by Lucile Corby, 2004

Photo DrL 31st Dec 2004

Description of the Bells

Peal of eight bells all with traditional wheels and modern Clappers which are swung. Number eight is also used for the clock. The canons have been removed from all the bells, all are bolted through the head to the headstock with four bolts and all headstocks are mounted with ball-bearings. Inscriptions are in roman caps. and arabic numerals except for number eight (tenor) which has gothic lowercase. [For a more accurate reproduction of the inscriptions, see the Chiddingstone page - Ed]

No Type cm Note kg Inscription
laudo Deum verum plebem voco.congrego clerum
defunctos ploro pestem fugo festa decoro::
Rt catlin fecit 1750 redintegrata 1867


The arrangement of the bells in the tower:
(top is north)

3 4
Treble 2 5 6
Tenor 7

There are also two brass plaques:

The first on the west wall of the south aisle reads:

Rededicated on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
8th September 1991, in the presence of,
Michael, Lord Bishop of Rochester.
Bell No.6 was recast in memory of Philip Everest and
Jane Streatfeild (late Churchwardens of this Parish)
This great work was achieved with the skill
and enthusiasm of villagers and craftsmen encouraged
by Philip Corby (Rector's Warden),
who died within a year of its completion.

The second on the south wall of the bell tower chapel reads:

A.D. 1902


The Churchwardens' Accounts of the parish church of St. Mary, Chiddingstone, Kent, survive from the earliest Elizabethan register, when it first became compulsory to keep parish records in a bound book. Starting in 1563, we find a pattern of care, maintenance and renewal over a period of four centuries. This care extended to the church bells, which clearly were greatly valued.

The accounts of the Elizabethan period are sketchy, but the first mention of the bells occurs in the accounts of 1565-7 when there is a payment for “The Reparation of the Chyming of the Clock and Bells”. If they were in need of repair, they must already have been in use for some years, and we thus know that the village has heard the time from the bells for at least four hundred and fifty years. During many of these years the church clock would have been the only timekeeper available.

Succeeding accounts give the first recorded payments for the renewal of ropes and clapper repairs. We find long periods when these were an annual expense until modem bell-hanging techniques were developed in the nineteenth century. For centuries the good parts of last years ropes must have passed into other use! There were repeated payments for "Mending the Clock" but perhaps this chiefly involved oiling and regulating it.

In 1573 the bells were rehung in a new frame, and the cost accounted for 10..5..6 of the 11..6..5 total church expenses for the whole year. Six cart loads of timber cost thirty shillings and the carriage eight shillings, and there was a payment of 6.7.8 for making up the frame. 12 pence was allowed, 'For Bread and Drink at the Rearing of the same Frame". Edward Brooker and his brother were paid 21s.10d for casting the brasses and gudgeons of the bells. Fifty years later the surname "Brooker" recurs 1624 when a man of that name was doing “Work about the bells and Clappers” and we can assume that this was a family of local blacksmiths. “Nayles” for the bells cost 8d.

This work was therefore a major rehanging of existing bells, although there is no indication of the number. It probably had become necessary after neglect during the uncertainties in the church in the previous decades of change under Henry VIII, Edward V1 and Mary Tudor, and a period of inflation. Stability was now returning at this stage of the reign of Elizabeth 1 and, in this area, the iron industry had brought prosperity. Ringing for Royal occasions had always been a recognised expression of loyalty and this was perhaps an added reason for the expensive refurbishment of the bells. The cost of the frame indicates a complicated structure with the use of much new timber. It is tempting to speculate that this was the first time the bells had been hung for full circle ringing, and was the start of elementary change ringing.

It is worth noting that, at the end of the century, the wage of a labourer was 3d a day with food and drink, or- 7d a day without' In 1622 a rate of 1s..2d per acre produced a sum of 14..10..5 for the year's parish expenses.


No accounts survive from 1600 to 1620. Unusually the- parish was divided for church administration into the "North Side" and the "South Side", with two churchwardens for each side until the middle of the 17th century. Thereafter there were the usual two wardens for the whole parish, but each looked after one "side" and-the accounts were kept separately until the-late eighteenth century, the districts being those North of the river Eden, and South of it. Each paid a share of the common expenses, but not necessarily at the same time, and this was a complication when disentangling the detailed accounts for the rebuilding of the church after the fire of 1624.

From 1621 when records recommence, there are repeated items for maintenance work to the bells. In 1621 there were payments to THOMAS HATCH of 3s..6d for "Hanging and Trussing the Bells", 3s;.2d to Henry Cheseman for "Braides" and for mending the "Stirreps". Items included "Nayles" for the "Stocke of the Great Belle Wheele" and 3s..4d for ropes. From the frequent-annual payments for ropes, clapper repairs and oil we can assume that the bells were in constant use. In 1623 1..4..6 was-spent on bell maintenance, including the treble Brades and work to the clappers, the Great Bell clapper being itemised separately. FOUR bell ropes were bought, and "Timber posts for the Ringing Loft" were set up. This is the first indication of the number of bells.

