Our small 11th century Oxfordshire church is a gem situated amidst open fields, two miles from the River Thames at Benson. A church has been on this site for over a thousand years (see 'History of St Helen's Church).
The tower contains a ground floor ring of six bells including a 7cwt tenor:
- the treble is very light – only 2cwt - and was originally cast in 1836.
- the 2nd and 4th were cast in 1621, and carry the inscription 'H K', which most likely refers to Henry Knight the bell founder. Henry Knight cast a lot of bells in the area, and his son Henry Knight II carried on the tradition.
- the 3rd, 5th and Tenor were cast in 1692 by Alexander Rigby.
The construction of our tower had always been unclear and so in 2013 we were fortunate to have the timbers dated very precisely by the University of Oxford. Their team came armed with diamond drills to take minute core samples from the timbers for detailed analysis. Three of the trees used for the cross braces were found to have been felled in the spring of 1428, and one in the spring of 1429. Given that at that period in history there is some evidence that unseasoned oak was used for construction, the tower frame is confirmed to be as old as it looks - a medieval survival of a type unique in Oxfordshire. A wrought iron frame was installed in 1908.
Inside the tower there are some hand-written ringing records, inscribed in pencil on the walls. The oldest of these is dated 1902.
Following a very successful fundraising campaign during 2013 and 2014, in February 2015 the bells were transported to Whites of Appleton to be refurbished for the first time for over 100 years. After being retuned in Whitechapel, London they were finally reinstalled in June 2015 (the Newsletter attached below gives some more details on the project).
Over the past years the bells have been rung, with help from the Chalgrove ringers, on the first Sunday of the month for family services and for weddings and baptisms. In addition, the South Oxfordshire Branch have rung them for special practices.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, however, the bells have sadly remained silent. We hope this situation will be behind us some time in 2021. Once we are able to return to normality visiting ringers are of course very welcome. The tower captain is Andrew Davis, who can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by telephone on 01865 890755.