Over the years, the 6 historic bells of All Saints’ East Garston have been rung to all parishioners to Sunday worship, for weddings, funerals, and baptisms, as well as marking events and historic anniversaries such as the end of the World Wars. Throughout 2014 – 2019 we rang muffled bells as a mark of respect on the 100th anniversary of the death of each man named on the village war memorial, who died in service in WWI. The bells continued to be rung by our small but enthusiastic band of ringers, but the time had come to carry out a major restoration project to ensure that the bells could continue to be rung for many years to come. The bells had last been rehung in the late 1800s and had only general maintenance since. The treble (smallest) was cracked and had lost its beautiful ringing sound and was also close to falling apart, so the current ringers decided to ask permission from the PCC to obtain quotations to have the bells restored and the treble mended or replaced. The PCC after raising no objections then had to approach the Diocese for a Faculty. Once the Faculty had been obtained the ringers requested quotes from 2 reputable bell hanging firms. Both companies came and inspected the bells, and both instructed the ringers to cease ringing the treble until it had been repaired or replaced. After lengthy discussions it was decided that the preferred option was to use Whites of Appleton, not only were they the most cost effective they were a relatively local firm which had carried out the last restoration. The total needed was £46563k, this was to include work on the small Sanctus bell (not included in the ring of 6) & the creation of a new trap-way below the bells to enable to bells to be removed. This total could be reduced if local help with transportation and general labour could be obtained.
The work to be carried out would include the removal of all the bells from the bell chamber and transported to the workshop at Appleton. The treble would then be taken to Soundweld in Newmarket for specialised welding. All the bells were to have their wooden headstock removed and replaced with new steel & all the bells would have new clappers fitted. The rotten wooden wheels, pulley and sliders would be replaced along with all other fittings & new rope guides would be installed in ringing chamber. The new guide holes would be moved in slightly towards the centre of the chamber to make for a better ringing circle.
In the Spring of 2020, there was a plan to launch a fund-raising campaign to raise the necessary funds, there was to be a presentation at the AGM of the Parish Council but unfortunately COVID put the country into lockdown and the official launch never took place. However not to be deterred fundraising began in earnest in the latter part of the year. By the end of 2021 there was enough money raised for the work was scheduled to start in May 2022. With the help of local ringers, the bells were removed from the tower during the week commencing 16th May. Steel beams had been fitted in the bell chamber to allow all the bells to be hoisted from their pits and gently lowered down into the ringing chamber, guided by ropes to the trapdoor in the centre of the chamber and then winched down on the floor of the Chancel. The bells were then displayed in the church over the weekend of 21st & 22nd of May to enable people to view the bells that hadn’t been seen out of the bell chamber since the last restoration more than 4 generations ago. On Tuesday 24th May the bells were removed from the church by the volunteer work force which consisted of local ringers, the lads from PJS Agricultural Services and lads from the Manor who used plywood planks over the gravel path in the churchyard to the lychgate, after which they loaded on the lorry and transported to the workshop in Appleton by Jim & Joanna Bracey who had kindly offered their services.
Whilst the bells were absent a workforce of local ringers, removed old grease, dust and debris from the bell chamber and repainted any metal fixings that were to be reused. The ringers continued to practice & carry out service ringing by travelling to Lambourn and Great Shefford. Whites continued the restoration away from the tower and kept ringers informed with regular updates. Peter Cook, the very reliable and dedicated church clock winder and custodian was allowed to visit the workshop to see the Tenor bell tuned and a group of ringers along with interested villagers visited the workshop prior to the return of the bells to see what work had been done and also see how it had been carried out.
Thankfully by early 2023 enough money had been raised to fully fund the project, Whites had completed the work and the bells were ready to be rehung. A couple of weeks before the rehanging carpenters and bellhangers spent a few days in the bell chamber preparing the fixtures and fittings ready for the bells to be fitted. On Thursday 23rd March the bells triumphantly were transported back to the village by Jim Bracey who once again had volunteered his transport. They were met outside the lytch gate by lads from PJS Agricultural Services and off loaded by lads from the Manor, it was then a reverse of the removal with plywood covering the gravel on the church path to allow the bells to be wheeled back into the church. They were then displayed over the weekend of the 25th & 26th March to allow those interested to view the work that had been carried out. Display boards described the work, how the treble was welded, what the new wheels were made off, how the tuning had been carried out and lots more. On Sunday 26th the bells were blessed during the 9am service by the Venerable Christine Allsopp before work commenced to rehang them in the tower on Monday 27th.
The wheels needed fitting first so were hoisted up at the start of the day, swiftly followed by the bells, the Tenor was the last to be hoisted, the others needed to be hoisted through the trap-way below the tenor pit before being manoeuvred into their own resting places. We were very lucky to have another volunteer workforce as this time an electric hoist was used for the first stage, taking the bells from the church floor to the ringing chamber but then the bells were manually hoisted from the ringing chamber to the bell chamber. Once the bells were back in place all the relevant fixtures and fitting had to be attached & tightened, new guide holes were then fitted in the ringing chamber and lastly the ropes were attached to the wheels and then threaded through guide holes to the ringing chamber below.
Once the work had been completed the bells were rung by the workforce of White’s to make sure that everything operated and moved as it should.
The first official ring of the restored bells took place on Easter Sunday when they were rung for the morning service. They were then welcomed back by a celebratory Quarter Peal of Grandsire Doubles. The day of the Quarter Peal was very fitting as it was the 90th anniversary of the death of the Rev. C.W.O Jenkyn who learnt to ring in East Garston, his father Rev. W.O Jenkyn was responsible for the last restoration of the bells in the late 1800s.