The Bells in the Tower

The Bells of St Peters Church

The tower contains two bells, as it has done since the l8th century. The larger had never been moved, but the smaller had been hung at Flecknoe and was recovered in the recent repairs. These were removed and taken to Loughborough where they were repaired by Messrs John Taylor and Co., the bell founders, and re-hung so that it is now possible to ring the bells. This was done for the first time for more than 30 years, and perhaps even longer, at the time of the annual service on St Peter’s Day, 1976.

The smaller bell is inscribed: Pack and Chapman of London. Fecerunt. 1780 and contrasts with the other bell which weighs between 18 and 19 cwt. This is of great value being a large example of the work of John Sturdy of London and was probably cast just prior to the middle of the l5th century.

Although in medieval times it was usual to cast large bells on, or near, the actual site of a church this was, in accordance with the usual practice of John Sturdy, probably cast in London and brought by cart to Wolfhampcote. It bears the inscription IN MUITIS ANNIS RESONET CAMPANA JOHANNIS, with crowned capital letters at the start of each word. These crowned letters were first used by an earlier London founder named Stephen Norton. The bell also bears an old London founder’s mark which first appeared in the l4th century, together with a cross of four fleurs-de-lis in an octagon, a mark which was first used by John Sturdy.

Because of their historical interest the canons have been retained at the head of the bell which has now been turned round to allow the clapper to strike a part of the sound bow which has not been worn thin by the blows of the clapper during the last 500 years. This is the first time this medieval bell has been turned round in this way and perhaps even the first time it has left the church tower.

Source: The above information is drawn extensively from an original article written by Lyndon F Cave who was the architect and overseer of all the modern work done in and on St. Peter’s.

A Study of the Bells, 2010

The following information is taken from notes made by Christopher Pickford in 2010 and includes details of the bells currently in the tower and their history.:

Wolfhampcote – St. Peter: This was the parish church of a deserted mediaeval village, the site of which is to the north of the church. The village was depopulated in around 1500 and the main settlements in the parish are now to the west at Flecknoe, Nethercote and Sawbridge.

The oldest parts of the church date from the C13th, and the short tower in the north west corner – evidently replacing an earlier belfry – seems to have been built from the ground in the Seventeenth century and completed in 1690. Although partially restored in 1848 and again in 1903, the church fell into disuse in the early Twentieth century and it was abandoned in the 1950s.

It was saved from ruin by the Friends of Friendless Churches and, after formal redundancy in 1970, finally vested in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (then the Redundant Churches Fund) in 1972. It was afterwards restored by the Trust under the supervision of Lyndon F. Cave of Leamington.

The north-west tower houses two bells – the same number as in 1552 when ‘Wolhamcote’ had ‘two belles in the steple’. The larger one is hung for ringing and the smaller bell is hung for swing chiming.

Ancient bell in Wolfhampcote church
The large bell in Wolfhampcote church, John Sturdy circa 1450

Larger bell: Founder is John Sturdy, circa 1450.

Inscription: (coin)  +  In Multis Annis Refonet Campana Iohannis

Details: 41 ½” diameter, 751 Hz, F#+25 note, 12 Cwt., 2 Qrs., 21 lbs

Large bell inscription: Multis annis refonet campana Iohannis – roughly translates as ‘John Bell resonates for many years’

Second smaller bell: Founder is Pack & Chapman, 1780.


Details: 22 ¼” diameter, 1678.5 Hz, G#+17 note, 2 Cwt., 1 Qrs., 16 lbs

Both bells retain their canons, but only the larger bell has been quarter turned.  Although both bells were taken to Loughborough at the time of rehanging, neither bell has been tuned.

The smaller bell was cast in 1780 by Pack and Chapman of the Whitechapel Foundry, London. There is, however, no mention of it in the Churchwardens’ accounts for 1780. At the time of the writer’s first visit to Wolfhampcote in 1971, this bell was not in the tower, but its fittings remained in situ.  It had been stolen, and when it was recovered it was stored in the church at Flecknoe pending a decision on its future. It was eventually rehung at Wolfhampcote in 1976.

The larger bell (once reputed to weigh 18 or 19 cwt) was probably cast in London in about 1450 by a founder named John Sturdy.  It bears two initial crosses and the impression of a half groat coin, and the initial letter of each word is crowned. The mouldings are 3:1*1-3:3:1*.

The larger bell hangs in an oak bell frame in the centre of the tower, and it swings east to west. The frame consists of cills, main braces, and long frame heads (Bellframes type 6.A), and dates from the early nineteenth century. It was strengthened with iron tie-rods in 1975. The Churchwardens’ accounts show that the bells were rehung with a new wooden frame and new belfry woodwork in 1820:

  • 17 May [1820] Pd Redhead for Wood and farme (sic) for hanging the Bells: £27.18.0.
  • For takeing frame Down & Bringing frame & floor to Wolfampcote: £1.10.0.
  • Pd. Mr. Ward of Rugby for Inspecting Redhead worke at the Church: £1.1.0.
  • Going to Rugby to see after Mr. Ward: 5s.
  • [total] £30.14.0.

The hanger was probably Thomas Redhead of Braunston who built a new frame there ‘to Mr. Briant’s plan’ when the bells were recast by John Briant of Hertford in 1812. There is a further payment in the Wolfhampcote accounts in 1821 to ‘Mr. Redhead of Branston for mending the Bell Ropes’. Mr. Ward was William Ward of Rugby who advertised as a Church bell Hanger (among other things) in the Northampton Mercury on 14 February 1818 and who rehung the bells at Willoughby in a new frame in 1819-20.

The smaller bell originally hung in a makeshift frame built on to the north side of the main frame, but this framework was removed when the bells were restored in 1975-6. The bell now hangs in a new frame of light timbers to the south of the larger bell and at a slightly higher level.

The fittings of the larger bell were supplied by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough in 1975 and consist of a cast iron canon retaining headstock, fixed steel gudgeons, self aligning ball bearings, traditional type wheel, and traditional type stay and slider.  The smaller bell was rehung by the same firm in 1976, and it is fitted with a wrought iron headstock (with a wooden pad between the stock and canons), self-aligning ball bearings, and an iron chiming lever.

The old bell wheel of the larger bell is now fixed on the south wall of the tower, and the other fittings of both bells were at one time preserved in the south porch (although they are not there now – 2010). Until they were rehung in 1975-6, both bells were fitted with wooden headstocks, strap gudgeons, stock hoops, traditional type bell wheels, and traditional type stays and sliders, evidently of 1820.

There is no clock.

Visited: C.J.P. and Ian Kennedy, 16 September 1971, and C.J.P., Richard Jones and Christopher Dalton, 16 September 1978; Christopher Dalton, 16 July 1988; C.J.P. (tonal analysis) 14 May 2010

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