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Bristol Rural Branch
Winterbourne (St Michael the Archangel)

St Michael the Archangel, Winterbourne

Name or Dedication: St Michael the Archangel

Location: Winterbourne, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST641810

A rare 18th Century "maiden peal" (complete set of bells of the same date, none of which have been tuned). The bells were all cast at Evans's Chepstow foundry and must therefore have been shipped across the River Severn to reach England. They were originally hung in a two-tier oak frame (bells 1 to 4 above, 5 and 6 below) that was strengthened in 1876. The bells all had their canons removed and were rehung on new wooden headstocks in around 1930 by Gillett & Johnston, who also replaced many parts of the frame. The frame was again strengthened when the bells were restored in the 1960s. By 1982, however, there was a real need for the bells to be rehung, and to keep costs to a minimum the ringers decided to carry out the work themselves.

The Ringing Room floor was replaced and the bells rehung slightly lower in the tower in two new steel frames (same layout) with new fittings throughout by the ringers and friends in 1983-4. First of all, the floor between the belfry and the former clock chamber below was removed, and the new lower frame was built immediately below the old frame. The fifth and tenor bells were then lowered into it. Next, the new upper frame was built in the space between the two tiers of the old frame, and the remaining four bells were then similarly lowered. However, to improve the rope circle, each of these four bells had its wheel swapped to the opposite side. The old frame was then dismantled and removed from the tower, the bells having never left the belfry. A new soundproof ceiling was also installed in the Ringing Room to compensate for the loss of the floor between the former clock chamber and belfry.

At this time the bells all kept their Gillett & Johnston fittings, but in 2001 rot was found in the wooden headstock of the tenor. Initially a replacement wooden headstock was fitted, but it turned out that the wood was not sufficiently mature and it split. A plan was then put in place to have the headstocks and clappers of the fifth and tenor bells replaced, and depending on the success of this, to then have the same done to the other four bells. By March 2002 two quotes for the first phase of this work had been received, Whites of Appleton reporting that the bells were "fairly well in tune", but Nicholson Engineering Ltd. saying the bells were "badly out of tune" and warning of the possibility that the second and third bells were cracked. Retuning was never an option for the ringers, however, due to the fact that the bells had not been tuned since they were first cast.

By September 2002 the condition of the tenor headstock had deteriorated to render it virtually unringable, so Whites started work in earnest, fitting new steel bridge-pattern headstocks, bearings and clappers to the fifth and tenor bells. They also replaced these bells' wheels as those supplied by Gillett & Johnston were apparently oversized, although the old wheels (and indeed the old headstocks) are still kept in the belfry. The four smaller bells are still awaiting similar treatment.

The derelict Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus in the Ringing Room, unused since around 1960, was removed during the rehanging in 1983, along with the disused clock movement in the chamber above. A late 17th Century birdcage movement rebuilt by George Lewton of Winterbourne in 1881, it struck the hours and required winding every day as it would only run for thirty hours unattended, the weights dropping to the ground floor of the tower in the north-east corner. In the 20th Century some attempt was made to modify it to run for eight days, but the extra weight required put a strain on the movement and it proved unreliable thereafter. It finally stopped in 1969, and its duty of driving the dial on the south wall of the tower was taken over by a modern synchronous electric clock in 1970.

The old clock movement was dismantled before it left the tower in 1983, and all the parts were given to a local member of the British Antiquarian Horological Association who reconstructed and restored it. In 1987 it was put on display in the church, but its old weights are stored at the bottom of the tower's spiral staircase. This staircase was once accessed from an internal door in the ground floor of the tower, but is now only accessible from outside as the internal doorway has been blocked up.

During some work to the tower roof later in the 1980s, the opportunity was taken to rescue the bell from the nearby church of St Mary In The Barn, Winterbourne (ST648809) which had recently closed. The treble to a Medieval ring of three at St Helen, Rudgeway until about 1955, it is now stored along with its original fittings on a platform high above the bellframe. There is potential for it to become a Service bell, chimed from the ground floor – indeed, a rope already hangs here, formerly attached to one of the Ellacombe chiming hammers but now quite useless.

Bells hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St Michael the Archangel, Winterbourne
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
17 cwt 33½ inC William Evans 1757
28½ cwt 35½ inBb William Evans 1757
310¼ cwt 38 inAb William Evans 1757
411¾ cwt 40 inG William Evans 1757
516½ cwt 44 inF William Evans 1757
621 cwt 48 inEb William Evans 1757

Additional bells

Additional bells at St Michael the Archangel, Winterbourne
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
Rescued3 cwt 25½ in  Bristol Foundry c.1450

Source: Bell data from Nick Bowden and "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Weights estimated personally based on the bells' diameters. Further information from Chris and Gill Greef, Terry Jefferies, and the Winterbourne Info website.

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.