The History of
St Thomas's Bells
Redwick Church is privileged to have a long history of church bells and bell ringing
When the Church Tower was built in the thirteenth century, it was only three quarters of its present height. The upper part of the tower was added in the fifteen century. That is why the tower has two sets of louvres at different heights, the lower ones now being blocked up.
By the year 1380, Redwick Church possessed at least two bells which were cast sometime in the previous thirty years. We know this as the two bells remain intact in their original condition and are incorporated into the present ring of bells.
For many years they were the number three and four bells and it is thought they are among the oldest bells in Wales which were hung for full-circle change ringing. If you go up the tower and look at these bells carefully, you will see that they are slightly longer and straighter than the more modern bells and they still have their 'canons' (the metal loops at the top by which the bells used to be hung).
In 1707, another bell was added - the highest note so called the 'treble' or number one. It was cast in Chepstow by Evan Evans. Less than half a century later, in 1753, another bell was added but this time by William Evans, son of Evan Evans. Today, this is the tenor bell, the heaviest and deepest toned bell of he ring. Finally, in 1763, the last of the original ring of five bells was added by William Evans. This was the second note from the top so was number two in the ring.
By 1888 the fittings and framework of the bells were extremely dilapidated. A few years earlier the Reverend Pitt Eykeyn had been appointed vicar of Redwick and Magor and being a keen bellringer, decided to restore the bells. He was a dynaminc character and under his guidance, the fivebells were rehung in a new frame with new fittings. The work was undertaken by Yorks of Bristol at a cost of Thirty Seven pounds ten shillings and nine pence (£37.10s.9d).
Ringing ceased in 1939 at the outbreak of the second world war. On the night of 5th August 1942, the church was damaged by enemy bombing. A part of the nave roof was destroyed and all the windows were blown out with the exception of the east window above the altar. It was believed that this incident rendered the tower unstable and it was judged unsafe to ring the bells. From that time until fairly recently, the bells could only be chimed and not rung.
In 1982, a report on the bells was commissioned. Following the report the local parishioners commenced fundraising. Magor Church provided an interest free loan of £5,000.00 and £3,500.00 was raised from generous parishioners. The bells were removed for restoration on 7th November 1987.
Roger Sheddick of Sheddick Transport kindly transported the bells to Appletons near Oxford.
Before the bells could be rehung, it was necessary to construct a concrete ring beam to reinforce the tower at that level and to take the weight of the new frame. This concrete ring was constructed under the supervision of John Evans by local villagers to include Selwyn Monk, David Jones, Roy Duthie, Donny Reece, Ken Reece, Eric Charrett, Bill Jenkyn Jones, Eddie Brown with Mair Duthie providing the tea and Jan Jenkyn Jones being the 'soup' lady.
The Victorian wooden bell frame had rotted and was replaced by a sturdy new metal one and the bells were provided with a completely steel frames and a new set of of fittings. This work was done by Whites of Appleton. Two of the bells, (numbers one and two) were found to be cracked and were recast at Whitechapel bell foundry in London on the 22nd June 1989. They also retuned all five bells to blend harmoniously together.
Following the bells return to Redwick in February 1990, Roger and Charlie Park agreed that the bells could be stored along with the new steel frame provided by Appletons in a barn at Brick House Farm.
The cost of the above work was some £22,000.00.
The bells were rehung on Thursday, 21st March 1991 and all present were delighted. New bell ropes were donated by Stan Monk (a member of the pre-war ringing band) and his family as a memorial to past ringers.
The bells rang on Easter Sunday, 31st March 1991 at 10.40 a.m.. Stan Monk the only surviving member of the pre-war band, rang the Tenor. Also present that day was Graham Webb, one of White's men who had also rung the bells before the war. The bells, were finally re-dedicated by the Bishop of Monmouth, The Right Reverend Clifford Wright on the evening of Wednesday, 8th May 1991.