During early 1624 more expensive work was done to the bells. ln the account for May FIVE bell ropes were bought, the Great Bell clapper was mended and ALLEN HATCH was paid the then considerable sum of 7..2..4 for "mending the bells." Among other work there is a payment of 11 s.11 d "for a wheele for the fowerth bell and a days worke" and a total of 17~.4d for other work. This indicates there were now five bells- four and the- Great Bell - and FlVE ropes had been provided. A casting is not mentioned at this point but, strangely, the amount paid to Allen Hatch is similar to that paid later- to JOHN WILLNER for casting a bell.


The church was struck by lightning on July 24th 1624 and largely destroyed by fire. The damage to the stonework of the tower can still be seen on its East side between the steep pitched line of the medieval nave roof and the lower seventeenth century replacement.


A great effort was needed to raise money for the repairs and to organise the work. In 1625 a rate of 6d per acre was imposed, and the charges included 5 from Bernard Hyde on 200 acres, 2..2..0 from William Everest on 84 acres, and 15s 6d from John Bassett’s son on 31 acres. A Royal Mandate was granted to send out "Briefs" (appeals for financial help) printed at a cost--of 15s and sent out to other parishes over a wide area. The work of restoration was set in hand in 1627. There are detailed accounts of payments by the churchwardens for materials and labour, and these included work on the tower and the bells. The tower must have been seriously damaged as new lead had to be cast for the tower roof, and alI the bells and fittings replaced.

The accounts for 1625 refer back to "Money laid out at the taking down and casting of the bell before the church was burned" including a payment to "JOHN WILLNER for the casting of the bell 7.15.0", (this seems to imply a recasting of an existing bell) There follows a sad entry "The second cast of the bell after the burning of the church', showing incidental expenses only. It seems clear from supplementary payments that John Willner did only the skilled work of actual casting, and all other work of hanging the bells and providing the fittings was organised locally.

In 1627 there are four successive items about the bells. 4s was laid out at the casting of the three bells, a further 4s paid "For the cast wherein my Lord of Leicester his Armes were brought downe in" and 5s to “Trendle the Carrier” for bringing them and a further 5s to-him, for fetching and carrying the Beame which weighed the bells

Some of the payments of 1628 may be retrospective; for the previous year. JOHN WlLLNER the BELL FOUNDER~ was paid.7.;10..0 for casting "The Great Bell" and then "More to JOHN WILLNER for the casting of the other three bells the 6th April 1628. On July 3rd 1628 a final payment of 20 as made to “JOHN WILLNER the BELL FOUNDER towards the littell bell and the other bells. There is no direct record where Chiddingstone bells were cast but one of this years entries may -provide a clue. Money was paid to "Sawier the Smith at Eightham (Ightham) for various items including three clappers. In 1635 an agreement between the churchwardens of neighbouring Cowden and JOHN WILLNER for casting the tenor bell refers to “the furnace or casting place where the bell was now casted being in the parish of Eightham in the said County” (ie Kent). John Willner was to guarantee the soundness of the bell for one year from when it was hung in the tower and, the weight of the bell was also in the agreement. In the 1630s, work was still being carried out to bells for Chiddingstone which had proved faulty, and it seems likely that the facility at Ightham had been already been set up for Chiddingstone bells as John Willner’s home foundry at Borden was too far away. Also in 1623 there was a second purchase of five bell ropes.

In 1628 there are separate small payments to a number of local men who made the fittings for the bells and hung them. There is a payment of 2.6s for " cariing the bell metal and bringing some of the bells and appurtenances”. This amount must imply a journey of some distance. John Brett was paid 1Od for a day's work in weighing them. Thomas Sutton made the Baldrick for the Great Bell, Richard Jessop was paid 12s for providing the clapper and “Mending the Fligt and for three plates and six Keyes”. Henry Cheseman worked on the pulpit and the bells, Robert Tydeman the Joiner and his son were paid 3..4..1 for hanging the bells and making the wheels, and Henry Cheseman 27s for trussing the bells and for other work about the church. He was also paid a further 18s for the Great Bell clapper, which had been provided by Richard Jessop earlier in the year. As there was then a note that the flight was mended, that may have been an unsuccessful attempt to economise by repairing the original damaged clapper. Finally in 1628 James Fremlyn was paid 8s "For bringing home of the littell Bell" and "Such as helped upp the Bells in the Stepell” received 12d. There is no separate item for timber and it must have been if included in the general order for timber for the rebuilding work. -The total recorded payments to JOHN WILLNER are 38..15..0 with ancillary payments of .15.. 16..5 .

