Rev'd David L. Cawley,

David wrote this article at fairly short notice for The Ringing World Christmas edition in 2003. He has revised it to include some personal material at the request of Dickon Love. David was taught to ring in 1958 at St Dunstan, Canterbury. His tutor was Jim Stockbridge, whose own ringing career began half a century before at Holy Cross – whose bells are featured in this article. In 1968 he was encouraged by the late Canon Derek Ingram Hill to look after the practical side of reclaiming the three bells of St Margaret’s (also featured) for use elsewhere. He believes that this work, shared in particular with Alan Berry, led to a complete re-appraisal of the way bell restoration work was carried out and funded in our County and so to the establishment of the Bell Restoration Committee as we know it. David is now Vicar of The Parish Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester, The Queen’s Preacher at The Newarke and a member of The Council for the Care of Churches Bells & Clocks Committee He is a Life Member of the KCACR. And he believes that LOVESGUIDE is the best thing –if not since sliced bread – then certainly since Stahlschmidt!

After the glories of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ in Canterbury the Parish Churches of the City are at first sight an anti-climax. I spent the first half of my life in Kent, for four years (1968-72) of which I was Canterbury’s DAC Bells Adviser. However, I spent my first curacy in Norwich with its soaring Cathedral and amazing assembly of over thirty memorable churches, presided over by the grand St Peter Mancroft. Twelve years’ ministry was in Bristol, with another fine Cathedral and a congregation of churches whose architecture is a text-book of Christian art-form from Norman times to the present day, all crowned with Queen Elizabeth I’s "fayrest, goodliest and most famous church" of St Mary Redcliffe. I have now been eight years in Leicester, whose mainly Victorian Cathedral has to hold its own against grand St Margaret’s, and the jewel in the City’s crown, my own St Mary de Castro.

Norwich, where the first-ever true peal was rung in 1715; Bristol, with more rings of bells than any other city-centre, and Leicester with its long tradition of excellence in ringing, likewise contrast with Canterbury. When Norwich was ringing the first true peal, Canterbury had two sets of six bells (both at the Cathedral, the heavier one being unringable) and two of five. When Bristol had up to twelve bells in all but one of its ancient churches, Canterbury had an indifferent ten, a six and two fives, its only really active tower being an eight in the suburbs. By the time that Leicester had acquired one of the best twelves in the land, and was preparing for another, Canterbury's’ indifferent ten had become an indifferent twelve: the active eight had become a lumpy eight, the six and one of the fives were unringable the other being hung ‘dead’.

To-day, Canterbury’s story is rather different. There is a sparkling new Whitechapel twelve with two semitones at the Cathedral. St Stephen, Hackington, against all the odds, have transformed into a most musical and useful eight; the noble six at St Dunstan’s are in excellent order; from an unpromising collection of bells at St Nicholas, Thanington, Taylors have created a light and tuneful six. Even the late Mr Goslin’s extraordinary augmentation at the former St Alphege (The Canterbury Centre) are maintained in order by the KCACR. The art of ringing is alive and well in the City whose Cathedral remains my joy and delight, and whose little churches are still a source of endless fascination. Sadly bells no longer hang in many of their towers. Let us leave the activity of to-day and go back in time…..

Church 1700 1800 1900 2000

The Cathedral
SW Tower

6, 19-cwt 8, 28-cwt (1726) 10, 28-cwt (1802) 14, 35-cwt (1923/80)
The Cathedral
NW Tower

6, 30-cwt recast into bells for SW tower, whose bells were sold to Sandwich (1726)


5, 10-cwt (1980)  

Plus Great Dunstan in SW tower until 1980; now in NW Tower and
Bell Harry on the Central Tower.

