Bells to ring out again

IPSWICH could soon once again be graced with the sound of some of the oldest bells in Christendom thanks to an exciting project being considered by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

IPSWICH could soon once again be graced with the sound of some of the oldest bells in Christendom thanks to an exciting project being considered by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Historians are eagerly awaiting an answer from the fund about whether the five bells sitting atop the tower at St Lawrence's Church in the town centre could be brought back into service.

The oldest of the bells date back to 1450 and experts say together the five represent the oldest medieval full circle set of their type in the world.

They are said to be in perfect condition but cannot be used because of the poor condition of the tower they are housed in.

With £40,000 from the HLF, Ipswich Historic Churches Trust hopes to house them lower in the tower where it is less prone to swaying and thereby allow bell ringers back to the church.

Dr John Blatchly, the chairman of the trust and the local historian who has researched the history of the bells, said: “They're in first class order, absolutely perfect. They've never been cracked or had to be repaired.”

Most Read

The once dilapidated St Lawrence's in Dial Lane is being refurbished to create a new multi-use community centre.

The improvements at the church prompted the bid to re-house the bells as previously there was little hope of them being used again.

The bells were originally located in a tower which now sits hidden inside the church's Victorian-era tower which soars over the town centre. It is the Victorian tower which has become unsteady at the top and rendered the bells out of reach.

“The 1881 tower goes up much higher than the original tower and the bells were put right at the top,” Dr Blatchly said.

“It's very unsafe to ring them because the tower moves.”

George Pipe, a former master of the Suffolk Guild of Bell Ringers who rung the bells as a child, said: “These are the bells Wolsey would have heard. Restoring them is very important.”

The last time they were rung was in November last year when experts came to inspect the tower but they cannot be rung for more than a few minutes because of the threat to the structure.

“If we can bring them down three metres they will be in the sturdy part of the tower,” Dr Blatchly said.

The Heritage Lottery Fund bid was submitted last month and could get the go-ahead by the summer. It is hoped the bells could be lowered and readied for use in time for Christmas.

What do you think of the project? Do you have an interesting story about Suffolk's history? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

St Lawrence's bells:

Only at St Lawrence's Church and at Great St Bartholomew's, Smithfield in the City of London, are there rings of five bells surviving from before the Reformation

The Ipswich bells are said to predate the Smithfield five, all cast in about 1510, in four out of five cases by more than half a century

Four of the Ipswich bells date from 1450, the fifth was cast in 1480

It is thought the fifth was commissioned by Edward Daundy, the uncle of Thomas Wolsey

Local experts believe the sound of the bells of St Lawrence will have been a familiar one to the young Thomas Wolsey, who went on to become Cardinal Wolsey

While the St Lawrence bells are in perfect condition many others their age either cracked and degraded long ago and had to be recast or were replaced by newer bells