An item in the accounts for 1629: "Assessment made the 7th September 1629 for -the Entertainment of the Lord Bishop 0f Rochester and his company at the Consecration Of the church of Chiddingstone the 13th day of the same month by the churchwardens 5..15..0

The new bells must have been rung for this occasion!


lt is surprising that by 1630 more work had to be done to the bells. William Everest and William Mallis were paid for brades and mending the treble clapper, new ropes were needed, the Great Bell wheel was turned and the treble wheel mended.' The Treble was clearly a problem, and one wonders whether it was a faulty cast, or whether it was overclappered. Later in 1630 Henry Cheseman was paid for mending the bowl of the treble clapper, then for mending the treble bell and in 1631, there was a payment to JOHN WILLNER in part payment “For the new bell".

Throughout the 1630s major work was needed to the bell installation as well as on- going minor repairs. In 1634 7..4..11 was "Layd out about the casting of the bell" and 8..6.11 “Layd out about the steepell". Neither the founder nor the bell is identified, but JOHN WILLNER was still working locally on the Cowden bells. In- 1639 THOMAS CROFT was paid 12..16..6 for making a new bell frame for which the timber cost 3 .0..0. This work seems finally to have been successful. Minor -work only was needed for another forty years. It had taken fifteen years to achieve.


Chiddingstone was a Royalist parish and the leading family of Streatfeild and other important families were heavily fined by the Parliamentary Commissioners. The Rector appointed by Archbishop Laud was ejected in 1643 and imprisoned in Leeds Castle, parishioners refusing to pay tythes to the Puritan Rector. However Parish order and- church maintenance continued. There were the usual payments for bell ropes, mended clappers and trussing of the bells. In 1652 there is an item "Paid for Carriang of Stuf from the Bells" probably pigeon droppings and nesting twigs.


The church has always been and still remains in the gift of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and quickly returned to traditional Episcopal administration after the Restoration of 1660; The king's Arms were set up in 1661, The altar rails dating from the church rebuilding of 1624 in the time of the High Church Archbishop Laud were put back in place, They must have been carefully stored. A new Prayer Book, Altar Linen, and surplices were provided. A loyal address was sent to the King, and the first 'vistation from the re-established diocese took place in 1664

General maintenance only was recorded through the 1660s but by the 1670s an increasing amount of work was being done in the belfry. New wheels were provided for the Great-Bell and the second bell. Sets of ropes were, as always, bought most years, sometimes by weight, and clappers repaired.

1680 -1700
A special effort was needed in 1680. A Mr. ROBERT TURNER was paid to come and advise about the bells and JOHH CHATFIELD was paid 24 for “the new hanging of the bells according to the agreement” and 36lbs of bell rope was bought from John Brissenden of Wadhurst at 5d the pound. Increased amounts of oil seem to have been used for the clock and the bells. However by 1692 the Great Bell needed rehanging at a cost of over 5, and its clapper needed replacernent and frequent repair. Mr. Francis Udall was brought in to undertake this work assisted by Thomas Shoebridge who did the iron work and who presumably was a local Blacksmith. However the clappers still needed annual repair and there are references to taking them to Somerden Green, the Mill, the Hoath or Court Green. The Great Bell was the greatest problem and repairs to the bells were a considerable part of the total church expenditure.



In 1710, after 6d was "Spent in bargaining for a new clock", one was bought at a cost of 20, with 11s for the carriage and 5s 6d for setting it up and for a dial. Much work was done to the church during the next years, perhaps indicating a period of neglect. The church was re-roofed and the floor re-tiled. The windows were re-glazed and the leads of church and steeple replaced. A West Gallery was installed where the font now stands. Several loads of stone and gravel were used in the churchyard and the wall was rebuilt. Dr. Tenison, as Rector, repaired the chancel and his payment of 80 is noted. He also gave the chandelier. New King's Arms and a new altar piece were bought in London for 27, the latter being illustrated in a water colour painting, a copy of which hangs in the church. A new Church Bible and Book of Common Prayer were provided.


Local workmen, notably the smith and a carpenter, carried out maintenance of the bells for many years. There were frequent payments for repairs to clappers, and wheels and the supply of new ropes and work on the tower and bells remained a substantial part of the total church expenditure. Extra work was done in 1723 at a cost of about 17. After 1711 the clerk had been paid an annual wage and rang a single bell, usually the Great Bell, for curfew and service. In 1747 George Bevan, Clerk, was paid 5 for ringing the Great Bell for a year and John Leigh, Carpenter 3..2..1 for work to the bells and clappers.


The next notable happening to the bells was the augmentation in number from five to eight in 1750. This was a period of general increased interest in more advanced change ringing throughout the country, and many churches were adding to the number of the bells, with a certain rivalry amongst them.

