The Bells at Norbury

Anatomy of a bell

When describing English church bell ringing, most people could talk about a rope and a ‘fluffy bit’ (called a sallie) but what about the bell itself? Here’s a diagram (grabbed from the Ringing Foundation website) which helps to show all the bits upstairs:



Despite the small dimensions of the tower, there are 8 bells held in a frame to be rung “full circle”. Due to the lack of space they are held on two levels, with bells 1,2,3 and 5 on the upper level and 4,6,7 and 8 on the lower level.

A History of the Bells of St Thomas, Norbury, by Peter Broadbent

Not long after our church was consecrated in July 1834, the bells at Disley were replaced with a new ring of six. The old ring was offered to Norbury on condition that they would raise the £60 cost of hanging them in the tower. For some reason only five of the old ring came here, Thomas Legh of Lyme giving a fifth bell to make up the six. They were hung in a wooden frame and rang out for the first time from this tower on 13th August 1837.

Sometime prior to 1899 the Norbury ringers appealed to the vicar and wardens to have the bells rehung but they were turned down. There must have been a certain amount of acrimony because the ringers went on strike and the bells were silent for some time. Eventually however, the bells were rehung, improving the “go” of them, at a cost of £95, raised by voluntary subscription. These bells had been cast at various times by different founders and they apparently were not in tune and had been described as a “poor lot”.

In 1923, following a request from the ringers, expert opinion was sought on the condition of the bells and frame. An adverse report was received prompting the PCC to proceed with the work of recasting and rehanging the bells in a new metal frame. Because the ringing of the bells had been part of the Hazel Grove scene for so long it was decided to throw open the bell fund to the general public. The estimated cost of the project amounted to £680 plus the cost of the new frame. Advice was given that, as the 3rd and 4th dated 1617 were such fine examples of the old bell-founders’ craft, they should be preserved. These can now be seen resting on two beams in the Narthex. They are inscribed “Jesus be our speed” and “God save the King”.

The two historic 'Disley bells'
The two historic ‘Disley bells’

The work commenced in 1925 and was carried out by Messrs Taylors Bellfounders of Loughborough. Four of the old Disley bells were recast – the current treble or the lightest bell, the 2nd, 5th and 6th. Four new bells were cast – the 3rd, 4th, 7th and 8th or tenor. The weight of the tenor is 14cwt 1qtr 22lbs in F sharp. The total weight of the bells is 53cwt 3qtr 2lbs. On their return to Hazel Grove, the four recast bells along with the four new ones, were paraded around the village on suitably decorated lorries. The new bells first rang out on 24th October 1925.

Ringing on six bells is termed Minor ringing (nothing to do with the musical scale). The Norbury ringers towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th century called themselves The St Thomas Society. Three leading ringers were James Fernley Sr, James Fernley Jr and William Fernley who were related to Jean Lindsey’s mother. During this time, up to the augmentation to eight, they pioneered the technique known as “splicing” or changing from one method to another while ringing. The conductor calls out the new method at certain points in the ringing. Some of the many peals they rang using this technique are recorded on several peal boards hanging in the ringing room. Each board is a snapshot of the history of early ringing at this tower. Just over 500 peals have been rung here from the 1890s to the present.

The beautifully painted trapdoor through which the bells were installed
The beautifully painted trapdoor through which the bells were installed

Inscriptions on the bells

Weight (cwt)
Treble 3-2-7 PETER LEE ESQ 1750
Recast 1925 as the gift of the non-conformists of Hazel Grove
“Behold how good and joyful a thing it is Brethren to dwell together in unity”
Recast 1925 in memory of the Men of this Parish who gave their lives
in the Great War 1914-1918 “For God, King and Country”
3rd 4-0-24 Ringers’ bell 1925. In memory of Private Herbert Williamson,
Loyal North Lancs Regiment who died Dec 15th 1918 aged 38.
For many years a ringer at this Church.
4th 4-3-27 Dedicated to the Freemasons of Hazel Grove and District 1925
(Square and Compass)
“Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”
5th 5-0-16 Thomas Mears of London, Founder.
“God save this Church” Thomas Legh Esq
Lyme Park 1837 Recast 1925
6th 7-1-12 “All people may behold and see the works of good
Sir Peter Legh” (Two crests)
Recast 1873 and again recast 1925
7th 9-1-24 “Te Deum Laudamus”A Thankoffering from the Congregation 1925
Tenor 14-1-22 in F# “Nisi Dominus Frustra 1925”
Arthur James Humphreys BA BD Vicar  Edward Donovan Reeman BA Curate
John W Fernley  John T Coles (Wardens)