Holy Cross
   (Now The Guidhall)
4, 11-cwt 5, 11-cwt (1730) 5, 11-cwt Cl. 1968, TR 1972
All Saints
3, 5-cwt 1, 5-cwt(1768) 1 (Rb 1828) TR 1911 dem 1938
St Alban
(Now All Saints, New Church)
- - 1 (Ch c1840) 1, s/c
St Alphege
   (Now The Canterbury Centre)
3, 8-cwt 3, 8-cwt 3, 8-cwt 6, 8-cwt (1892-4)
St Andrew
4, 6-cwt 1, 5-cwt (Rb1764) 1, 5-cwt TR 1903 dem 1956
St Dunstan 5, 14-cwt 6, 14-cwt (1777) 6, 14-cwt 6, 14-cwt
St George
   (tower remains)
4, 11-cwt 4, 11-cwt 5, 11-cwt (1872) WWII; dem 1952
St Gregory
   (Now the St Gregory Centre, CUC)
- - 3,2cwt s/c; Ch 1851 Cl 1978; TR 1985
St Margaret
   (Now The Canterbury Pilgrims)
3, 7-cwt 3, 7-cwt 3, 7-cwt TR 1968; Cl 1990
St Martin 3, 7-cwt 3, 7-cwt 3, 7-cwt 3.7-cwt (s/c 1985)
St Mary Breadman
3, 5-cwt 2, 4-cwt (1764) 1, 3-cwt (Rb 1822) Dem 1900; TR 1975
St Mary Bredin
   (Old Church demolished)
3, 3-cwt 3, 3-cwt 3, 3-cwt WWII & dem 1942 New Church 1957, 1, 5-cwt co
St Mary Magdalene
   (tower remains)
3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt Dem & TR 1871
St Mary Northgate
   (Now The King’s School Music Centre)
4, 7-cwt 4, 7-cwt 4, 7-cwt Cl 1888, TR 1922
St Mildred 4, 10-cwt 5, 10-cwt (1711) 1, 4-cwt (1832) 1, 4-cwt
St Paul 3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt (s/c 1985)
St Peter 3, 9-cwt 3, 9-cwt 3, 9-cwt 4, 9-cwt (co 1968)


St Stephen, Hackington   6, 11-cwt (1746) 8, 11-cwt (1844) 8, 11-cwt
St Michael, Harbledown   3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt 3, 6-cwt (s/c 1972)
St Nicholas, Harbledown   4, 5-cwt 4, 5-cwt 4, 5-cwt (co 1994)
St Nicholas, Thanington   3, 5-cwt 3, 5-cwt 6, 5-cwt (1948/66)

The last four churches are included to complete the local picture; all remain in active use to-day. The story of the Cathedral bells has been written many times, and we may perhaps look forward to a re-appraisal of the pre-1726 story in these columns in due course. In the table above, the abbreviations used are: Ch= church built; Rb=rebuilt;

Cl = Closed; WWII=destroyed in World War II; dem=demolished. TR indicates the date of removal or transfer of the bells in more recent times. Bells in italics are hung for swing chiming (sc) or ‘dead’ (co). We now turn to the parish churches which once had bells, and no longer possess them, and to those which have been demolished. It is pleasing to note that of the forty or so bells involved, about half are still elsewhere in use in their original or recast form.

There were around thirty churches in this small City before the Reformation, and of those which appear above, only two (St Alban’s the former Garrison Church, now re-named All Saints, and St Gregory the Great) are not of ancient foundation. For the two hundred years prior to the first casualty, the City Churches had remained as they were when Elizabeth I came to the throne.

St Andrew, The Parade

The medieval church stood in the centre of that section of Canterbury’s long main street, with roadways to each side (rather like St Clement Danes). Engravings show it to have been a Perpendicular-style building with an octagonal timber west tower and spire. In it were four bells. The inscriptions were recorded by the indefatigable 18th-century antiquary, Godfrey Faussett.

The Church Wardens’ Accounts transcribed by Mr J Meadows Cowper show that the sum of 60 shillings was paid for this tenor, plus a further shilling each for cartage and a new stock, concluding with 2 days’ work by two men, including "carryeng of a gynn and lathers to hang the said bell" (six shillings). This seems all very reasonable compared with the expenditure in 1598 of 25..4s..10d for work involving two bells of which 21 was for "a new Bell waying fyve hundred and halfe hundred and xiiij li [5-2-14]". There is nothing about this new bell in Faussett’s account, but read on…..

In 1763, this church was deemed an inconvenience to traffic and was demolished, being replaced with a new building, almost invisible on the south side of The Parade, of which its predecessor had been so prominent and handsome a feature. At least three of the bells from the old building were sold. New St Andrew’s was a plain building of brick, with a tall tower of the same material, surmounted by a lead cupola. Even this was difficult to see, being sandwiched between high buildings either side. When J. C. L. Stahlschmidt wrote The Church Bells of Kent in 1887, he recorded one bell by Robert Mot in 1597. The accepted wisdom is that this bell came from nearby St Mary Breadman, Stahlschmidt inclining to this view, as there was no 1597 bell in Faussett’s account repeated above. He also states, quite wrongly, that its diameter does not equate with a weight of 5 -cwt.

In 1888, St Andrew’s was one of four Canterbury churches to be closed. Strangely, it found a new lease of life as St Margaret’s Parish Hall, a new and rather pretentious porch and lobby being erected to connect the tower with the street. In 1903, St Margaret’s three bells were overhauled by the late Mr Goslin, and the St Andrew’s bell was taken down and sold to him. He offered 20 for it but was "compelled to reduce his offer to 15". In fact, he had sold it to a scrap dealer and then had to buy it back at an enhanced price, when he found that it would be suitable as the tenor in a chime of four which he was installing at Caversham R.C. Church. That installation is barely adequately described in The Church Bells of Berkshire and requires further investigation. But the bell is, or was there, along with another uniniscribed secondhand bell and two new ones (so bad that they had to be recast by Charles Carr a couple of years later). It would be good if Caversham ringers – or anyone who has seen this installation – could give a reliable up-to-date account of these bells.