A Vestry Meeting was held on May 27th 1750 and resolved " To cast the five old bells at the parish church of Chiddingstone in Kent with a proper quantity of metal into eight new ones and to hang them in a new frame" and the churchwardens or Henry Streatfeild Esq. were to ”Contract with Robert Catlin, Founder in Shoe Lane St. Andrew's Holborn for the new casting and hanging of the bells aforesaid...." The money was raised partly by subscription and partly by assessment.

It is known that Chiddingstone bells of 1750 were ROBERT CATLIN's penultimate job of work, and seem not to have been entirely successful. Although not itemised in the accounts, the inscriptions on the bells show that bells no. 6 and 7.were recast as early as 1753 by LESTER and PACK, and Mr. Thomas Lester supplied a new set of ropes the same year. Only the 7th survives today with a weight of 14cwt. Its inscription reads:- THOMAS LESTER & THOMAS PACK OF LONDON MADE ME 1753 W.W. WARD RECTOR BERNARD HYDE & JOHN WOODGATE GENT. CH. WARDENS. Lester & Pack were then the principals of the Whitechapel Foundry, which had been in existence since 1570.

In 1965 and 1988 the Whitechapel Foundry reported, "The bell frame is of the mid eighteenth century and in generally good condition". They continue "It is of conventional construction, with top and bottom horizontal timbers with diagonal braces between. It has been reasonably well designed and constructed, and the sections of timber employed are quite substantial. The timbers, however, have not been nicely finished which gives the whole a rather rough appearance." Although strengthened with steel work over the years, Robert Catlin's frame is still giving good service.

The treble, 2, 5, & 6 swing North-South in the centre of the tower reading from West to East.. Along the North side reading from West-East are 3 & 4, swinging East--West, and opposite them along the South side are the tenor and 7, swinging East--West.

Henry Streatfeild was agent for the parish in the project and funded it, and he was re-paid a total of 108..7..9 over seven years; It is not shown whether the amount raised by subscription went through the parish account, or only the money resulting from a rate of 1s.;6d. There was a further outlay of 7.~.8..11 for local workmen.


Far less work, other than the annual provision of ropes, was now needed and must indicate a higher standard of design and workmanship in hanging the bells. We know that JAMES BARHAM's band of ringers from Leeds near Maidstone, rang a three hour peal on December 26th-1761. This may account for repair work to the clappers the following year, which was the first to have been needed since the augmentation of 1750., and the second and tenor now needed ongoing attention

The accounts were not kept in as great detail after 1775 and mostly record -payments "As per bill". Only annual payments for ropes are identifiable as bell expenses. The ringers may now have been doing minor repairs themselves because of a new enthusiasm for change ringing.


By 1784 major work was again necessary. The parish contacted ROBERT PATRICK a cheesemonger by trade and a ringing member of the Ancient Society of College Youths, the prestigious London ringing organisation. He had gained an interest in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry through his marriage to Sarah Oliver, the granddaughter of Thomas Lester, and called himself a Founder and Bell hanger. 4d was paid for "A letter from London concerning the Bells” .The Leigh family, who were to produce peal ringers in the nineteenth century, had been doing "work about the bells" since the 1760s and were carpenters and publicans. Edward Leigh was paid 1..4..8 "For liquor when taking down the bells", and Henry Streatfeild "4..5..4 ''For the carriage of the bells to London" ROBERT PATRICK was paid 29..16..0 "For new casting 2 bells as per bill", and John Leigh jnr. received 7..8..5 for "Hanging the bells". From the inscriptions these bells were the treble and 5th which are still part of the present ring. However it would seem that although these bells carry the name of Robert Patrick, they are also Whitechapel bells. In 1988 the Foundry noted, "Robert Patrick acted as an agent, obtaining orders, and. had the bells cast at Whitechapel." He seems to have undertaken a certain amount of training with a Norfolk Foundry, but his career as a founder, such as it was, only lasted about six years. Only bells 2,3,4 and 8 of Catlin's 1750 bells remained thirty years later.




LESTER and PACK's work of 1753 had lasted for thirty years and ROBERT PATRICK's work of 1784 lasted for the same length of time, but by 1813 it was necessary to call in a bell founder again. The work was given to "Mr. Mears", the Master Founder at Whitechapel, who bought the property from the heirs of Robert and Sarah (Oliver) Patrick in 1818. This time a letter from London cost 2s..2d! A Mr. Poplett was paid 1..10..0 for the carriage of the bells and material. It would be interesting to know the route of the heavy bells to and from London on the five occasions from 1750 to 1838 as these would have been the only times they would have gone either by horse and cart all the way over the hills, or more probably by water transport from Tonbridge via the Medway and Thames. It is known that from the mid-eighteenth century the Upper Medway Navigation Company ran a twice weekly barge service from Tonbridge to London for heavy goods. Mr. Mears was paid 48..2..0 "On a/c of the new third bell and repairing all the rest" and Mr. Leigh (Publican) 1..10..10 for "A bill on opening the bells"!


