Church faces £32k bid to keep its bells ringing

St. Mary's Church Westham nr. Eastbourne August 28th 2012 E35078N_corrected
St. Mary's Church Westham nr. Eastbourne August 28th 2012 E35078N_corrected
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Parishioners at an ancient church must raise thousands of pounds to keep their bells ringing – months after a ban stopping them from playing was lifted.

Villagers in Westham have to find more than £32,000 to replace the bell frame at the church which has been corroded by the sea air.

The six bells at St Mary’s Church are in good condition but the frame is in need of urgent repairs, said the church’s warden Jenny Hammond.

The village is now in the middle of fundraising to pay for the costly repairs.

An open day was held at the church where visitors enjoyed cakes and were able to access the tower and hear the bells being rung.

Mrs Hammond said: “We had an open afternoon for the bells because we have to raise lots of money because the bells themselves are fine but the frame is rusty.

“The frame does need to be replaced because it’s rusty due to being close to the sea and the salty air.

“The bell ringers are hoping to get a grant, and are currently in the process of doing that, but usually you have to match fund a grant.”

The latest drama in the church bells story comes more than a decade after they were banned by the parish’s former vicar.

But, the vicar who locked the bell ringers out of the tower has now left and bell ringing has returned.

The village is currently enjoying the peel of bells of St Mary’s Church once a month in the village.

The ringing was silenced at the oldest Norman church in England for more than ten years when vicar Gary Barrett banned the bell ringers from the belfry in May 2003.

The ban on the church bells was lifted when the Archdeacon and Rural Dean asked Mrs Hammond to start the bells ringing again.

Many of the old bell ringers moved to different churches but some of the old faces have returned to St Mary’s.

The bells are being rung monthly with six bell ringers hoping to learn the art of bell ringing.

Valerie Macrae, who started bell ringing as a hobby in the late 90s, said she was delighted to be back at St Mary’s.

She said: “It is a great hobby and really good fun.

“It is also good for your health as it is quite a good way to keep fit. It gives you quite a good cardiovascular workout. “

Valerie explained the church was looking for new people to join the current bell ringers and newcomers were more than welcome.

She said, “Some people take about three months to learn and other up to six months but it is great fun.

“And when you have mastered the art, you can go anywhere in the world and do bell ringing.

“If you are on holiday in the UK and you hear bells ringing , you can go in and you can be sure of a warm welcome.”

Valerie said she had done bell ringing while on holiday in New Zealand.”