St Andrew’s continued in use as a Hall right up till the end, narrowly escaping destruction in the 1942 Blitz. It was no match however, for mammon nor the Pastoral Reorganization (disused churches) Measure, and despite protests this important example of 18th century architecture was demolished in 1956, a plaque recording the site.

All Saints, High Street
The medieval All Saints stood just east of the King’s Bridge, its tower projecting far out into the road with Eastbridge Hospital on the other side. The High Street at this point was little more than a lane, as can be seen from the footprint of the church laid out in coloured paving on the site. The tower was quite a structure, surmounted by a large square cupola. The most significant feature was its clock, which hung out on a beam projecting right across the street and taking its other bearing in Eastbridge Hospital opposite.

The tower was in 1768 removed as an obstruction to traffic, soon after St Andrew’s Church was removed for the same reason. Mr Faussett records "three small bells all cast by Joseph Hatch, 1627; over these hangs in an open turret a small bell on wch the clock strikes, without inscription". Of these bells, the two smaller were sold. The clock bell seems to have remained upon the premises while the largest of the three bells was placed in the classical cupola which was erected over the west end of the nave.

In 1832, All Saints was rebuilt to the designs of the famous Gothicist, Thomas Rickman. A lofty west tower was included, in which the old tenor bell was rehung, and here Stahlschmidt recorded it.

The bell also received the attentions of the late Mr Goslin, who in the period 1888-1894 restored and subsequently and gradually augmented to six the bells at the sister parish of St Alphege. He considered that the All Saints bell would form a very good match for the other bells at St Alphege – and then found he had got the note wrong !

He was however able to make use of the 18th century uninscribed clock bell, which is now St Alphege treble.

In 1888, All Saints again shared the misfortunes of St Andrew’s, being closed and used as St Alphege church hall. Its prominent clock, high on the gothic tower, received a rival when the post office was built opposite. The bell was taken down in 1911, and quite by chance was seen on the ground by Mr Edwin Barnett, Sen., who was able to secure it for use in the newly-built Bexleyheath clock-tower. Apparently, it was paraded around in a hand-cart to raise funds. And there it hangs to-day.

William Townsend in British Cities: Canterbury (1950), wrote, "It would be disingenuous to praise that example of the distinguished Thomas Rickman’s gothic taste. Its yellow brick looked meaner even than its flaking stucco; the interior was barren, but useful for bazaars." The late Mr Jim Stockbridge told me that whatever its defects, acoustics were not among them, and it was much favoured by the Canterbury Choral Society. The church was demolished in the autumn of 1938: an act bemoaned only by one correspondent to The Kentish Gazette who complained of the impropriety of demolishing a church on a Sunday while the bells of others were calling people to worship. The churchyard remains behind the site, and includes part of the west wall of the 1828 church and some masonry from its predecessor.

All Saints has now a successor church. In 1978, the former Garrison Church of St Alban was designated to take the place of the Parish Church of St Gregory the Great and its daughter, St Columba. To honour the memory of the historic city-centre parish, St Alban’s Church (which has one small bell, hung for swing chiming) was rehallowed under the Title of All Saints, Canterbury.

St Mary Breadman, High Street

Opposite the opening to Mercery Lane, which leads down to the Christ Church Gate is a small garden, paved with 18th century ledger-slabs. It contains the Crimean War Memorial which includes a trough inscribed: To our Valiant Comrades of the Horse Lines: he Paweth the Valley, he Rejoiceth in his Strength. I have never seen a war memorial to horses before, and it is singularly apposite here in the busy street. Nearby a plaque records that this is the site of St Mary Breadman Church, built c.1100, rebuilt in 1822 and demolished in 1900. The suffix Breadman alludes to the nearby bread-market and is not to be confused with St Mary Bredin, the ancient version of which stood not far away.

Of all Canterbury’s churches, this seems the most unrecorded. When I learned to ring, my tutor Mr Jim Stockbridge told me that he remembered it – or rather he remembered it not being there any more! I have seen one line drawing which includes the church and a photograph in which one can make out a bare, stuccoed frontage with a couple of gothick windows, a doorway and a stump tower with a cupola.

Stahlschmidt tells us that there were three bells there once, of which one survived. The work of Robert Mot, 22" diameter, 1597, it bears only that date, the figures separated by crosses, rather like the bell at St Andrew’s, already discussed. When the church was demolished, the bell was removed to the West Gate Museum, where it was hung from chains in a cell on one of the drum towers.