It was recalled by those present that following the ringing, they could confirm that Reverend Pitt Eykyn had been quite correct when he had written that "the tenor bell in Redwick is the finest toned bell on the moors". There was great excitement on that cold windy March day as for the first time in 49 years, the bells of Redwick Church could be heard turning over after eight years of hope and hard work.
Well Done All.
Following the restoration of the bells, St Thomas' had a good and regular band of ringers. However, there were constant remarks that there should be six bells. This would give scope for more and more complicated methods. In 1994, Brian White was consulted who had been involved in the latest previous restoration and he advised having a new treble bell. To have a new tenor would have been much more expensive (heavier) and it would have taken up much more room. One seldom adds bells into the middle of a ring but either (most commonly) above the top note (treble) or (only very occasionally) at the bottom end (tenor). As there was no room to insert it at the level of the existing five, he suggested a new simple support for a new bell frame, above the other bells, with room for just one bell. He further suggested moving the previous treble up to make room for the new treble in the lower level. This was because it is always preferable to have a circle of ropes at the ringing level (so that the ringers can see each other (called rope-sight)) so we had to re-rope the now third so that the rope came off the other side of the wheel to let the rope for the now-higher second be between the new treble rope and the previous second, now third rope. This is the one in the middle of the north choir stall.
The funds were raised locally and also from a national bell fund. It was possible to get a bell from this fund that collected and re-distributed bells from redundant churches but we decided to get a new one with all the inscriptions recorded in the log-book to mark Peter Cobb's 25 years as a priest and Queen Elizabeth II’s 40th anniversary.
The same workers installed the new support beams and frame as supplied by Whites; the ends of the beams were located in existing holes in the tower walls where the old bell frame had been. This was acceptable as it was not necessary to make significant alterations to the fabric of the church, which is frowned upon in a Grade 1 building, and was in accordance with the faculty granted on the 28th July 1994. The new bell was first rung on Saturday, 4th December, 1994, for the evening Christingle Service.
The weights of the new treble and the restored bells are as follows:-
Treble bell - (the new treble*) – 1993 - Three hundredweight, three quarters and 17 pounds.
No.2 bell (the original treble) - a recast Evans of Chepstow bell of 1707 - Four hundredweight, two quarters and 10 pounds.
No. 3 bell - a recast Chepstow Bell of 1763 - Five hundredweight, one quarters and three pounds.
No. 4 bell - a Bristol bell of 1350-80 - "Johannes vocatur" - "His name is John" - Luke 1 v.63 - The Baptist bell - Six hundredweight, no quarters and 16 pounds.
No. 5 bell - another 1350-80 bell - "Maria Virgo" - The Angelus bell. - Eight hundredweight, one quarter and 13 pounds.
Tenor bell - a Chepstow bell of 1752 - Nine hundredweight, one quarter and 27 pounds (it was previously said to be eleven hundredweight.
[* - the full Latin inscription, composed by the Reverend Mattthew Tomlinson, the Vicar’s son-in-law, is as follows:
AD 1993 A.M.D.G [Ad maiorem Dei gloriam]
EGO ANNO ELIZABETHAE REGINAE CORONATAE QUADRAGESIMO
FUNDATA VICARIO HUIUS PAROECIA PETER COBB DUCE QUEM ANNOS
XXV MINISTERIO SACRO ORDINATUM RECORDOR CUM SOCIIS MEIS
REPARATIS IN HAC TURRI COLLOCATA SUM
MAIR DUTHIE } ECCLESTAE RICHARD JONES
JOHN EVANS } CUSTODIES TURRI PRAETICUM
Which being translated into English reads:
AD 1993 [To the greater glory of God]
I, cast in the fortieth year since the crowning of Queen Elizabeth, was placed in this
Tower with my restored companions under the leadership of Peter Cobb, Vicar of this
Parish, for whom I commemorate twenty-five years in the sacred ministry
Mair Duthie } Church Richard Jones
John Evans } Wardens Tower Captain
[The story of the further augmentation to a ring of six is described in another document in the Redwick History Group archives.]