STEPPINGLEY CHURCH BELLS - THEIR HISTORY.
St. Lawrence’s Steppingley has 4 original bells , and their history is believed to go back to Tudor times. At that time the Church was a small old mediaeval building, which was to collapse around 300 years later in the late 1850's. The present building, which replaced it, was completed in 1860 by the Duke of Bedford, the architect being Henry Clutton.
In the late 1550's, George Joye and his wife Joan bequeathed funds to create bells for Steppingley Church, and it is reasonable to assume that a total of 4 bells were cast and hung to fulfil their bequest. It seems likely that, with the passing of time, the bells were recast over a period of 154 years, commencing 1660, to coincide with important commemorations.
Thus No.1, the smallest of the above original bells, bears the legend
" Christopher Graye Made Me 1660" and was likely recast by Graye to commemorate the Restoration of the Monarchy with the accession of Charles II. We understand that Graye's business was located in Ampthill.
It is quite possible that the recasting process could have been actually carried out in our own churchyard.
The remaining 3 original bells were all recast by Richard Taylor of St. Neots:
Bells No.2 and No.4 of the original bells are both inscribed "William Phillips Chwarden. Richard Taylor St.Neots 1807". These appear to commemorate the outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar. One can well imagine that by the time that the news of Nelson's great victory on the 21st October 1805 had percolated through to Steppingley, people had then decided that it would be a good idea to recast the Tudor bells, got the cash together, ascertained that they would have to be transported to St. Neots (assuming that Graye's were no longer in business), then actually got them down from the tower and into Taylor's foundry in far away St.Neots, well over a year could well have elapsed.
Bell No. 3 of the originals is inscribed "Thomas Cook William Phillips Chwardens. Robert Taylor St. Neots 1814". It is believed that this bell was recast to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813 and his forced abdication in May 1814. (He was then banished to the Mediterranean Island of Elba, whence he escaped in 1815 and went on to final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815).
By 2019 the bells had not been pealed for around 30 odd years, and the PCC decided to commission TLB Bellhangers to implement a scheme of refurbishment and augmentation. On November 11th 2019 the 4 original bells were taken to Matthew Higby of Radstock Somerset, to be completely retuned and refurbished- and on February 7th 2020 they returned to Steppingley, in company with 2 further bells, to form a fully tuned peal of 6. On February 14<sup>th</sup>, St. Valentine’s Day 2020 all 6 bells pealed out for the first time at 1.45pm to general rejoicing and the presence of a reporter from the local radio station.
The first and lightest of these additional bells was cast in 1974 by the Whitechapel Bellfoundry for St. Andrew’s Church, Headington, Oxford. St Andrew’s is still active, but this bell and another were found not to be tonally sympathetic with the other 6 bells which form the Church’s peal, and in 2000 they were replaced, being put into storage by the Keltek Trust. One of these bells was sent to Menangle Church in New South Wales, and the other was earmarked for rehoming at All Saint’s Church, Speke, Liverpool. However, All Saints ultimately decided not to proceed with their scheme, and Keltek very generously donated the bell to St. Lawrence’s Steppingley. As the lightest, this bell is now the treble in our new peal.
The second additional bell was cast by Taylor’s Bellfounders in 1915 for St. Mary’s Church in Low Harrogate, Yorkshire as one of a chime of 8 bells. St. Mary’s, built in the 1820’s, had gradually built up a total of various bells by 1915, when they were rationalized by recasting as a complete chime.
(A chime of bells does not peal by rotating via a bellrope and bellringer but is mechanically struck, although each bell can be mounted so as to be pealed, as Steppingley’s example has been.)
St. Mary’s closed in 2007 and its bells were removed in 2010. Our example was therefore stored by the Keltek Trust for around 10 years before the Trust very generously donated it to our Church. As part of its preparation for being installed in Steppingley the words "Long May Thy Praises O Lord Be Rung On These Bells Of Steppingley " were engraved upon it, in accordance with the bequest made by Andrew Underwood who had left a considerable legacy for the benefit of St. Lawrence’s bells in 2012. It is interesting to note that St. Mary’s Low Harrogate still retains its religious use, but is now known as Kairos Church, and that Taylor’s Bellfounders although now based in Loughborough are the same company which cast 3 of our original bells in the early 1800’s while based in St. Neots.
The financial resources for the refurbishment, the additional bells, the necessary modifications to the Tower and the Bells' rehanging were very generously provided from the following sources:
1. Legacy from Andrew Underwood.
2. Provision of two additional bells and their fittings from the Keltec Trust.
3. Grants from the Biggleswade and Bedfordshire Associations of Church Bell Ringers.
Additionally , an awe inspiring amount of work has been successfully undertaken by both TLB Bellhangers and volunteers, without whose enthusiasm, commitment and persistence the project could never have been undertaken.
It should be pointed out that this Bell Project has not required any financial resources from the Church in Steppingley.
M.J.Webb February 2020