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Overhaul of St Margaret’s Church in Ipswich gets started with removal of 17th Century bells

PUBLISHED: 14:57 17 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:08 17 May 2017

Children from St Margaret's Primary School watch the bells being loaded onto a truck. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Children from St Margaret's Primary School watch the bells being loaded onto a truck. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

The bells in a Grade I-listed Ipswich church were pulled down today and shipped to Holland for restoration as part of a quarter-of-a-million-pound project to bring the building back to life.

When the eight bells, some of which date back to 1630, return to St Margaret’s Church in November they will be re-hung three metres lower to relieve pressure on the tower, which was at risk of becoming damaged.

Captain bell-ringer John Girt, who has been pulling ropes at the church since the 1970s, said: “One of the things that started this off was the fact we had been warned quite a number of years ago that the tower sways. All towers sway a little bit but it was getting close to the acceptable limit and could cause damage to the tower.

“If you lower the bells by a certain amount you greatly reduce the forces on the tower.

(L-R) Roger Coley and John Girt with the bells from St Margaret's Church in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN (L-R) Roger Coley and John Girt with the bells from St Margaret's Church in Ipswich. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“It’s 100 years since some work was done on them and they needed attention. The fittings and so on were wearing out so we thought now was the time to lower them and reduce the stress on the tower.”

The church, in Soane Street, has received a £163,600 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the rest of the money was collected through donations and fundraising.

As well as the repairing and re-hanging of the bells, the cash will be used to create a new, lower ringing gallery so visitors will be able to see the bell-ringers in action, and new teaching facilities to inspire others to get involved.

The bells are being taken to Holland for refurbishment. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN The bells are being taken to Holland for refurbishment. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

According to Mr Girt, bell-ringing is enjoying a come-back.

He said: “It used to be a church activity only but there’s a lot more people now who are hobby ringing.”

The church will get a new website and guidebook, as well as fresh lighting and a mirrored table to show off the ancient ceiling.

The original bells date back to 1630. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN The original bells date back to 1630. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The tower clock will be refurbished with an electronic winder, and a monitored CCTV system will be installed so the church can open to the public throughout the week.

Lucy Drake, one of the leaders of the project, said the church had experienced problems in the past with drug-dealing, rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour.

Leaders hope the changes, which should all be complete by Christmas, will attract more visitors.

The eight bells should return to the church in November. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN The eight bells should return to the church in November. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mrs Drake added: “It’s about putting St Margaret’s back as the heart of the parish.”

Some pupils from neighbouring St Margaret’s Primary School went along to see the bells being taken away.

Volunteers helped load the bells onto a truck. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN Volunteers helped load the bells onto a truck. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bell hanger Tim Whitehead gets the bells onto the truck safely. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN Bell hanger Tim Whitehead gets the bells onto the truck safely. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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