Notes inserted in the register describe very different ringing conditions from today. In 1814, as part of a general refurbishment, "old carved wood" was "Put up at the entrance of the ringing gallery". In Jan. 1817 an "Entire new window and wooden screen in the ringing gallery was presented by Mrs. Sophia Streatfeild of Queen Street Mayfair", and in December 1817 the "Great Belfry Window was rebuilt with new stone at the expense of Henry and Sophia Streatfeild, the top of the steeple re-leaded, the timber flooring underneath repaired and re-laid and a new door fitted."

The ringers must have stood in a tower gallery at a level that included the West window, and were now concealed from the congregation by a screen of "Old carved wood". We know that there had been a gallery over a vestry in the South-West corner where the font now stands since the early eighteenth century, presumably for the musicians of the traditional "West Gallery " music described by Thomas Hardy in his native Dorset. One of the brass instruments played at Chiddingstone, an ophlicleide, remained in the church until after the second World War when there is a record of its having been removed by a Mr Larkin of Edenbridge. The West End of the church must have been a scene of local activity and skills.


The work carried out to the bells by Mears of Whitechapel in 1813 lasted for twenty-five years, with expenditure needed only for the annual provision of ropes. Presumably the ringers were undertaking maintenance on a voluntary basis. In 1837 5..0..0 was paid to "Moyce as per bill for hanging the bells". Perhaps this was in connection with the peal on June 12th 1837. In 1838 a subscription was raised in the parish and the list gives the names of the ringers. A notebook at the Foundry shows "Chiddingstone, 2nd & 4th", and the Foundry Day Book has the entries:-

"Sept. 21st 1838, The Parish of Chiddingstone, To 2 bells 5-1-12, 6-3-9 (12-1-5 @ 15d ) 80..4..2, Booking etc.10s, Hanging &c 6, Carriage 2..10..0 Total 89..4..2 Oct.3rd - The Parish of Chiddingstone - by old bells 13-2-9, 63..7..6, charges 2 Total 65..7..6 ie. net cost 23..16..8.

The inscription on the two bells is "THOMAS MEARS FOUNDER LONDON 1838". Only the tenor of Robert Catlin's bells now remained

In 1843, another peal year, The entry in the Foundry Day Book is :-

Dec. 1842 The Parish of Chedingstone, Kent. To mens time rehanging Bells, lining and tuming gudgeons of tenor Bell and two new rollers 5..18..0."

The Churchwardens' accounts show :-"Paid to Mr. MEARS the Bell founder for repairing the bells April 1843, 5..18..0." The church also paid 3..3..8 to Charles Leigh "For assisting Mears the bell hanger", and 1..5..0 to John Moyce "For mending the frame of the bells and cleaning about them". A peai was rung in June 1843, and two further local peals in 1848 and '49

In 1868 there are payments for recasting the tenor and the date 1867 is cast on the bell, the inscription reading:-

MEARS AND STAINBANK FOUNDERS LONDON H.D. Streatfeild Abraham Hale Laudo Deum Verum Plebem Voco Congrego Clerum Defunctos Ploro Pestem Fugo Testa Decoro R. Catlin fecit 1750 Reindegrata 1867 Mear's relevant entry is :-

Day Book 7th Jan 1868 H.D. Streatfeild C.W. Chiddingstone nr. Penshurst To a bill, tenor recast 19cwt. 2. 1 ~ 71-l- 136..11..3

Day Book 11 March 1868 - H.D. Streatfeild By old Bell 18-1-2 gross (17-3-3 net) 87-2-1; ie. net cost 49..9..2

The full amount is not in the church accounts, but in September 1868 the "Balance of a bill" paid by the church to Mears and Stainbank was 25..4..1.The railway bill for the carriage of the bell was 1..2..4 and 7s from the station to the church.

Thus the last remaining of Robert Catlin's bells was recast.


Work to the church in the mid-century seems to have been largely cosmetic, perhaps reflecting the new pious ideas of the order and conduct of the church worship. In 1859 "A Gallery was pulled down and the organ placed at the West End of the church". This must have been the gallery in the tower as that in the Southwest comer of the church over a vestry was not removed until 1898. The ringers must now have stood either at ground level behind the organ, or at the level of the present ringing room.

In 1867, the year the tenor was re-cast, the eminent architect G. E. Street was commissioned to design a new reredos and altar. At the same time a new organ was placed in the North-East Bore Place Chapel, thus freeing the tower. In 1871 the chancel was decorated, the church ceiling removed and the roof boarded and stained. It must previously have been open to the tiles above the false ceiling. Paint which had been put on the pillars and columns in 1814 was scraped off, the remains of an old fresco were removed and new glass was placed in the East window and the window of Bore Place Chapel.