In the 1970’s the four bells of Bishopsbourne, a picturesque village a few miles south of Canterbury, were restored for stationary chiming. Two being the same note, the (cracked) second was scrapped. Eventually the ex-St Mary Breadman bell was made available by the City Council and it was taken to Whitechapel, tuned and refitted. It actually forms the treble in an eventual six, the original Bishopsbourne bells forming the back three.

St Mildred, Castle Street (This church remains in active use.)
Standing in the shadow of the massive keep of Canterbury’s Norman Castle, St Mildred’s has been there rather longer. At the south-west corner are to be found massive ashlars in long-and-short formation and probably Saxon workmanship. For the rest, it consists of a largely 14th and 15th century building of two aisles, with a beautiful south-east chapel faced in knapped flint.

Until 1832, the church possessed a tower, about half way along the north aisle, the nave side resting on the pillars of the aisle arcade. In 1552, there were recorded at St Mildred’s four bells and the wakerell (sanctus) bell. Of these, the second was recast in 1622 by Joseph Hatch, and in 1711 Richard Phelps recast the treble, adding a further treble to give five.

The currently recorded details of these bells are based partly on Mr Faussett’s notes quoted by Stahlschmidt, partly on examination of the surviving treble and tenor bells, and by comparison with other bells of this period by these founders.

The tower being considered dangerous, it was pulled down in 1832. The treble ("sufficient for the uses of the parish") is hung for ringing on a portion of old frame placed in a gabled roof erected over the choir vestry. The others were sold. One of the smaller bells was reputed to have been bought by the Herne Bay Pier Co, but met with an accident en route. Recent research has shown this theory to be unreliable. The tenor was purchased by John Powell Powell, Esq., of Quex Park, and now forms the hour bell of the Quex Park stables clock, being hung dead in a large wooden turret with two small quarter-bells. Many ringers visiting the Waterloo Tower will have heard it, and that is the story.

St Mary Magdalene, Burgate (Residual tower.)
To-day, many visitors to Canterbury are intrigued by the Roman Catholic church of St Thomas with what at first seems to be its detached tower in the garden at the front. It is soon apparent that the walls of the garden are in fact the lower courses of the walls of the church which originally stood there. At the west end, they rise to some height, and adjacent to the tower is the recess which formerly carried the newel stair to the first floor. A wooden door is still in position at this level. The tower itself is of three stages with a tiled pyramid cap. It is engaged with the north-west corner of the church, with two well-moulded arches open, formerly to the nave and north aisle. In the base of the tower are a collection of well-restored monuments. The arches are now enclosed with glass screens and floodlit at night. Above them is the original timber floor of the ringing chamber with nicely carved beams. All this restoration work was carried out in 1974 through the efforts of Canon Derek Ingram Hill and Mr Michael Nightingale, following an article which I wrote in The Kentish Gazette three years before to commemorate the little church of St Mary Magdalene, a century after its demolition.

The former parish of St George the Martyr with St Mary Magdalene is the parish of two towers and no churches. The union of the two benefices was a part of large-scale pastoral re-organisation as early as 1681. From that time, St George’s was always the principal of the two (indeed, of the city) and it was St Mary Magdalene, whose burial ground abutted on that of its larger sister, which gradually fell out of use. The last services were held in 1866, and in 1871 the church was demolished.

The tower, however, was allowed to remain to shelter the fine collection of monuments and in commemoration of The Revd R. H. Barham, author of the Kent-based Ingoldsby Legends, who was baptized there. The font went to River, near Dover, where it still stands; and the fine Transitional arcade was re-erected in St George’s, in connection with its new north aisle which was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.

The bells were not forgotten. They were a ring of three, two of which had been at the church longer than the tower, which we know from bequests to have been built in 1503.

We know the note of the treble, as it was transferred to St George’s to complete the ring of five (in F# minor) in 1872. The two medieval bells may still exist, though probably not in England. They were sold for a nominal sum to Bishop Kestell Cornish of Madagascar for use in churches in that diocese. It would be good to have some definite news of them. The two larger are or were fifteenth-century bells, possibly Richard Hille, or Johanna or John Sturdy.

The bells were rehung in a new frame, which appears to be contemporary with the tower following its completion in 1503. It is one of the tall 3-bell frames of which there are several in Canterbury and the vicinity, in this case with corner and centre posts to each truss and crossed braces each side of each centre-post. Considering the vicissitudes, including a severe blasting during the Blitz, the frame is in very fair condition. I recall visiting with a heavy extending ladder, purloined (with permission) from St Paul’s just up the road. This just reached the first floor (ex-ringing chamber) doorway; there I could see the holes through which no ropes had passed for a century, and a resident stepladder took me to the long-vacated bell frame. When I returned to the first floor, I was shocked to see no ladder top: the ladder had sunk somewhat into the soft earth of the garden! A word of caution: the resident stepladder and floors were "tender" thirty years ago and should be treated accordingly.

