a week or ten days to put them back in.

“So we are hopeful that by mid-May we will have a ring of six ready to ring.”

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