AN AUGMENTATION AT BRABOURNE

Ray A. Lucas, October 2002

Photo DrL It is recorded that Brabourne church had four bells in 1552 but we do not know what happened to them; perhaps they were recycled. The present tenor bell was cast in 1605 by Joseph Hatch of Ulcome, and a further four bells were cast in 1656 by his nephew William Hatch. Thus Brabourne had five bells from that time, hence the name of the village pub which was once, reputedly, adjacent to the church. During 1699 - 1702 part of the tower was pulled down following storm damage and re-built to its
present dimensions and the five bells were re-hung in the tower. During 1774 bells numbers three and four were re-cast by Pack and Chapman and those five remained as they were until 1917.

In 1917 the bells were augmented from five to six when Canadian Armed Forces presented a bell which is inscribed "CANADA" TO THE GLORY OF GOD, GIVEN BY SUBSCRIPTION IN MEMORY OF THE CANADIAN ARMY WHO FOUGHT IN THE GREAT WAR. Canadian forces were stationed at Brabourne and there was a Canadian Military Hospital nearby at Monks Horton. At the same time the previous treble was recast and that has the inscription RECAST BY SUBSCRIPTION TO THE GLORY OF GOD, AND IN MEMORY OF THE PARISHIONERS OF BRABOURNE WHO FOUGHT IN THE GREAT WAR. Thus only the second and fifth of the original five Hatch bells have survived.

These six bells were then in regular use until the early 1960s when, in 1963, the church architect informed the PCC that the wooden bell frame was unsafe and that the tower wall was too crumbly to take a new frame. (There is a piece of the old wooden frame in the ringing chamber. It has the names G&F Finn 1856 carved on it.

They were of a family of carpenters, joiners, and wheelrights who had a business in Mersham. It may be that 1856 was the year that the frame was made or the year that a repair was effected). Fortunately the vicar, the Revd Ray Sheekey, and the tower captain, the late Bernard Marks, and others, faced up to the challenge of repairing the tower and replacing the bell frame. The sum required was 6000 which would be close to 60,000 in present day values. Money was gifted, and raised via sales, fetes, coffee morning etc. Also they ran a Son et Lumiere in the church, believed to be the first of such in the county, which raised 1000.

In 1966 work commenced. The tower wall problem was overcome by installing a concrete ring beam which supports a rigid steel frame designed to hold eight bells.

(Recently Ron Farey, the stonemason who installed the ring beam, sent me the original plan of the ring beam. He just happened to be going through his papers and found it and thought it might be of interest to some one. Our archive is growing larger). Some might think that the frame was over engineered but it is as steady as a rock and looks as if it will last forever. The six bells were tuned as the back six of an octave, and re-hung by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd. Since that time they have proved an easy going, tuneful six which have required little attention other than occasional greasing (and replacing a broken stay from time to time).

The present augmentation to eight was catalysed, sadly, by the death in December 2001 of the wife of one of our ringers. He and his family wanted to present a new bell to the church in her memory. However, no one has seven bells, we would need an eighth too. Therefore the ringers asked Revd William Cooper and the Brabourne PCC for permission to augment the bells to eight with the proviso that it was the ringers’ responsibility to raise all of the necessary funding. Fortunately we received their agreement and we then publicised the project in the Parish News. To our astonishment, and delight, within three weeks of publication we had been promised the 8,400 needed for the other bell, plus the fittings and installation. In fact we were offered more money than was need for just the two bells - do you know what it is like to turn money away?

A faculty was applied for and received, and I must in all sincerity acknowledge the helpful advice and co-operation of Mr Ian Dodd, Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, in this respect. The bells were ordered from Whitechapel. The choice of Whitechapel was quite simple really. They had cast the new treble in 1917, and recast the previous treble at the same time, and they still had the patterns used for those bells. Thus we specified two new trebles of similar profiles to the most recent, to be as heavy as possible, and to be fitted with wheels as large as possible so that they would not be "flighty". Whitechapel suggested that we have cast iron clappers, to fit in with the existing six, which advice we were most happy to accept . They had of course carried out the re-tuning and re-hanging in 1966 so they had excellent records of the note characteristics of the bells, and knew the dimensions of the empty pits in the frame. (They did not rely solely on their tuning records. The notes of each of the six bells, when struck in key positions, were recorded and fed into a computer program to get a more exact knowledge, to enable a more exact tuning of the new bells to complete the octave).

The bells were cast, tuned, and installed with little problem. When we tried the eight bells we were relieved to find that they were as fine as had been expected. How fine that is we leave you to judge in due course. The new treble, weight 3-3-17, is inscribed GIVEN IN LOVING MEMORY OF BARBARA JOYCE SHEPPARD 1943 - 2001 BY FAMILY AND FRIENDS. The new second bell, weight 4-1-0, is inscribed FOR THE GOLDEN JUBILEE OF QUEEN ELIZABETH II GIVEN IN MEMORY OF JUNE AND RICHARD LUCKHURST. ( Richard Luckhurst was a ringer and churchwarden at Ss Peter & Paul Tonbridge, and daughter Janet used to ring, taught by Walter Dobbie, but back problems at the moment preclude a return - but her husband is learning instead, and you never know……….).

The bells were dedicated on Sunday 15th September and we were delighted to have the Revd Ray Sheekey, and Mrs Barbara Baycock, daughter of the late Maisie and Bernard Marks, and many of those who contributed to this project attend the service. At the same time a sign written board recording the 1917, 1966, and 2002 bell history, and listing the names of those who helped to fund the present augmentation, was blessed.

Yes, there were a few "hiccups" along the way, but in general it has been amazing how smoothly the whole process has run. According to Whitechapel we have room for ten - if not twelve! However, don’t bother to watch this space!