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Bristol Rural Branch
Wapley (St Peter)

St Peter, Wapley

Name or Dedication: St Peter

Location: Wapley, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST714797

The tower of this church originally comprised just three of the present four stages, the fourth stage with its pitched roof being added later. Evidence remains of louvres (now blocked up), probably dating back to the 11th Century, in all four walls of the third stage of the tower, indicating that one or more bells previously hung here. However, the earliest bells currently in the tower are probably 15th Century and would most likely have been first hung in the upper stage. The Ringing Room was likely on the first floor of the tower from the very beginning.

The ring was augmented to five by Abraham Rudhall II in 1724, possibly tuned as the back five of an octave in G. However, William Bilbie's replacement second bell in 1777 was tuned to C#, a semitone higher than the C needed for the major scale, and Llewellins & James's replacement tenor in 1900 (10 cwt, diameter 39 inches) was tuned nearer to F# than G, resulting in a ring comprising approximately the treble, second, third, fourth and sixth of an octave in D. Whether or not this was the intention is best left to conjecture.

When Llewellins & James recast the tenor, they also cut off the canons and cast-in crown staples from the front four bells and rehung them all with new fittings – including elm headstocks with plate gudgeons on plain bearings, and wrought iron wooden-topped clappers – in the existing oak five-bell frame. It was probably also Llewellins & James who quarter-turned the bells, although the fourth bell had also been eighth-turned, and installed the five-bell Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus in the ground floor of the tower. The bellframe possibly dates from the 17th Century, so Rudhall may not have been the first to add to the two Medieval bells. Indeed, Rudhall's ring of five may have replaced an earlier ring of four as the two trebles had very little room to spare.

The bells became unringable in May 1998. An inspection by Nicholson Engineering Ltd in November 1998 showed that movement of the frame was causing damage to the structure of the tower, and that the fittings were in poor condition. One of the tenor's gudgeons was broken rendering it unsafe to even attempt to swing the bell, and the others were mostly loose. The frame itself had suffered extensive decay, particularly in the ends of the foundation beams, and was on the whole less than ideal and beyond realistic further use. Various options for restoration were considered, and in the end it was decided to remodel the ring into a smaller six, using the present fourth as the tenor and disposing of the Llewellins & James bell.

Three companies quoted for the project. Both Whites of Appleton and Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd proposed reusing the old frame, Whites adding the sixth bell in a new frame below, and Whitechapel installing a new five-bell frame below while leaving just one bell in the old frame. However, Nicholson Engineering Ltd managed to fit all six bells onto one level in a new six-bell frame, again below the existing oak frame, and as a result they were awarded the contract. Work began in January 2000 with the creation of a new trapdoor in the Ringing Room floor, the plaster ceiling below (which was in poor condition) being removed prior to its replacement in wood.

The new cast iron and galvanised steel frame was installed below the level of the existing Ringing Room ceiling (several joists of which showed evidence of having been part of an earlier bellframe) and the Ringing Room moved to the ground floor from where the five-bell Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus was removed. This allowed the old frame to be retained in its original position as it was of historical interest. Meanwhile, the front four bells were sent to Whitechapel to have the stumps of their cast-in crown staples removed, and two new trebles were cast. All were tuned to match the new tenor, which had itself never been tuned (the fifth bell also showed no internal tuning marks, but part of its lip had been removed), before they returned to Nicholson's to be fitted with cast iron headstocks with steel gudgeons, the four original bells being turned once more. The old Llewellins & James tenor was found a new home through the Keltek Trust, and was hung at St Stephen's Chapel, Stanley, Hong Kong in 2000.

Bells hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St Peter, Wapley
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
13-2-16 25 inF# Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 2000
24-1-06 27 inE Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 2000
34-2-18 29 inD Abraham Rudhall II 1724
44-3-19 29½ inC# William Bilbie 1777
56-1-22 33 inB Bristol Foundry c.1400
68-0-16 36¾ inA Bristol Foundry c.1400

Source: Bell data and much information from Nicholson Engineering Ltd. Further information from Bryan Hardwick, Alan Pidgeon, Revd David Wilcox, the Keltek Trust, and "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.