Bell frame

This late 16th century or early 17th century bell frame came to the Museum from the 11th century church of St Mary, Stoughton, West Sussex. It was donated to us when it was replaced with a new steel frame to support a ring of six bells.

The shingled spire is new and was erected here at the Museum in 2009. Its purpose is to illustrate best practice in fixing hand cleft oak shingles. The work was supported by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters.

The Bell Frame from St Mary’s Church, Stoughton, West Sussex

This bell frame came to the Museum from the 11th century church of St Mary, Stoughton, West Sussex. The bell tower, raised over the south transept in the 14th century, now supports a ring of five bells, following a refurbishment and the installation of a new steel bell frame which replaced the one now donated to the Museum. The bell frame has been re-erected beneath the shingled spire and is constructed of oak. It was built in two phases:

Phase 1: built sometime between 1350 and 1470, probably for a set of three bells that were hung for “chime ringing”. This was then dismantled and the timbers re-used by cutting some of them shorter and adding in some other re-used timbers, plus some new oak timbers.

Phase 2: built sometime between 1470 and 1550, a set of three bells were hung for “chime ringing” using a half or three-quarter wheel.

The Bell

The bells in Stoughton Church were all recast in the 17th century. A full circle wheel was introduced during or after the 17th century, and the frame enlarged to allow the hanging of two more bells. However the bells were never used for “change ringing” until the middle or late 20th century. ¹

The bell you see here has been loaned on a repeating three-year agreement by the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. It is dated 1621 and inscribed “Miles Graye made me”, and originally hung in the parish church of St Helen, Ipswich. Weighing over 4¼ cwt, it was brought to the Museum in 2012.

The headstock, bearings and wheel fitted to the bell are based on traditional fittings and have been fabricated by Nicholson Engineering, bell hanging specialists, who also re-furbished the bell.

¹ This is based on an inspection of the bells and frame by Albert A Hughes of the Whitechapel Foundry in the 1930s

The Shingled Spire

The shingled spire is new and was erected here at the Museum in 2009. One of the core aims of the Museum is to educate, and the framing of the structure of the spire and its shingling were a unique opportunity for some students to undertake this work. The spire was designed by Peter Harknett, a steeplejack; John Deal, a conservation architect; and Joe Thompson, the Museum’s carpenter in residence.  Its purpose is to illustrate best practice in fixing hand cleft oak shingles. The work was supported by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters.

Many church spires in the Weald and Downland region were historically shingled in oak, but have been re-shingled in Canadian western red cedar. This changes the appearance of the spires. Peter Harknett – who led all the shingling workshops on the spire and who completed the work – is an award-winning shingler, who has kept alive the craft tradition of making and fixing oak shingles.