The Roman Catholic church has one small bell, hung dead in its enclosed turret. It was built on the old burial ground in 1881 (by J.G. Hall, who also designed St Lawrence, York, another church with the old tower in front). Ownership of the old tower remained with St George’s until the destruction of that church in the Blitz, subsequently with the Diocese. Tower, walls and garden are now maintained in exemplary fashion by Canterbury City Council.

St Mary Northgate (Now The King’s School Music Centre)
Many of Canterbury’s churches were built by the Gates, and St Mary Northgate was no exception. Its tower was one of the bastions of the City Wall, and the chancel was fully over the road out of the city. In the early 19th-century, the City Fathers determined a policy of destruction on the gates which resulted in the removal of all except the mighty West Gate. The turn of North Gate came in 1832. The structure was demolished, leaving the west tower, the north and south walls and the nave roof propped up; a new east end and south aisle were built in compensation for the vanished portion: the old south wall was then demolished and iron pillars erected to give a large space for worship. Sadly, the 1832 work is all one sees from the main road, yellow brick and large, plain, pointed windows with wooden "churchwarden" tracery. It was memorably (and wrongly) described

as "a kind of barn, with a plain brick tower, that has long been closed and that few people recognise as a church at all; it is in a meagre warehouse style."

St Mary’s was closed, with three others we have met, in 1888. It became a hall for St Gregory’s parish next door; later it became a British Restaurant. In 1959 the late Canon Derek Ingram Hill, then Vicar of St Gregory’s, reclaimed the building for his parish. Internal features of much interest, including mural paintings, glass and timberwork were exposed. Unworthy furniture within and extraneous buildings without began to disappear, revealing in particular the lovely mellow red-brick tower and an attractive silhouette of humpy bumpy Kent peg-tiled roofs.

Fr Hill established a chapel in the former ringing chamber to the tower. The latter was a medieval bastion to the city wall, with access only at high level. The ascent, via a steep step ladder to the ringing room door was not recommended for the aged or infirm. In 1702, the tower was cased in deep red brick and heightened two stages. There is now a small dome on top housing The King’s School Observatory.

There were four bells until 1922. The 1552 inventory mentions three, and a wagerell bell. It appears that the treble was recast in 1616 by Joseph Hatch, who was called back seven years later to recast the other two and to augment the ring to four. In 1813, Thomas Mears II recast the tenor.

I last went up the tower in 1971, and things may have changed. The ringing chamber was fitted up as a chapel; the ceiling still had the four well-worn rope holes with rather an unusual circle. The next floor was empty. The bell chamber contained the external trusses of the old four bell frame, which was either new, or reconstructed in the heightened tower in 1702. I hope it is still there. The internal framesides had all been removed; the tenor pit contained a runner-board, but there was no other ringing paraphernalia.

The bells were rather curiously advertised "to any church which desires them" in a Sunday newspaper in 1922. This caught the eye of the Bishop of what was then Damaraland and is now Namibia, who desired them for his new Cathedral at Windhoek. Alas, the tower was never built; the tenor bell is at Windhoek, and two of the others are at Usakos and Walvis Bay respectively; no doubt the other is elsewhere doing good service. Any more news will be welcome.

St Mary Bredin, Rose Lane (New Church in Old Dover Road)
The name means "wooden church", and the first such building dated from Saxon times. A medieval church with a wooden turret was replaced in 1868 by a new building "of noble simplicity" to quote the newspapers of the time. It was designed according to the Incorporated Church Building Society’s files by one Frederick Wallen, of London, although the plans are signed by Mr William Wigginton. St Mary Bredin was notable among Anglican churches in Canterbury for having a spire. J. G. Hall later placed such structures on his Presbyterian church (now demolished) and the City Cemetery; but since the removal of the ‘Cok stepyll’ from the Arundel or North-west tower of the Cathedral in 1705, Canterbury had been a city without spires.

St Mary Bredin had an octagonal tower, which rose at the junction of the south aisle, nave and chancel and formed the porch to the church. In latter years the bells were chimed from here. The late Mr Jim Stockbridge recalled an old man with one rope in each hand and one on a foot – "three old sheeps’ bells, that’s what they sounded like.". The bells and the monuments had been preserved from the medieval building; what the bells lacked in tone, they made up for in historic interest.

The two larger were cast by Richard Kerner, a Canterbury founder who was working c.1500. The Ih0h is the best I can do here to reproduce the quasi-Arabic which forms the date 1505. It is supposed to be the earliest bell dated in this way.

