Bell Ringing

Bell Ringing apparatus

In his book, To Be a Farmer’s Boy (7), Arthur Jay recalls his grandfather Henry Jay, the bell ringer, using the chiming system in the 1920s. ‘The church bells weren’t pulled by separate ropes because the steeple had got in really bad repair and they daren’t pull on the ropes any longer. So they had an apparatus fixed at the bottom of the tower, whereby they tied the bell ropes to five bars, just plain slats of wood, one for each bell. I remember my grandfather hitting each bar in turn, until he got them a-going and you could hear them in the steeple singing away. He’d stand there and play the bells like clappers, following all the usual changes. …… In the evening of Sunday, it was just the same except that during the ringing, he’d play “Now the Day is Over”.

The church bells of Westhorpe – a history with thanks to Neal Dodge, PR Officer, Suffolk Guild of Ringers 

The first known mention of church bells at Westhorpe is in the will of Elizabeth Elmham in which £40 was bequested for the bells (5). This equates to around £42.8K in 2020 prices, a substantial sum. No further details are known including whether the bells were actually cast. However, the bequest also included money for the completion of the tower and as the dating of the bell frame and support beams are commiserate with this date, it is likely the bells were cast at this time. 

The next reference we have is from the 1553 return of church goods, a survey commissioned by Edward VI on the wealth of the church. The survey for Westhorpe notes there were four bells in the tower (6), one of which, the present fourth (our Mary Tudor bell) survives today. Later references are scarce. When David Elisha Davy visited the church in 1831 he noted that there were five bells, ringers from Westhorpe are noted in attending the opening of the bells at Haughley in 1896 and some rang in a date touch at Walsham-le-Willows in 1911 amongst other events. All the annual reports of the Suffolk Guild of Ringers record the bells as unringable since the Guild was founded in 1923. Based on the evidence it is likely the bells were last rung full circle during the years prior to the First World War, more than 100 years ago. 

George Day and Son installed a chiming system on the bells, though it is unknown when. The firm was based in Eye in 1802, started hanging bells in the 1860s and remained operational to around 1930 although scaled down operations after the death of Frederick Day in 1922. It is likely that the system was installed in the inter-war period when it became clear the bells could no longer be rung full circle. 

In the early 20th century, Harry Davey of Town Yard was a member of the Westhorpe band; his father being the Tower Captain. Harry’s name can still be seen carved into the tower wall. In the First World War, he served with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and lost his life aged 22 years when his ship, HMT Transylvania, was torpedoed on 4th May, 1917. His name is on our village war memorial and on the Savona Memorial in Italy. Harry is remembered by us each Remembrance Sunday. 

The Westhorpe Band of ringers would be happy to hear from anyone who would like to join. Training can be given. Contact Tower Captain, Clive Mees, on 01449 780394 or email: 

5. Suffolk in the Middle Ages, Norman Scarfe (2010-08) 
6. The Church Bells of Suffolk by JJ Raven, pp250 
7. To Be a Farmer’s Boy, Arthur T Jay pp2  

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