Unfortunately the structural condition of the church and the tower seem to have been neglected, and much basic work was needed throughout the 1890s.

On June 11th 1892 MEARS and STAINBANK made a report on the state of Chiddingstone bells. They found that the 6th was cracked and the others, with the exception of the tenor of 1868, were deeply indented by the striking of the clappers. They recommended turning the bells and fitting reversed crown staples. They further stated, "The bells ring heavily and unsteadily owing to the gudgeons and bearings having become worn; the other parts of the fittings are in very poor condition... the clappers are the only-parts that can be brought into use again. The framework is in fair condition but needs strengthening in the joints to keep it rigid”. On arrival at the foundry the 3rd was also found to be cracked.

The receipt from Whitechapel shows that a thorough overhaul of the bells was -carried out. The 3rd and 6th were recast at an itemised net cost of 34..7. 8.~ay Book ;- 29th June -1893, The-Bell Committee, Chiddingstone, Recasting 3rd & 6th bells (6-2 - and 10-1-27) less old bells, (6-3-5-and 11-0-11) gross net cost, 34,.7-,.8> The bells were lifted out and the frame was repaired "With new pieces of oak to carry the new bearings". The joints were secured with strap bolts and long vertical bolts were fitted-throughout the entire depth of the-frame. New elm headstocks and steel gudgeons were fitted to all the bells, with gunmetal bearings in iron carriages The four back bells had new wheels and the other four were repaired: There was a new clapper for the tenor and new ends for the others. All the stays, sliders, stops and ropes were renewed. The total cost, including the re—casting was 151..7..8. . :

Work was also carried out on the tower. An application on June 15th 1893 for; a faculty for "Repairing, concreting, re-floring and re-seating the whole church, and removing the stoke-hole from the interior to the exterior of the tower" stated 'Work already done includes l) Repairing and re-roofing the tower 2) Rehanging the bells and re-casting two of them 3) Rebuilding in stone the tower arch which had remained covered with lathe and plaster since a fire destroyed the stonework many years ago. Item: 3 must refer to the fire of 1624, and the lathe and plaster was probably only at the top of the internal tower wall - as there had been earlier references to a gallery and screening at a lower level.

Building work in connection with the bell hanging and fitting out a new ringing room was carried out by John Butcher, whose family had been working at the church for two hundred years, and was to be involved in work at the church and in ringing during the next century. Mr. Constable, a Penshurst builder, was paid 114 for' rebuilding the Western Arch. The fire marked stone had sustained the weight of the bells for 250 years, and it seems possible that the serious problems which were soon to occur in the tower were 'caused or exacerbated by the rebuilding of the -arch, although this was supervised by a London firm of Architects. .


In 1896 the Rural Dean noted "A crack has shown itself in the tower which appears to be affected or caused by the ringing of the bells" We know that seven -peals were rung in 1894-6. However the condition of the whole church was such that nothing was yet done to the tower. The joists of the church floor rested on the earth and were rotten, rainwater from the roof had soaked into the foundation the pointing of the stonework had decayed and the buttresses were falling to Pieces! Internally the painted plaster in the chancel was flaking and falling away.

The whole floor of the church had to be relaid on a bed of concrete. The Southwest Gallery over the old vestry was now removed, the font re-positioned and the church re-ordered as it remains to this day. The Streatfeilds renewed the glass in the East Window, removing the old glass to the West Window, formerly the Great Belfry Window. The Rural Dean approved the restoration on June 2nd 1899 but he comments again on the serious state of the tower. It seems odd that three peals were rung in 1898~9 with the tower in such a dangerous condition. .

The churchwardens received a report on the tower from Reade and Reilly, Civil Engineers, dated Feb.4th 1899.which stated:-
"The weight of the bells and the ringing floor must be entirely taken off the tower. This can be done by constructing a framework of steel joists to be fixed either above or below the present ringers' platform and to rest this framework on four oak posts or steel stanchions placed in each internal angle of the tower. These must be braced together by diagonal bracing bars with coupling adjustments, and their bases must be anchored to a concrete foundation to prevent any rocking motion of the platform on which the bell frames rest. No part of the present floor or bell frames need be removed, but some additional supports will be required from the new platform up to the bell framing. When these additional supports are fixed and carefully wedged up, the ends of the present oak beams resting on the tower walls, can be sawn off. lt is considered that steel stanchions may have an injurious effect upon the tone of the bells but oak posts are not so good constructionally.”

"The tower now having been relieved of all but its own weight the Eastern arch- should be shored, the N.E. pier foundations strengthened and the foundations for the posts for the steel framing put in. The tower should be strapped round inside at three levels with steel bands and bolts and cast iron extemal washers".


