Pillerton Hersey Restoration
It all started with a cream tea…
On a sunny summer Sunday in August, soon after moving into the area eleven years ago, Sue & I were tempted by the roadside adverts – ‘Cream teas - Sunday afternoons in August – Pillerton Hersey Church’.
So, keen to partake, off we went to discover a tiny village, population 170, with a lovely church displaying tables & chairs in the churchyard all laden with cakes and cups of tea, being eagerly disposed of by locals, passing cyclists - and before long, us.
Three ropes hung from the tower ceiling and we were told the bells were not allowed to be rung because of their condition. Maybe not we said, but we can chime them and make a noise – which we did to be greeted by great applause from the churchyard. A nice sounding three in a minor key.
Two of those present were residents Derrick & Krystina Allen (left) who seemed interested and I invited them and others to come to Kineton so that I could teach them how to chime which would allow their bells to be heard. After a practice session we then went to Pillerton to practice and my heart sank. They were very, very hard to chime with the old clappers hung on baldricks not at all keen to move freely!
Undaunted though they took to it and since that time the bells have been chimed for weddings and some services. To chime the treble you had to stand 2 feet up on a chest and few could manage chiming at all for more than a few minutes before needing to rest – sometimes a ‘strapper’ was needed! Later they both learned to handle a bell properly. By coincidence there was a family in the Village with a ringing pedigree and we started to teach Jonnie Rogers and his brother Alexander through the Warwick School group. Father David (giver of lifts) followed suit!
An inspection of the 1901 Bond installation showed it to be unusual - the three-bell frame was so far to one side of the tower that it emerged into the spiral stairway only an inch or two from the central pillar! As you progressed up the stairs you were met with a barrier which was the corner of the frame and the arch over the doorway to the belfry had been shaved to allow the movement of the second clapper. Strangely there was about 3 feet of spare room on the other side of the belfry and it looked as if the clock weights (no longer in use) had governed the position of the frame.
Wheels were in poor order and headstocks had some worm and the whole room a mess of sticks. It was not clear how stable the ancient supporting beams were, so ringing full circle seemed unwise.
Undaunted Derrick took up the challenge and spent days removing sticks and detritus. Money was being raised to repair the tower externally and install a kitchen and toilet facilities, so it was a few years later when the timing seemed right to suggest restoring the inside of the tower. With such a small population and continuing maintenance commitments on the building it was clear that funds would have to be raised externally and once again Derrick & Krystina took on the task and started fundraising and writing for grants.
The original plan was to re – use the three-bell frame and add steel pits for 2 more bells. Unfortunately, there would not be room to add a tenor to convert them into a major key. The village was happy with the concept of 4 bells but 5 was a step too far so that was very much a provision for the future only. The faculty was agreed following a site visit by several members of the DAC and others concerned with the project and Taylors were awarded the contract.
Fundraising proceeded steadily and then a fourth bell was found - a redundant bell from Adlestrop not far away. This was purchased and donated and the whole project got a boost!
In January 2017 the bells were removed – with some difficulty - by Simon Adams and a group of helpers and the Bond frame (composite wood & metal so never ideal) was found to be in poorer condition than expected and the suggestion was made by Taylors that it would be more effective and cost the same to install a new steel 5 bell frame with all the bells on the same level. This was willingly accepted as a better solution.
In the summer of 2017 the village finally raised all the money and were feeling confident that it would finally all happen, and they would cope financially. Then out of the blue an offer from the Keltec Trust to donate a 5th bell and assist with the hanging costs. The Coventry Diocesan Guild who had already agreed a substantial grant then made an additional offer to help with some of the additional hanging costs and the village found itself with 5 bells with no extra worry about raising more funds. That offer was enthusiastically accepted!
In November & December 2017 there was a flurry of activity when volunteers from the Coventry Guild (and afar!) assisted Neil Thomas the Taylors Bell Hanger every day for over 3 weeks as the old frame and supporting woodwork was removed, mortar repaired, steels fitted, and eventually bells hung. Strangely Neil had removed the Adlestrop bell when he was working for Whitechapel!
Following a try out they were first rung for the carol service on the 17th December and again on Christmas Eve. At this stage with new, damp rope and, no guides they proved to be a little tricky but once the guides were installed in January they are very easy to handle indeed. The bells also rang in the new year when a gathering of villagers saw in the new year in the church tempted by prosecco and pork rolls.
Derrick and Kristina moved from the village towards the end of the project but are still regular visitors and the boys we taught are now at university. Sadly, the benefice has 5 towers and only a couple of ringers so there is no band currently. An initiative to create a benefice band is in the early stages of planning and will happen when time permits.
1. 3-2-25 1360.7hz F 26.00" 2016 John Taylor & Co
2. 3-3-17 1212.7hz Eb 27.00" 1711 Abraham I Rudhall
3. 4-1-19 1071.9hz Db 29.50" 1668 Henry I Bagley
4. 5-2-17 1016.7hz C 31.90" 1672 Henry I Bagley
5. 7-0-10 905.5hz Bb 35.40" 1602 Newcombe (generic)
Pillerton Hersey, Warwickshire St Mary
Thursday, 1 February 2018 (7)
1260 Grandsire Doubles
1 Lucy Gwynne
2 Sue Marshall
3 Becki Johnson
4 John Gwynne
5 Graham Nabb (C)
First quarter peal on the bells.