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Historic bells back in use after church fire

A SET of 19 handbells, badly damaged in a church fire 18 years ago, are back in use after being refurbished.

The 160 year old bells used to make an annual appearance at Christmas when Scouts played them at St Michael’s Parish Church, Workington.

They were severely damaged in September 1994 after a fire gutted the church.

Now young bell ringers at the church are using them once again, after they were painstakingly restored by St Michael’s bell ringer Gareth Evans.

He said: “It’s taken a lot of hard work and effort but that’s paid off. It’s wonderful to hear them being rung again.

“And it’s great that our young bell ringers at church are able to use them again. They used to be rung by Scouts so we’re keeping up the tradition that youngsters can use them.”

Initially, following the 1994 fire, the bells could not be found.

They were eventually discovered in February 1995, close to the seat of the blaze, buried under the ash.

In 1995 all but two of the bells were deemed to be cracked so were worth little more than scrap value (£30).

At the time church fundraising was directed towards the re-building programme so replacement was out of the question.

The ash-encrusted bells were left forgotten until last year when eight were scrubbed down and given a preliminary polish and put on display for harvest festival.

A decision was then taken to see if they could be restored. A full professional restoration was still going to be too costly.

Various methods were used to remove the worst of the ash and tar so that a musical assessment could be made.

A computer analysis of each bell sound established that they all still approximately matched the original tuning.

All the parts needed for restoration were secured from a bell foundry in London.

The first stage was to complete the cleaning and polishing of the bells and clappers; this involved a large amount of elbow grease, two tubes of metal polish and various polishing heads for electric drill.

A detailed examination then showed they were not a matched set; most were cast by James Shaw, and date from around 1850.

The second stage of restoration was more delicate for the amateur team. At the outset the foundry made it clear that restoration was best done by professionals because new parts were designed to fit modern bells.

As a result a lot of cutting to size was required before all the parts were a good fit, with typically eight items to adjust for each of 19 bells! Fitting the rivets to hold the leather handles in place was the biggest challenge for an apprentice metalworker.

The refitted bells were returned to the ringers in time for them to practice a few tunes to perform at the Spirit of Christmas concert.

Young bellringers from St Michael’s will be using them during a practice at the Church at 6.00pm on Monday 28 January, 2013.

For more information contact St Michael’s church bell ringer Gareth Evans on 01900 824647/ 07759 320911, Eric Martin on 01900 61070/07796 828586 or Dave Roberts, Diocesan Communications Officer, on 07984 927434 or at carlisledco@gmail.com

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