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Chipping Sodbury (St John the Baptist)

St John the Baptist, Chipping Sodbury - click for a larger version

Name or Dedication: St John the Baptist

Location: Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire

Grid Reference: ST727823

This church was dedicated on 9th May 1284 as a Chapel-of-Ease to St John the Baptist, Old Sodbury, finally becoming a Parish Church in 1821. The present building is a mix of 13th, 14th and 15th Century styles, with the majestic south porch being added during substantial restoration undertaken in 1869 by George Edmund Street, designer of the London Law Courts. The tower, standing at over 104 feet tall, was probably built at the end of the 15th Century.

The original ring of six (tenor 15½ cwt, 45 in diameter in F) was cast by Abel Rudhall in 1753. They were hung by their canons in an oak frame of the same period, but this was probably made locally as it is not the standard Rudhall construction. The bells were rehung with new fittings including elm headstocks, the tenor being quarter-turned, by Thomas Blackbourn in around 1900. The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus may have been installed in the Ringing Room at this time. The bells were rehung again on ball bearings by Mears & Stainbank in 1950, the treble (diameter 32 inches) being recast and the middle four quarter-turned. Mears & Stainbank also provided new clappers with independent crown staples and strengthened the frame.

To celebrate the 7th Centenary of the church in March 1984, the bells were rehung once more with new fittings including cast iron headstocks in a new oak frame 13 feet lower in the tower (72 feet above ground level), allowing the 18th Century oak frame to be preserved in its original position. Prior to rehanging the bells all had their canons removed, were retuned from the key of F and the tenor recast by Whitechapel, a 7 inch crack having been found in its crown on the removal of its canons. The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus in the Ringing Room was also removed at this time.

The new frame was designed to be extended at a later date for the addition of two trebles. This was done when a donation was made in 1999 for a new bell, and it was decided to raise the money to complete the octave. Six ringers witnessed the two new bells being cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on 14th July 2000. A new cast iron extension to the frame was installed by Whites of Appleton during October, and the new bells were installed at the end of November, the third (of eight) being moved into the extension alongside the new second, and the new treble being hung in the third's former pit.

The tower formerly held a faceless clock and chiming barrel in the chamber above the Ringing Room. The clock, a hand-wound weight-driven birdcage movement, dates from around 1700 and was probably made locally. After 1753 it struck the hours on the tenor of Rudhall's ring of six, however the age of the clock indicates that at least one bell hung in the tower before that date. The movement was removed from the tower in 1963 and is now on display at the back of the church. It is in full working order and is occasionally wound for demonstration purposes. The wooden chiming barrel, albeit missing its pegs that operated the bell hammers, has been mounted vertically on a beam in one corner of the former Clock Chamber.

Bells hung for full-circle ringing

The bells of St John the Baptist, Chipping Sodbury
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
14-3-14 28 inE Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 2000
25-1-06 29¼ inD# Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 2000
36-0-17 30¼ inC# Mears & Stainbank 1950
47-2-08 34 inB Abel Rudhall 1753
57-2-16 35¾ inA Abel Rudhall 1753
68-2-04 37½ inG# Abel Rudhall 1753
711-2-02 41 inF# Abel Rudhall 1753
816-0-08 44¾ inE Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 1984

Source: Current bell data from Dove's Guide; details of ring of six (with original tenor) from "Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Mary Bliss & Frederick Sharpe, 1986). Diameter of original treble from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Further information from Alan Pidgeon. Clock inspected personally 17th March 2006; belfry likewise 19th June 2006.

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.