Many thanks to Alan Barsby for compiling this history of the Eversley Bells.
It was in the 1960's that the two bells in the tower of the church of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Eversley, Hampshire, were last chimed for services. Chiming was stopped as the oak frame was found to be unsafe.
The two old bells in the old oak frame
The tower was rebuilt, with the rest of the church, between 1724 and 1735 by John James, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren. Inside, the church bears many reminders that Charles Kingsley was Rector here for thirty years. Just before he arrived in 1842 two of the then bells, probably three in number, were replaced by one. This transaction is noted in the Church Wardens accounts. The new bell was cast by Thomas Mears of London in 1841. Henry Knight of Reading made the other bell of the two in 1622.
The idea of adding to the ring of two was not a new one. In a local newspaper report on the opening of the great village pageant in 1919, the object of which was to raise money for a village hall to be called the Charles Kingsley Hall. There appears this: '... the opening was signalled by ... the clanging of the two bells - a reminder that if sufficient surplus of funds remain after the Kingsley Hall has been built the belfry awaits a further addition of bells to make the merry chimes which festive occasions require.'
At the end of 1982 the Rector, Michael Perry, pointed out that 1985 would be the 250th Anniversary of the tower, and that this might be a suitable time to restore the bells. Estimates showed that about £3,000 would be required to restore the wooden frame and the two bells for chiming only, and up to £18,000 for a new frame and six bells.
The tenor bell
An appeal was launched at the Parish AGM in April 1983: donations were only to be called in if there were enough to make the project viable. Progress was slow until the offer of a parishioner, Jack Barker, to give two bells, in memory of his mother and father, provided further incentive. The donations were called in and invested: fund raising began in earnest: and more donations were received. Grants were also given by the Sharpe Trust, The Leche Trust, and the Winchester and Portsmouth Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.
The order for: a new frame to hold six bells: two new bells: and renovation of the two existing bells was placed with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on 19 April 1985.
May 1985 saw the beginnings of an Eversley band of ringers. Initially a dozen or so received instruction in Yateley from Alan Barsby on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. May also saw the lowering of the two bells and their removal to Whitechapel.
There was a flower festival in Mid-June to raise money for the bell fund. This was in addition to a number of raffles, teas, and other fund raising events which had been taking place since the appeal was launched.
Eversley Church Tower by Arthur Morris
Work on the tower gained momentum. The pinnacles, which had been damaged by frost, needed partial rebuilding. Scaffolding was erected, and Michael Brodie repaired the crumbling brickwork. Whilst this was in progress the old bellframe and bell-chamber floor were dismantled. The larger beams, weighing up to 9 cwt, had to be cut into smaller pieces: everything had to be lowered through the small trap door in the vestry ceiling.
Ten holes were cut into the brickwork on the inside of the tower to take the new floor and bellframe. Concrete pads were then cast in the bases of these holes, on which the girders now rest.
The bellframe arrived on 27 August. This was raised in pieces and assembled in the tower. The new bell-chamber floor was built, and the brickwork around the girders completed during the following week.
Two new bells arrive: George Thomas, Michael Perry, Jack Barker
Two new bells, the 3 and 5 of the six, were cast at Whitechapel on 11 July, the two older bells, the 4 and Tenor of the six, were fitted with new cannon-retaining headstocks at the foundry. These four bells arrived in Eversley on Monday 30 September. It took four days work to install the bells, adjust the frame, paint where necessary, and so on.
The four bells were rung for the first time on Thursday evening, 3 October 1985. This marked the end of what had been the original project.
Casting the new bells at Whitechapel Foundry
It was now that, most unexpectedly, two more bells were given to complete the ring of six. Jack Barker tragically lost his wife, Ivy. He had already given the 3 and 5 of the six: he now gave another, the 2, in memory of his late wife. Joan Macnaghten gave the Treble in memory of her parents and sister. She also gave the ladders as a permanent means of access to the bells.
These two bells were cast on 7 November 1985 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry: they arrived in Eversley on 21 November: and the full ring of six was rung for the first time on the same day, in the year of the 250th anniversary of the rebuilding of the tower.
Dedication - Ringing the new bells
The bells and the work of restoration were dedicated to God by the Right Reverend Michael Manktelow, 2nd Bishop of Basingstoke on Sunday 16th February 1986.
On the ring of four, 17 November 1985 1320 Minimus (11 methods):
This was the first and last quarter peal on the four bells before augmentation to six.
On the ring of six, 29 December 1985 1260 Grandsire Doubles and Plain Bob Doubles:
This was the first quarter peal by a member of the Eversley band, Roger Loges, the Tower Captain.
There is an active group of bell ringers at St Mary's who ring every Wednesday for practice night and for every Sunday morning service. We also ring for weddings and other church services. Please visit our Bell Ringing page for further information.
There have been over 50 quarter peals and 30 peals rung on the bells.
A framed notice has been made of the dedications and weights of the bells and hangs at the back of the church. The words and layout are reproduced here.
To celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the building of the church tower, the number of bells has been increased from two to six, and all have been hung in a new frame in the restored belfry.
The four new bells were cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1985.
2 cwt 2 qr
inscribed 'YVONNE AND ERNEST'
3 cwt 0 qr
inscribed 'IVY AND JACK'
3 cwt 2 qr
3 cwt 3 qr
inscribed 'THOMAS MEARS FOUNDER LONDON 1841'
4 cwt 2 qr
5 cwt 2 qr
inscribed 'HENRI KNIGHT MADE MEE 1622'
Thanks be to God for the donors,
'The sound of the bells will be heard when they enter the holy place before the Lord' after Exodus 20.35.
The bells and the work of restoration
John Colbeck, David Thomas - Churchwardens