It was a whole year later on June lst 1900 that a note at a Vestry meeting states "A communication was read from the Chiddingstone ringers urging the necessity of the tower being made safe for ringing the bells, and also calling attention to the danger of clocking the bells when chiming. The Rector's churchwarden was instructed to reply that "Further enquiry should be made as to the feasibility of restoring the tower and also that due precaution should be taken against injuring the bells by chiming" Clearly the bells were not now being, rung.

Mrs. Yates of Latymers, Penshurst communicated "Her desire to have the tower of Chiddingstone church put into substantial repair and the bells properly rehung so that they may be rung without injury to the tower and that she will be responsible for the entire cost." This presumably meant the work recommended by the engineers rather than bell hangers’ work. Mr. Constable was again asked but declined to do the work. The Rector then sought advice from various church authorities, and Canon Helmore of Canterbury suggested, "Mr. A.E.Nunn of Tenterden as having restored several towers e.g. Hythe and Bethersden and also understanding about bells having been himself an expert change ringer." An enquiry was to be made about Nunn's work in other towers: Nunn gave an estimate of 630 and undertook -the work under the Architect and Structural Engineers.

The resulting structure can be seen in the clock room. It resembles the base of an open dome of brick and concrete supporting steel beams which spread the weight of the bells and the frame evenly on the whole tower instead of on the holes in the stonework into which the oak supporting beams had been fixed in 1750.

A Vestry was held on January 16th- 1902 when, "Mr. Geo. Edwards, as representing
the ringers, thanked the Committee for the work done to the ringing chamber and
expressed himself satisfied with the condition of the bells."


Minor repairs were carried out by Mears in 1911 at a cost of 11..10..0 but the next major work was done by GILLETT and JOHNSON in 1930. They had supplied a new clock in 1893 and maintained it through the years, and it is likely that this was the reason for their being given the work. In November 1928 Albert Longley, the Captain of Ringers and a member of the Parochial Church Council which was now responsible for church affairs, "Informed the meeting of the state of the two big bells, and an estimate from Gillett and Johnson for 78 was put before the meeting''. The following May this was amended to 84, with an estimated 278 for work on all eight bells. However, when a faculty was applied for it was stipulated "That the canons of the bells be not removed, that the old bells be not tuned to the new Simpson method, and that if it could be avoided the bells be not subjected to sand blasting. The PCC had been minded to opt for the full scheme, but now decided to have work done to the tenors only. They were influenced by the slow response to the appeals for subscriptions. Times had changed, and although the "Leading Men of the Parish" continued to wield influence, the days of munificent donations had passed. By February 1930 only-70 or promises was in the bell fund. The church accounts were poorly kept at this time, and there is no report in the PCC minutes of the work having been carried out. The only indication is the unusually high amount of 156 in the short 1930 annual account for the Church Maintenance Fund and an item in the Fund's outgoings of 1..13.. 0 for "Balance of Bell a/c"

We only know details of the work from reports on the bells later in the century by the Whitechapel Bellfoundry.-Their 1988 report states, "The tenor and 7th were rehung by the late GILLETT and JOHN$0N Ltd in 1930 with completely new fittings, but the six smaller bells still hang from the fittings that we supplied in 1893. The tenor and 7th headstocks are of cast iron, with fitted steel gudgeons running in a double row, self aligning, ball bearings supported in let-in type housings. Although the headstock of the 7th bell is conventional in style, that on the tenor was designed to accommodate the bell canons and is of monstrous proportions, thus rendering the bell sluggish and slow turning . Steelwork was added to support me frame horizontally and to hold the main diagonal braces in compression.” Gillett's had clearly been restricted by the requirements of the Diocesan Advisory Committee.

Ropes now had a much longer life. Some new ropes were bought in 1915 and a set of Nocholl's ropes in 1919, costing 10..1..8. Repairs to ropes cost 1..0..10 in 1923, and a set of eight cost 7..4..4 in 1928, when a set of muffles cost 2..0..0! The next reference is in 1965 when those in use were twelve years old - that is supplied in about 1952. The bells were not rung throughout the war years and old ropes had probably been spliced and respliced.


During the 1960s a band of young ringers was recruited and it became increasingly clear that the bells were difficult to ring and needed a major overhaul. This was reported each year to the church vestry meeting by Philip Everest, Ringer, Verger and Churchwarden. In 1965 the ringers arranged for the Whitechapel Foundry to make a report. It commented on the old iron clapper staples on the six smaller bells being in danger of rusting and thus cracking the bells. Traces of worm were found in the fittings and bearings were loose. There was a great deal of damp, dirt and rubble and the belfry was not weatherproof. The Foundry recommended a general overhaul of all fittings and moving parts, removal of the canons, and fitting iron headstocks, and putting the six smaller bells on ball bearings like the two trebles.

