There has been a ring of bells at Kelvedon since the early part of the 17th century. We know this because our current 5th bell was cast by Miles Graye I of Colchester in 1615 and the old tenor, the heaviest bell was cast by the same founder in 1608. These may have formed part of a peal of 4 or possibly 5 bells cast by this famous family of bell founders.
By 1715, there was undoubtedly a ring of 5 bells and by the middle of the 18th Century, it is certain that methods such as Plain Bob Doubles, Grandsire Doubles and Steadman Doubles were being rung. In 1877 the then 5 bells were hung in a wooden bell frame (which was in use until early this year.) For many years a 6th bell had been wanted, to increase the scope for ringing more advanced methods on 6 bells, rather than 5. In 1895 a new treble, the lightest bell, was purchased from Mears & Stainbank of London (now the Whitechapel Bell Foundry). This bell was hung in the old 5 frame, while the old treble, which became the 2nd bell, was moved and hung above the other bells at the base of the spire. (This arrangement had existed until earlier this year.)
By the late 1940s a crack had appeared in the crown (top of the bell) of the old 1608 Tenor. Attempts to stop the crack spreading by drilling holes failed and by 1950 the bell was deemed to be in danger of splitting and had to be replaced. It was a great shame to lose this fine bell as it was often compared to Miles Graye I's matchless tenor at Lavenham in Suffolk. A piece of the old tenor bell is inserted in the wall at the rear of the tower, stating “Miles Graye made me.”
The question of a replacement remained and it was suggested that the Festival of Britain Bell, which was looking for a home, would be a suitable replacement, as it was a close match for the old tenor in both weight and tone. This fine bell was cast by Mears & Stainbank of Whitehcapel especially for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The bell was displayed in the Festival Gardens and was used as an hour bell on which a clock struck the hours. The bell bears ornate decorations and is inscribed “Festival of Britain 1951” and carries the design of a Lion and a Unicorn. It weighs an impressive 21 cwt 13 lbs and is in the note of E flat.
Until recently our 6 bells were hung in a wooden bell frame, which contracted and expanded according to the weather. The bells were situated
very high in the tower, which resulted in very long bell ropes and combined with the fact that our bells are the heaviest ring of 6 in Essex, they were notoriously difficult to ring. “If you can ring
at St. Mary’s, you can ring anywhere.”
No major restoration work has been carried out to our bells since the early 1960s when metal headstocks and ball bearings were added and the bells have remained unchanged since then apart from routine servicing and maintenance.
Some years back it was decided the time had come to ensure the safety and preservation of our historic bells for future generations and our bell ringing team, headed by our Tower Captain, John Elliott, embarked on a refurbishment scheme that will not only ensure this, but will include the addition of 2 new bells “at the front." This scheme would result in the bells being easier to handle, especially for our young ringers.
Following lengthy fundraising efforts, planning, consultations with various bodies, applications for grants, meetings, etc., and the granting of all necessary permissions,
our bells have been re-hung in a new cast iron bell frame situated lower in the tower in what was the clock chamber. This will result in much shorter ropes, and a frame that remains constant in all weathers. Hanging the bells lower down will considerably reduce the stress on the tower while the bells are ringing. The clock mechanism will be moved up into the old bell chamber, behind the clock face and is being overhauled and modified so that it can be electrically wound.
In early January 2006 our project began. The clock mechanism was been removed and the bells were taken down and were taken to Taylors, Bellfounders at Loughborough. A new platform to hold the clock was constructed at Taylors, a considerable piece of engineering.
A coach party visited Taylors on 16th February 2006 and watched our new bells being cast. It was a very enjoyable and moving experience.
Our eight bells and the new frame have now been returned to us and the bells were dedicated by Father David at the All Age Family Service on 7th May 2006. The two new bells were hallowed and named Caroline and Peter by the Right Reverend Christopher Morgan, Bishop of Colchester, on 4th June 2006 at the United Benefice Confirmation service.