The sound of bell-ringing will ring out over a North East community again when a Service of Rededication for a unique set of church bells is held later this month (April).
Among visitors to the event at St Oswald’s Church, Brougham Terrace, Hartlepool, on Sunday 24th April at 3pm will be The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, who will re-dedicate the bells, and the ceremonial mayor of Hartlepool, Councillor Mary Fleet with Mayoress Councillor Sheila Griffin. The event will be supported by the Durham and Newcastle Diocesan Association of Church Bellringers (D&N), which helped fund the restoration of the bells.
St Oswald’s has ten bells in its tower, which are 114 years old and were cast and installed by John Warner & Son in 1902, the only single ring of ten bells to be cast by Warner’s anywhere in the world.
The bells were rarely rung for a number of years when bell ringing in Hartlepool fell into decline and they became increasingly difficult to ring as there had been little maintenance carried out except for minor work since they were installed in the early 20th century.
Bells have actually been rung in Hartlepool since the 17th Century; the oldest recorded bell is at All Saints, Stranton and dates to 1664.
Towards the end of the 20th Century bell-ringing went into decline with only the bells at Stranton being rung on anything like a regular basis.
Then in 2010, efforts began to try and attract Hartlepool people to learn to ring and since then the number of bell-ringers has grown to about 30 with a number of young people under the age of 20 taking an active part; the youngest ringer is aged 11.
Ringing now flourishes in the town with the support of the churches and Hartlepool Borough Council. As well as calling people to prayer, the bells are rung regularly for weddings, some funerals, local and national commemorative events.
Andrew Frost, part of the St Oswald’s project team, said: “It had always been the wish of the late Richard Turner, who was Tower Captain of St Oswald’s and stalwart of the D&N, to have the bells refurbished but he had no ringers to support him and so his aspiration remained unfulfilled.
“Then Jack Hanlon took over as Tower Captain and a plan evolved to carry out work on the bells. Sadly, Richard passed away before the project could start so completion is made more poignant by his memory.
“The bell-ringers began by asking for donations from local companies and organisations as the parish of St Oswald is among the poorest parishes in the country and was only able to contribute a small amount. Together with a significant grant from the D&N, the project could finally begin in the summer of 2015.”
The contractor has been O&P Bells of North Shields, supported by the Hartlepool ringers and their families who have put in many hundreds of hours of voluntary labour.
Andrew said: “The bells are now completely restored with many new parts which makes ringing them a pleasure rather than the chore it was in the past.
“It is not often that bells are restored on such a scale, each having been removed from the frame on which they sit and then stripped down.”
Fr Graeme Buttery, Vicar of St Oswald’s, proposed that there should be a church service to rededicate the bells to the work of God.
Andrew said: “The bells belong to his church and to his congregation who have given him their wholehearted support. A service to rededicate bells is quite a rare event and everybody is excited that it is taking place in Hartlepool and that the Bishop of Durham has agreed to rededicate them.”