Plumstead, St Nicholas

Photo: Dickon Love, Jan 2006

  • 6 bells hung dead and chimed with Ellacombe hammers
  • Tenor: 7-1-18 in A.
  • Grid Ref: TQ459786
  • Rung from: Ground Floor
  • Frame: Timber frame, enlarged in 1686.
  • Denomination: Church of England
    Diocese (Anglican): Southwark
  • Building Listed Grade: II* Click for Heritage details.

Details of the Bells

Bell Weight
(most recent)
Diameter Note Date Founder Canons Retuned
1 Nicholas 3-0-323¹³⁄₁₆" F♯ 2000 Whitechapel Bell Foundry Never
2 Francis 3-1-2425⁹⁄₁₆" E 2000 Whitechapel Bell Foundry Never
3 3-1-1027" D 1686 Christopher Hodson, Whitechapel 1959 Mears & Stainbank
4 4-1-2728⅞" C♯ 1686 Christopher Hodson, Whitechapel 1959 Mears & Stainbank
5 5-2-2532" B 1959 Mears & Stainbank, Whitechapel Never
6 7-1-1835½" A 1790 Thomas Mears I, Whitechapel 1959 Mears & Stainbank

 - Hung dead


How the bells are tuned

Prior to 1958

Bell DiameterDateFounderRetunedFate
3rd (of 4)31½"1686Christopher HodsonNeverRecast 1959.


960 The foundation of the church dates from about this time.
1552 Record of 3 bells in the tower. [1]
1656 Tower built by John Gossage of 2 inch thick red bricks and a frame for 3 bells installed. [2]
1686 4 bells cast by Christopher Hodson and hung in the frame, which was extended to include an additional pit.
1790 Tenor recast by Thomas Mears.
1818 The nave was built.
1864 The status as Parish Church for Plumstead moved from St Nicholas to the newly built church of St Margaret and the building at St Nicholas was rather sidelined for a decade.
1867 Church restored by C.H. Cooks 1867 - 8.
1878 Record of 3 bells in the tower (surely a mistake). It was report that the tower was beginning to show the effects of the firing at the government range the modern heavy ordnance [3]
1907 Extensive enlargements were effected by Greenaway and Newberry 1907-8
1908 Restored church was rededicated on 18 July.
1945 Church damaged.
1959 3rd recast by Mears & Stainbank, who retuned and rehung the bells as a chime. Church repaired by T. F. Ford and Partners after the war.
1975 May GPE Southwark Survey notes a chime of 4 bells hung dead and clocked in a wooden frame that probably dates back to 1686.
2000 2 more bells were added to make a chime of 6 by Whitechapel.
[1] Item iij bells of bell metell suted hanging in the steple there. (Edwardian Inventory, 1552)
[2] PLUMSTEAD OLD CHURCH To the Editor of "The Kentish Independent." Old county and ecclesiastical authors say that the tomb-stone of John Gossage, to be seen in the church, states that 'early in the 17th century, through neglect, the roof of the church fell in, and he repaired the church after it had stood in ruins 20 years. The tombstone in question, however, makes no mention of the roof falling in, or how the ruins were caused, the truth being that the church was almost demolished. The whole of the south wall, a great part of the north wall, the ancient tower, and the whole of the chancel were destroyed, it is believed, by Cromwell's troops en route from London to Rochester. Gossage, who lived in the reign of Charles II, died in 1672, at the age of 50, and is buried in the church. He restored the church to the condition in which it appears in an engraving in "Ecclesiastical Topography." It represents the north aisle detached from the rest of the building, and in ruins. The north wall was restored by the parishioners in 1820, a portion of the ancient early English walls of flint and stone still remaining. The present roof is of still more modern date. The tower was built by Mr. Gossage, and the bells put up after his death, in the year 1686. WILLIAM HARTLEY. Plumstead, June 20th, 1883. (Kentish Independent - Sat 23 Jun 1883)
[3] SATURDAY, JUNE 8. 1878. CHURCH OF ST. NICHOLAS, PLUMSTEAD. The following historical sketch of this remarkable old edifice is from the pen of Mr. William Hartley, one of the churchwardens. ... The tower is of four stages, embattled with turrets at the angles. It is 82 feet high, and contains three bells, the largest being cast in 1796 [sic], and the others in 1686. The tower is beginning to show the effects of the firing at the government range the modern heavy ordnance. It has been officially inspected by an officer of the Royal Engineers, and a correspondance with the War Office is pending on the subject. (Kentish Independent - Sat 08 Jun 1878)


The treble (below) and second (above) hung dead.
Photo: Dickon Love, 7 Jan 2006

Rev'd David Cawley standing in the pit of the old treble, pointing to the brass bearings that are still let into the frame. The 2nd is in the foreground on the left with the tenor on the right.
Photo: Dickon Love, 7 Jan 2006

A view of the belfry. The tenor is in the foreground (left) with the 5th on the right. The 4th is in the middle with the 3rd at the back on the left. The bells have hardwood deadstocks and supporting ironwork or bell bolts. Independent crown staples support carillon type clappers on the four largest bells and trigger-action clappers on the two trebles. Prior to being taken down, the four old bells had been hung for ringing. It is not known when they were last rung in full circles. The old brass bearings remain in situ, and some slider runnerboards. They are sounded from an Ellacombe manual at ground floor level. The bell frame made for the three bells in the new tower in 1656 is the work of an able carpenter and is of a type necessary only when the bells were to be swung up. It is of heavy section throughout and the heads are supported by massive simple braces – the precursor of the modern lowside frame. The return heads are mortised into the outer frame-sides; the heads of the inner frame sides in turn are mortised into the return heads, or frame ends. The frame is still of some height, and corner-posts were inserted to give additional stability. When the fourth bell was added and the others recast in 1686, a long queen-post frameside was installed, at right angles to the other three, so that there was room to take two more bells if required. Hodson had done precisely the same thing at Brookland in the previous year. In both cases the work was inferior, and in the case of Plumstead Church, the fifth bell was not installed. Subsequently the newer frame was strengthened by the insertion of additional struts and ties. The older part of the frame remains much as it was built, although its position very high in the tower is far from ideal for full-circle ringing, though ideal for chiming as at present. Originally, the tenor hung in the centre pit of the old three-bell frame, with the third to the south and the treble to the north, the second hanging in Hodson’s extension frame. The tenor presently occupies its old pit, along with the fifth; the fourth hangs to the south; the new treble and second hang in the old treble (of four pit) apparently having displaced its original tenant which now occupies the south end of the 1686 extension.
Photo: Dickon Love, 7 Jan 2006

Elsewhere in the Parish

Plumstead, Churchfield School
School closed, formerly single bell
Plumstead, Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (location unknown)
Clock chime of 3 bells
Plumstead, Royal Arsenal Co-operative Stores
Clock chime of 3 bells
Woolwich, Cemetery
Single bell

Love's Guide to the Church Bells of Kent Page updated: 1 April 2020