On the night of 31st May/1st June,1942, St Mary Bredin church was set on fire and gutted in the Blitz of Canterbury. One of the memories of the Blitz often recounted is the sight of the spire blazing like a torch until it heeled over and crashed. The three bells fell to the ground, and in their heated state the two smaller were squashed. The tenor survived scarred but intact.

For this church at least, the bombing was a blessing in disguise: the church was too small and in the wrong place. In October, 1942 the greater part of the ruined building was demolished and what was left was cleared away in road-widening in 1952. The congregation meanwhile moved to the chapel of Nunnery Fields Hospital until it was possible to acquire a completely new location in Old Dover Road. The fine new church with an ample square tower – but no spire – was consecrated in 1957. The tower, complete with built-in ringing gallery, could adequately house a light ring. "All we need," said a former Vicar when I spoke to him about the possibility of moving Holy Cross bells there, "is a millionaire".

To complete the story, the two smaller damaged bells, with equivalent additional metal to the tenor, were cast into one new bell, 28" diameter, E, 4-3-5, which is hung ‘dead’.

The old tenor was for many years preserved in the base of the tower; in the 1990’s it was transferred to the Canterbury Heritage Centre in the Poor Priests’ Hospital, where it is currently on display – its fourth home: truly, a survivor!

St George the Martyr, St George’s Street (Residual tower)
St George’s tower still stands at the top end of Canterbury’s long main street, all that remains of the city’s largest church, which perished with its entire parish during the Blitz of Canterbury. On June 1st, 1992, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Blitz, and as an act of reconciliation, a German Lutheran Pastor from Dresden and the last Rector of St George’s, Fr Geoffrey Keable, unveiled a commemorative plaque. It includes the words from I John: "The darkness has passed away, and the true Light is already shining".

There was a Norman church on the site of St George’s and excavation of the area in 1991/2 demonstrated that it had been continuously inhabited since Roman times. In the surviving tower there is a Norman door, not originally part of the tower itself, which is of 15th-century date. As it stood at the beginning of the Second World War, St George’s consisted of a long nave of six bays with aisles the full length and a rather short chancel. The nave and south aisle were medieval, although the arcade separating them was a copy of the Transitional one on the north side which had been brought from St Mary Magdalene in 1872.

The north aisle, utilising much material from Burgate, was all of 1872, as was the chancel. At the west end of the south aisle was the tower, whose south door opened directly onto the street, as it does to-day.

The tower originally had a newel stair in the south-east corner. This was demolished in 1794 as dangerous, having been pierced some ten years before to improve the pavement. At that time the small lead "spike" was transferred to the main tower. Access was to be had from the west gallery of the church; the cast-iron stair to the gallery was still standing in its place when the ruins of the nave were being demolished.

In 1836, the tower received its most distinctive feature, the famous "brandy bottle" clock topped by a flaming fleur-de-lis. The setting dial stated that the clock had been supplied by Warren & Son, of Canterbury, and was erected by public subscription. Originally it had opal dials and was an early example of "self-enacting gas apparatus", converted to electricity in 1904. At 2.18 a.m. on June 1st, 1942, the clock stopped when the flames reached the movement.

There were five bells in the tower – four and a clock bell – for many years; but it seems that by 1872, only the ring of four remained. In that year the treble from St Mary Magdalene was transferred to St George’s "to complete the peal of five in F# minor". The third was by William le Belyetere of Canterbury, c.1325.

There are alternative readings of the inscriptions given in some sources: mine is derived from the account by the Rector, Fr C. F. Tonks, in whose time the bells were restored, and by Mears & Stainbank following their visit in 1925. From what they say, I think that the treble from St Mary Magdalene was simply transferred lock, stock and barrel and although the five bells were hung for ringing 1872-1925, there appears to be no record of any ringing being done. By 1920 the tower was reported in poor condition, and only two bells in use. In 1925, they were rehung ‘dead’ on the old frame, with an Ellacombe chiming apparatus by Mears & Stainbank, at a cost of 62..0s..0d

The late Dr William Urry, Cathedral Archivist, writing to me in 1968 said, "they were chimed by an old man who spent a great deal of time in the Coach and Horses opposite. The five ropes came down in the north-east corner, and he used to pull them 1,2,3,4,5 slowly then 4,3,2,1 quickly. They were one short of a major scale and made an extremely mournful sound as you came down to church". The ringers of an earlier generation had special responsibilities, for St George’s Great Bell was considered the waking bell of the city. "In the 1560’s", Dr Urry continues, "there is a case where a woman is accused of consorting with the ringers at St George’s in the night, so it almost sounds as if they camped down under the tower all night." As to their fate, he states, "The last I ever saw of them was a solid lump, almost a disk of each of them lying in the tower, where they had fallen down white hot. I thought the metal was supposed to be saved, but the confusion and chaos was so great that anything could have happened."

