Aston Cantlow - ‘Alls bell that ends Bell’.

Back in the summer of 2018 the ringers of Aston Cantlow were busy practicing for another quarter peal, having decided to ring one per month. Tracey who was ringing the second suddenly declared that she could not keep the bell up. I tried it and it was horrible, something must have broken. On closer inspection one of the gudgeon boxes that hold the shaft on which the bell turns had sheared off on its inner fixing, allowing it to twist and turn. We took pictures and sent them to Taylors for advice.

Taylors advised that the gudgeon box would need replacing or repairing and that we would need to lift the bell and remove the headstock. This would then need to go to Taylors for work to be carried out. A quote was prepared by Taylors setting out the price depending on what work we undertook ourselves. If they did the work we were looking at a number of thousands of pounds. After a lot of thought and advice from Simon Adams and Chris Tennant we decided to do a lot of the work ourselves to save money and get the job done quicker. Taylors said that it would take 4-6 weeks once they had the headstock.

Tracey and I now began to gather equipment we managed to obtain some hardwood railway sleepers from Singletons for cost price because of the job we were doing. These were to place across the frame to take the weight of the bell once removed from its headstock. Chris obtained a long length of M18 all-thread which we would use to lower the bell half an inch onto the sleepers after releasing the headstock straps. We stripped off the wheel, stay, slider and clapper and set a date to start work.

Chris (a mechanical repair engineer by trade), Hugh an ex Welder, Tracey and John set about dismantling and using the all-thread to lower the bell by winding down the nut went really well, we soon had the bell on the sleepers safe and sound. Removing the headstock was relatively simple until it came to lifting it out. Chunks of hardwood with steel shafts and bearings on the end are quite heavy!! Now came the job of hoisting it down the tower. At Aston we have two medieval ladders and a metal spiral staircase. It was manhandled down the first 45 degree ladder by John and Hugh, then let down on an old bell rope with three above and one guiding down the next almost vertical ladder. Finally the headstock was let down the next vertical drop on two ropes with 3 above and one guiding. All the nuts and bolts were carefully laid out in the belfry so that they went back in the correct locations and the rusty brackets were taken home and cleaned up including a coat of red paint. Hugh then delivered the headstock to Taylors (beginning of August). We began the long wait for Taylors to do the repairs. It turned out to be longer than we had ever expected with 6 weeks turning into 3 months and we began to think that we would not make the remembrance celebrations. Taylors were apparently very busy. Eventually with a wing and a prayer they ‘repaired’ our old gudgeon box and we collected the headstock the weekend before Remembrance Day. Apparently they did not have a mould for a gudgeon box that would fit ours being narrower than usual and making a new one would have taken even longer. Anyway nicely repaired it arrived back.

We had just one week to get the second back together for our remembrance rolling ring. So we duly arrived on Saturday afternoon Hugh bringing the headstock but this time missing our engineer Chris who was away on holiday.

Hugh was our stand in engineer and this time Heather and Ingrid would provide the muscle with Tracey and John assisting. So how to get this lump back upstairs? We have no trap doors at Aston so it was hoist it up the outside or in three lifts up the inside. We went for option two. There was no time to build pulleys and hoists so we went for brute force on two ropes hauling it up each level. Mr elf and safety had to look the other way on this occasion, although we made sure no-none was below each of the lifts and locked the vestry door to make sure. Heather and Ingrid with Tracey were fabulous at hauling the ‘beast’ back up. Once in the belfry there was a bit of tricky manhandling and then a very tricky lift into position on the bell (we were missing Chris). We toiled away for a couple of hours with Tracey passing tools and parts and John and Hugh putting everything back in place. Heather and Ingrid moved all the sleeper sections and wood planks down to the clock room and by 8.00pm having started at 4.00pm we had the bell back together.

So how much had we saved the Church? Well at least £2000 compared with Taylors doing the work, in fact probably a lot more. We found it quite fun if not hard work. In fact we think that doing some of your own bell repairs could be easier than people think. The most important thing is to make sure you have assessed risk at all stages and have put in precautions incase of problems. For example no one under a lifted object, always more than one person working, know your post code, double up if using ropes and a hoist or use a safety line, make sure the area is well lit, and many more things.

It is vital to get advice from the experts such as Simon Adams at Taylors or Nigel Taylor from Whites/Nicholson. Also talk to the Guild and put in for a BRF grant. Make sure you inform the diocese and obtain a faculty if required.

Anyway we rang our quarter for remembrance and took part in the rolling ring. Below is a picture of the Aston ringers involved with the ringing that day including the intrepid Aston bell hangers. If your tower needs help or advice with a simple repair, who knows, the Aston Hangers may be able to help you!!

John and Tracey Newbold and the Aston Cantlow Ringers