Alternative more expensive schemes were also presented. The Rector seems to have read the report, and then pencilled a note that it should be returned to Philip Everest. The finances of the church were such that nothing was done for many years, despite annual protests at the church vestry meeting.

In 1969 Philip Everest told the Easter Vestry Meeting that "The bells themselves have only been kept ringing through a considerable amount of hard and dirty work by the ringers themselves. It is over thirty years since the bells were overhauled and over 65 since the front six received any attention. A major overhaul is the most urgent task facing the parish." However falling stonework necessitated extensive work to the exterior of the tower that year, and that was the only work undertaken.

At the 1972 meeting Annual Meeting Philip Everest was supported by Philip Corby, a ringer of wide experience who had moved into the parish the previous year. He had been involved in the restoration of Sevenoaks bells a few years earlier. The PCC accepted that the bells were difficult to ring and that major work would be unavoidable, but still did not feel able to finance a full restoration.

In 1975 a sum of money was left to the church by a local farmer, Mr. David Hale for work to the bells in recognition of the pleasure he had experienced in listening to them for many years. A qualified graduate engineer and ringer, Christopher Mundy, had moved into the parish and, helped by Andrew Corby, put the six-small bells on ball bearings. These enclosed modem bearings enabled the bells to turn more easily, did not become dirty, and did not need oiling. Over a period of eighteen months the bells were in turn raised on blocks within their pits, the headstocks, gudgeons and bearings removed and taken to Whitechapel for renewal, and then repositioned in the tower. Although there was still movement in the frame, this work enabled the bells to be rung for a further fifteen years until a full scheme was carried out as part of a major restoration of the whole church.


The aspect of the tower had been changed during the incumbency of the Rev. John Boyce by the construction of an enclosed chapel at the base of the tower which could easily be heated for small services. His successor, the Rev John Lee, was faced with a serious problem. In 1987 the church was badly damaged in a great hurricane which devastated the whole area. This coincided with a quinquennial report on the church which required extensive repairs to be undertaken to the whole fabric.

The Rev. John Lee was supported by his two churchwardens, Philip Everest and Philip Corby, who were heavily involved in organising the restoration work. Both were ringers, and this helped in the understanding and progress of the work in the tower. Philip Corby was a retired builder and surveyor, and another ringer was Chris Mundy, the engineer who had put in so much work on the bells a few years earlier.

The Whitechapel Bell foundry gave another full report and estimate in September 1988. They said that the bells were only approximately in tune due to the lack of knowledge at the time they had been cast, but they were cast to a good degree of thickness and would tune well. They all needed turning, and the front six still had the cast iron staples which were liable to rust and crack the bells. Various fittings were obsolete and the front six wheels were poor and worm eaten. The bell frame, approximately 200 years old "Although rather rough in appearance, seems sound and stands well during ringing". The two hoisting beams above the frame were "Of some antiquity", and unsafe for use. The bearings fitted on the front six in 1975 could be re-used, and only those of 1930 on the two tenors needed replacing. The tower chapel and the large tower clock prevented the use of the central traps to lower the bells which would have to be swung out through one of the louvres, the stonework of which needed replacement. Although it would have been desirable to replace the bulky timber frame with a rigid modem steel frame, which would not have been affected by weather or movement, this was felt to be too great an expense, and it was decided that the old frame should be patched and tightened up again. This was perhaps just as well since there was a new antiquarian interest in old bell frames. English Heritage, a new public body formed to protect old buildings and features of interest and importance, now required the retention of some old bell frames, perhaps without regard to their continued practical use.

The work was carried out during 1991 and much skilled help was given by Chris Mundy on a voluntary basis, both in helping the bell hanger, and in work to the ringing room and the stone spiral staircase. The builder was Gilbert Butcher Ltd, the current generation, in the person of Nicholas Butcher, of the family which had worked at the church since 1700. At the foundry the 6th was found to be cracked. It was recast in memory of Jane Streatfeild and Philip Everest, former and current churchwardens, who sadly had died during the course of the work. The other churchwarden and bell ringer, Philip Corby, died during the year following the restoration, and his contribution is acknowledged on a plaque in the church.

Thought was also given to the acoustics of the bells. As is so often the case, the bells had always been uncomfortably loud in the immediate vicinity of the church, and a nuisance to the occupants of the Tudor village and the Old Rectory. The louvres were now given a backing, leaving smaller openings with shutters that protected the installation from the weather and could be open for Sunday service or Special ringing, and closed for practice or peals.

The work of rehanging and tuning the bells was successful. They are resonant and easy to handle, and are pleasure to those who ring them and those who hear them.

On September 8th 1991, as on September 13th 1629, the Lord Bishop of Rochester came to bless the work of Restoration and lead the thanksgiving of the congregation.