So this fine church, impressive even in its ruin, stood on the street which still bears its name – in prime position for restoration for city-centre ministry in a rebuilt city; or for consolidation and opening up as a place of beauty and reflection and a memorial to the city’s suffering. It was not to be. By 1952, the Diocese had sufficient encouragement from the developers to proceed with the sale of the site, churchyard and all. The parish was joined with St Martin & St Paul (who also inherited the Rectory) and after nine centuries even the name was lost. From a portion of the sale proceeds a small mission church named Bertha the Queen was built on the Barton Estate in the new Parish. The 14" Warner bell of 1884 from St George’s School (which had survived the Blitz) was hung there. The greater part of the proceeds of sale and War Damage Compensation were "ported" to Croydon, the building of All Saints Church, Spring Park, being financed thereby. Demolition of St George the Martyr started in the autumn of 1952, except for the tower, over which a right royal rumpus, long a-brewing, broke out. Suffice it to say that the Ministry of Works proceeded (slowly) with the work of restoration. The restored clock was set going at 12 noon on 6th May, 1955. We are still waiting for the bells.

These eight churches have been discussed in detail in chronological order of their destruction, or loss of their bells. The remaining three have already appeared in these columns in the last thirty years or so, and the interested reader is referred to the Ringing World Index for 1968, 1975 and 1995 for reference to articles by myself in the first two cases, and by Dickon Love in the third.

St Margaret, St Margaret’s Street (Now The Canterbury Pilgrims)

St Margaret’s is a heavily restored 14th & 15th-century church, though there is a Norman west door. The small oblong tower was adapted to take a stair turret in 1850, when G. G. Scott drastically and successfully restored the building. Severely blasted in 1942, it was eventually (1957) adapted as a chapel and centre for those with impaired hearing or speech. The cost of upkeep proved too much, and the church was declared redundant around 1990, and almost at once converted to its present use.

The bells were long gone. A ring of three, the original cracked treble (one of only two bells then surviving by Thomas Hatch, 1599) broke in half when they received the ministrations of the late Mr Goslin in 1903. He rehung them in the crazy old frame with new fittings, essentially for swing-chiming. Wheels were provided, but only the tenor had a stay (of iron); and an Ellacombe chiming apparatus was fitted. Some of the ringing paraphernalia was left in the tower with the frame when the bells were taken out, though the treble wheel, complete with Sam Goslin’s name-plate, is to be found doing duty as a coat hanger in St Alphege, Whitstable, belfry.

The bells were removed by John Taylor & Co in November, 1968. The second was recast by them into a new treble for Droxford, Hants; the tenor was recast at Whitechapel as a treble for Newchurch in Romney Marsh; and the treble was tuned at Whitechapel to occupy the same position in a chime of four being hung at St Peter, Canterbury.

Taylor’s kindly offered to take the two bells to Whitechapel. The offer was declined for this reason: both the latter jobs were joint endeavours between the KCACR and Whitechapel, so far as "taking out and putting in" were concerned. St Margaret’s was also my first undertaking as the DAC Advisor. It was a grey November day, when Alan Berry (then Ashford District Secretary and co-ordinator at Newchurch) arrived at St Margaret’s to take possession of the tenor. There also was Derek Chatfield, at that time Conductor at St Dunstan’s and Steeplekeeper at the Cathedral – and Manager of Caffyn’s Motors who were providing free transport to London; and myself. I often feel that the "birth" of the Association’s Bell Restoration programme started there.

Holy Cross, Westgate (Now the Guildhall of the City of Canterbury)
Canterbury’s mighty West Gate was rebuilt as we see it in 1381. The previous Holy Cross Church had (like St Mary Northgate) stood over the gate, and was now rebuilt alongside it. Despite intense 19th-century restoration and the complete rebuilding of the tower in 1871, that is the church we see to-day.

Holy Cross was a well-attended and active church right up until the mid 1960-s when much of the local housing was demolished for the inner ring road; it became the Ecumenical Chaplaincy for the new University of Kent at Canterbury – a venture which failed, not least because of the distance between the church and the seat of learning. In 1972, it was declared redundant, and in 1978 was magnificently converted into the City’s Guildhall (the medieval version of which had been demolished by its supposed guardians in 1951).

The 1381 church was equipped with at least one bell, cast by Stephen Norton of Maidstone, another of whose works may be conveniently inspected in the cloisters at Worcester Cathedral. By 1552 there were four and a wagerell; of these the treble and tenor were recast in 1608, and the second in 1615 by Joseph Hatch, of Ulcombe. In 1730, Samuel Knight added a treble, which was recast by Thomas Lester only nine years later. The frame was almost certainly reconstructed at this period. When the tower was rebuilt in 1871, the whole installation was simply taken apart and reassembled with new bits and pieces as required.

