The Bell Tower at Ebrington Church.
Parts of the visible footings of the present Ebrington Church Bell Tower include much of the surviving remnants of the original early Norman church on this site, dedicated to St. Eadburgha. Eadburgha was reputed to be a grand-daughter of the Saxon King Alfred and she also founded Pershore Abbey, being the first Abbess. The ‘old church’, in Broadway, is the only other church dedicated to St. Eadburgha.
Rising above the Norman foundations, and as far as the visible external shoulder-line about half way up the present tower, this part of the structure is believed to be 14th century, with dressed local stone rubble filled walls five feet thick in places. The top half of the tower is believed to be 17th century, with the roof area dating from the mid 19th century, replacing an earlier roof which was destroyed by fire when enthusiastic villagers chose to light a signalling beacon to celebrate some long forgotten event. Charred timbers are still visible in the ceiling of the ringing chamber where molten lead must have flowed down igniting the lower levels.
Early church bells pre-dating the existing Ring of six were probably installed in the earlier structure; evidenced by the remains of wooden bearing supports embedded in the internal walls some 1/3 of the way up the present tower, and these would have been rung from the ground floor as chiming bells, not the full circle ringing as is now employed at Ebrington and elsewhere, almost exclusively as an English tradition.
Of the present bells, three were cast, most probably by the itinerant bell-founder Henry Bagley, using a casting pit in the churchyard, in 1678. Another bell was cast in 1687 and a further bell was commissioned and cast in 1679 by a Matthew Bagley of Chacombe. A final bell, recast by Taylors of Loughborough in 1955 when the bells were last re-hung, still carries around the bell-mouth its original inscription “ William Bagley made mee 1642 AD”; thus the earliest bell is also the newest.
The bells are tuned to F Sharp, tuning was always done after casting, chiselling out bell metal inside and above the bell-mouth ring by hand; the marks still being clearly visible. The current Treble bell, the lightest, weighs 5 cwt 0 qtr 15 lbs and the Tenor bell, the heaviest, weighs 12 cwt 2 qtr 12 lbs.
The faceless turret clock, was made by a local blacksmith around 1748 and has a novel horizontal crown escapement. The clock is run sparingly as it is rather fragile; however it keeps near perfect time, unaffected by temperature. It chimes the hours only, and rings off the Tenor bell.
The Bells of Ebrington have been calling people to worship, announcing village births, marriages and passing; advertising events and celebrations for the past several centuries, only silenced during World War II. The village would have first learnt about Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 by a celebratory peal rung, when heard from an adjacent tower. Church towers are surprisingly often positioned on hills and in valleys to ensure they can be heard from the next in the ‘chain’ to communicate such news as well as sharing celebrations. The bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar was celebrated in 2005, in like manner.
Old ringing traditions are maintained at Ebrington; the ringers tend to ring ‘Grandsire Plain Course’ and ‘Bob Doubles’ with and without Bobs; ‘Plain Hunt’ as well as a local peal of called changes ‘George Surprise’ named after George Rouse, a previous Tower Captain. Another local specialism is ‘firing’ the bells, when each of them rings out simultaneously, traditionally rung to wish Every Success to the happy couple as the bride and groom leave church after their wedding. There is also the other local tradition, shared with St James’ in Campden, of ringing for doubting Thomas’ Day, 21st December – from 5:45 am till dawn, followed by a traditional Ebrington farmhouse breakfast.
The Ringers are pleased to continue to be of service – with the tradition of anonymity associated with their craft. Learners, visitors and returners are always welcomed to join at Practice nights, 2nd and 4th Monday of each month. The present band of ringers is as keen as their ringing forebears to maintain the traditions and keep the bells ringing for the next generations.
- St Eadburgha's Church
- Chipping Campden
- GL55 6NG