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Bristol Rural Branch
Thornbury (St Mary the Virgin)

St Mary the Virgin, Thornbury

Name or Dedication: St Mary the Virgin

Location: Thornbury, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST633906

The early history of this ring is unclear. The original oak eight-bell frame installed at the level of the louvres is a traditional 17th Century Gloucester pattern and appears to have been constructed as one unit, suggesting that there were eight bells originally. It is likely that Abraham Rudhall I cast a complete ring of eight in 1698 and hung them in a new frame – indeed, the inscription on the fourth states "ABR RVDHALL CAST VS ALL". However, despite the tower still holding six Rudhall bells cast at four different times, there is no mention of Thornbury in the Rudhall catalogues between 1684 and 1830. In addition the fourth and seventh bells, both cast by Abraham Rudhall I in 1698, bear different names in their inscriptions.

Two new trebles were cast by William Evans in 1760, measuring 29 inches and 30 inches in diameter respectively. They probably replaced bells cast by Abraham Rudhall I in 1698 as many 17th Century trebles of eights were unsatisfactory. Both bells were recast again later, the treble in 1886 by Llewellins & James (5¼ cwt, 30 inches in diameter), and the second in 1938 by Mears & Stainbank who also renewed some of the fittings.

The bells were rehung with new fittings in 1893 by Blackbourn & Greenleaf, and oak beams on stone corbels were also added beneath the frame to help support it. Just over a century later the bells had become increasingly difficult to ring, and in 1996 a major restoration programme was undertaken. The bells were removed to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry where the fifth was found to be cracked and was repaired by welding, and the Llewellins & James treble – an inferior bell – was recast yet again. It was at this time that the tenor's true weight was discovered, having previously been reputed to weigh 22 cwt. All the bells were then retuned from their original key of Eb and rehung in a new steel ten-bell frame with new fittings. This was installed some 18 feet lower in the tower, allowing the 17th Century oak frame to be preserved and lowering the ceiling of the Clock Chamber below.

The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus in the Ringing Room was decomissioned during the 1996 rehanging, only the treble's hammer being transferred to the new frame to allow it to be chimed from the ground floor. In the Clock Chamber above is a hand-wound, weight-driven wrought iron birdcage clock that probably dates from around 1730. Rebuilt by George Lewton of Winterbourne in 1886, the setting dial being inscribed accordingly, it was completely refurbished again in March and April 2000 by The Cumbria Clock Company. It strikes the hours on the tenor, and its dial – restored in the summer of 2004 – is on the south wall of the tower.

Bells hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St Mary the Virgin, Thornbury
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
15-3-10 30 inD Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 1996
26-0-10 31 inC# Mears & Stainbank 1938
36-1-24 31 inB John Rudhall 1828
47-1-02 35 inA Abraham Rudhall I 1698
58-1-20 38 inG John Rudhall 1788
611-1-19 41 inF# John Rudhall 1828
713-3-07 44 inE Abraham Rudhall I 1698
818-2-19 49 inD Abraham Rudhall I 1717

Source: Current bell data from St Mary the Virgin, Thornbury – The Bell Ringers' Home Page (formerly at Further information from "Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Mary Bliss & Frederick Sharpe, 1986), Robin Shipp, Les Usher, and documents in Thornbury Ringing Room and Clock Chamber. Diameters of William Evans' 1760 trebles from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881).

Where the exact weight of a bell is known, it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is equal to approximately 50.8 kilograms). However, if only an approximate or calculated weight is known, it is given to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.

A bell's diameter is measured across its mouth (open end) at the widest point and is given in inches (to the nearest quarter of an inch), one inch being equal to approximately 2.54 centimetres.