Holy Cross bells were a ground-floor ring with an anti-clockwise rope circle and a long draught, with no rope guides. Conditions were made no better by the presence of a boiler, which one had to face to ring the 3rd, and an associated pit, into which one had to descend to ring the 2nd. They were regularly rung in the years after the Great War; the final public occasion was a KCACR A.G.M. in 1922. Efforts were made even as late as 1962 to get them rehung, but the change of circumstances with the church made them candidates for the attention of the then embryonic Bell Restoration Committee of the KCA. I directed the removal of the bells (and a quite phenomenal accumulation of ecclesiastical rubbish) in May 1972. The frame was left in the tower. The week before their removal, a select band seized the opportunity to ring the bells one last time in their old home; they were hard work but had all the promise of turning out to be an excellent ring. A fortuitous move by The Revd Stanley Evans to the parish of Westgate-on-Sea earlier that same year enabled him to be in and settled in time to receive the offer of the Holy Cross bells.

The bells were tuned at Whitechapel, the tenor being reduced to 9-3-16 in Ab. They were augmented to six, refitted and hung in a massive Iroko 8-bell frame at St Saviour’s Church in 1975. Was it just coincidence that they went from West Gate to Westgate ?

St Gregory the Great (Now the St Gregory Centre, Christ Church University)
This church was built to the designs of George Gilbert Scott in 1851, as a memorial to the late Archbishop William Howley (1828-1848). It had a vigorous life, and was a noted centre of Anglo-Catholic worship, especially in the Vicariate of the late Canon Derek Ingram Hill (1957-1963). Its disadvantage was that it stood in the very west part of the east end of Canterbury, and was surrounded by a vast churchyard. A daughter church, St Columba, built in 1937, failed to solve satisfactorily the problem of accessibility. With the closure of the Barracks, the Garrison Church of St Alban became vacant: this was ideally

placed at the centre of the parish. Re-named All Saints (see above) it was adapted and became the Parish Church in 1978, St Gregory’s being closed. Following years of terrible vandalism, the building was restored as the St Gregory Centre in Christ Church University, Canterbury.

St Gregory’s church had three bells cast by C & G Mears in 1851. Weighing respectively 1-0-16, 1-1-3 and 2-0-4 each was inscribed C & G MEARS FOUNDERS LONDON 1851. All hung in a triple gable over the chancel arch, not the ideal place for maintenance.. By the time Canon Hill came to the parish, only one was in use and that not of very good tone. In due course it was decided to recast and rehang them with some improvement to the rope/chain arrangement. The latter was not entirely successful and by the time the church was closed, only one was in use.

Due to their inaccessibility, the bells were left in the bell-gable long after the closure of the church. Eventually they were taken down and passed into the care of the KCACR. Subsequently they were acquired for the parish of St Giles, Wormshill, to form with a resident bell the front three and tenor of a light ring of six. Not long after, the ring was completed with two 18th-century bells from Yorkshire.

Although the loss of some historic churches is to be regretted, this has not been entirely a tale of doom and gloom. Even in the 18th century they were recycling their bells in Canterbury. There have been losses, but the story of the bells in the last three-mentioned towers is an encouraging one for any who are contemplating similar exercises. The condition of all the city’s existing bells, in the Cathedral and in the remaining parish churches, is excellent according their use. Much of this is due to the energy and enthusiasm of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers Bell Restoration Committee of which the Exercise, the Diocese and the County have alike every reason to be proud.

This article is written without footnotes and the main source material is personal observation by the writer and by Nicholas J. Davies, a friend and fellow bell historian of long standing.

I am grateful to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd and to John Taylor (Bellfounders) Ltd for information about work carried out or recommended by themselves, supplied over a period of many years. I am likewise grateful to The Council for the Care of Churches for access to material held in its Library.

I am indebted to the late Jim Stockbridge and to Richard Offen. Jim taught me to ring and encouraged an early interest in bell history. Richard cajoled me into visiting all sorts of inaccessible places in the city and shared my enthusiasm.

Secondary sources consulted include:

W. Gostling, A Walk in and Around the City of Canterbury….3rd ed 1779. Canterbury: Simmons & Kirby.
J. Brent, Canterbury in the Olden Time. 2nd ed 1879. London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co.
F. W. Cross & J. R. Hall. Rambles Round Old Canterbury. 3rd ed 1884. Canterbury: Cross & Jackman
J. C. L. Stahlschmidt, The Church Bells of Kent. 1887. London, Elliot Stock
W. Townsend: British Cities: Canterbury. 1950. London: B.T. Batsford
Also a number of Parish Church Histories and Guidebooks

For further information, much of the original material recorded here and a great deal more about the Church Bells of Kent, see Dickon Love’s Kent Bells website: http:/

Revised for Loveguide December 2004.