Bell Ringing


Determination and Renovation

There are some things that a Tower Secretary should simply not be expected to do, and DIY in a pokey stairwell is most definitely one of them. Although to be fair I suppose it was my own fault – I did offer, after all.

When the information came through in December 2001 about the Best Kept Tower Competition, I knew straight away that we should enter. Due to a delay in the paperwork we only had a few weeks to decide whether we would enter or not, and after that a matter of months before the judging was due to take place. Time was short, but after spending so much time and effort on the Ringing Room over the past two years, I finally persuaded the Tower Captain, Ryan Price, to agree to us entering. Then one quick email to the Branch Secretary, Tony York, and work had begun once more.

The first – and biggest – task was to make the tower steps match the Ringing Room. In other words, to remove the thick lime plaster from the walls. Nobody was very keen on undertaking that massive project so, realising that if it wasn't done now it probably never would be, I offered to do it myself. Luckily for me a lot of the plaster was loose and just fell off as soon as you looked at it, but there was one rather large patch which had been redone with cement at some time and that was hard going.

As in most old spiral staircases, space was considerably tight. Dust and grit filled the air, not to mention covering the steps. If we'd left the rubble where it fell we could almost have turned it into a rather dusty helter-skelter, but that would have made access to the Ringing Room rather difficult so of course it all had to be shifted. Thankfully I wasn't alone in this matter, and I am indebted to the Tower Captain and Treasurer, Ryan and Eileen Price, for all their help with the clearing up.

I was stuck chipping and scraping those walls for almost two weeks solid, but the result was more than worth the effort. A couple of coats of PVA later and it almost looked like it had always been bare stonework... almost. We also took the opportinuty to tidy up the wiring and installed new lighting in the stairwell to replace the two previous (and rather unsuitable) lights. The outside door at the bottom of the steps was stripped of paint, had its cracks filled, and then got a couple of coats of the same chocolate brown paint that had been used in the Ringing Room – quite an interesting task in the wind, rain and darkness while the lighting was being done. Needless to say, though, the whole lot looked a hundred times better.

As well as being stuck on the tower steps, I also spent quite a bit of time crawling around the surprisingly dusty bell chamber. It seemed that no sooner had we finshed clearing up the dust from the floor than it needed doing again, though I had the most fun repainting the part of the bell frame which caught all the weather, and catching all the weather myself in the process. More cold wind, rain, and a lack of proper lighting – the bulb had blown in the floodlight, leaving us with just an old fluorescent strip light – don't make ideal conditions for painting, or for anything else for that matter.

Finally, we had completed almost everything we had on our list. There were (and probably still are, to be honest) a couple of things yet to be done, but they would have to wait – the Judgement Day (excuse the religious pun) was upon us. We shifted everything out of the Ringing Room that shouldn't have been there, such as a big tub of stone paint and the stump from last year's church Christmas tree (don't ask – I didn't), into the church porch below. Then on the day, the judges arrived half an hour earlier than we were expecting them. Luckily Ryan had arrived a little before them, hoping to do a final quick clean-up before they turned up, but there wasn't time for that. They went straight to work, peering into all the nooks and crannies, and making copious notes all the while.

They were all up in the belfry when I arrived. When they came down they revealed that we were already through to the final four, then we wished them a safe journey home and crossed our fingers. We had over a month to wait before the result was announced at the Association AGM in April and, as it turned out, I was the only one from Mangotsfield who could attend.

I was on the edge of my seat for the first part of the meeting, eagerly eyeing up the impressive trophy on the front table. After sitting through the results of no less than two striking competitions, the time came for them to announce the winner of the Best Kept Tower Competition. In true competition style the results were read out in reverse order. In third place: Hempsted, Gloucester Branch. In second place: Great Rissington, Forest Branch. And in first place, for putting in the most effort: Mangotsfield, Bristol Rural Branch. We'd won!

For the next year that "impressive trophy" took pride of place in the west window of the Ringing Room. The accompanying certificate, however, spent the best part of that year in a plastic document wallet, hanging by a paperclip from a nail in the wall, though it now enjoys a smart wooden frame (albeit oversized – trust me to buy one too big!). The following April I was once again at the Association AGM, this time to hand over the trophy to the winners of the 2003 competition, Wroughton (Swindon Branch). I'm proud to say I had a hand in them winning, too, though in a considerably different capacity – I was on the judging panel.

And in case you're wondering, a few of those unfinished items on Mangotsfield's list are still awaiting a willing volunteer. Maybe they can be persuaded to enter the competition again...