The United Benefice of Sharnbrook, Felmersham and Knotting with Souldrop ST. PETER'S BELLS and RINGING
SHARNBROOK CHURCH BELLS  - A HISTORY (Written by Chris Pickford in 1982 - updated by Judy Anderson and Pat Albon) The Western tower with spire of St Peter's Church, Sharnbrook, houses a ring of eight bells in the key of F sharp, of which the tenor bell has a diameter of 39 inches. The details of each bell are as follows:
As can be seen from the inscriptions, bells 3-7 were recast by Messrs Gillett & Johnston of Croydon in 1923-24. The inscriptions of the former bells have been reproduced in modern lettering on the new ones, with the addition of the names of Messrs Gillett & Johnston and the date of recasting. The present sixth bell is dated 1924, but  bells 3-5 & 7 were all recast in 1923. At the same time the bells were re-hung with new fittings in a cast iron and steel "lowside" pattern bell frame in which there were pits for eight bells. The cost of Messrs Gillett & Johnston's work, which included the provision of a new church clock, amounted to £720, and the restored bells were re-dedicated on 8 June 1924. The tenor bell was cast in 1699 by Henry Bagley of Ecton, Northamptonshire, and it is the sole survivor of Sharnbrook's seventeenth century ring of five. Writing in 1783, Oliver St John Cooper noted that the tenor was "... in very fine tone ...", and when it was taken down in 1923 this bell was found to be of sufficiently good tonal quality to be retained in the ring even though the five new bells were tuned on modern five-tone principles. It was accordingly re-tuned at Croydon in October 1923, quarter turned, and re-hung with the new bells in 1924.


The earliest bells of which we have any definite evidence were cast in the seventeenth century, but it is clear that the church possessed bells in medieval times since the wills of William Gere (1490), John Bower (1506) and others contain bequests "to the belles". Unfortunately there is no 'Edwardian Inventory' of 1552 for Sharnbrook, and so we do not know either the number or the sizes of the medieval bells, but from the inscription of the old bells recorded in various sources and reproduced on the present ring it i8 clear that there were five bells by 1699. It i8 most likely that the present tenor of 1699 replaced an older bell which had become cracked, and it is probable that Sharnbrook church had a ring of five by 1683. The oldest of the original five bells was the fourth, cast at Leicester in the second decade of the seventeenth century by a bellfounder named Newcome. The last figure of the date is missing, and all known versions of the inscription record the date as "A 161", but similar bells by Newcome at Milton Ernest (1611), Pavenham (1614), Keysoe (1615) and Felmersham (1617) provide an indication of when it was cast. The Newcome family cast a considerable number of bells for Bedfordshire churches in the early seventeenth century, and it has been suggested that some of them may have been cast at a temporary foundry in Bedford. According to Thomas North's 'Church Bells of Bedfordshire '(1883) the old timber bell frame bore the date 1683, and the inscriptions of the bells show that three of them were cast in that year. North's description is slightly inaccurate as he (or his informant) appears to have misread the diameter of the third bell as 24 inches instead of 34 inches and he therefore described the bell as the treble, the real treble as the second, and the second as the third. All three bells were cast by the same founders, but the treble bore the name of Henry Bagley, the second was anonymous, and the third was inscribed "Matthew Bagley Made Mee". The foundry at Chacombe, Northants, was established in 1630 by Henry Bagley the elder, but although he was still alive in 1683 the actual running of the foundry seems to have passed into the hands of his two sons, Henry the younger and Matthew, by 1680. The two brothers worked in partnership for a number of years, but they frequently placed their separate names on bells which they evidently cast together. Matthew Bagley died at Evesham in 1690, and Henry Bagley the younger seems to have moved to Ecton where he cast a number of bells between 1687 and 1703, including the present Sharnbrook tenor dated 1699. It is interesting to note that the four Bagley bells are not included in a trade list published by Henry Bagley of Witney in 1732, but there is good evidence to suggest that his list is inaccurate although it purports to include all bells cast by the Bagley family up to the date of its publication. The inscription of the original second bell recorded that the bell was given by "Thome Montagu de Burton Comitat Northampton Rectoris" in 1685. This Thomas Montagu was a younger brother of Robert Montagu, the owner of the Colworth l state. He was apparently educated at a private school at Knotting, and he was Rector of Burton Latimer from 1676 until his death in January 1718/19 The old third bell recorded the names of the Sharnbrook churchwardens in 1683, namely John Sharp and John Merrill, and the tenor bears the names of William Corbey and John Ropers who were churchwardens in 1699,   During the summer of 1881, extensive restoration work was carried out on the tower and spire by G H Green of Wellingborough, under the direction of the architect Mr W Talbot Brown. The work necessitated the erection of scaffolding to the top of the spire, and took four months to complete, costing £450. At a meeting when the work was reported on and the accounts received, it was decided that a Committee should be formed "to take steps for the repair of the church bells". Various fund raising events were held, and as a result the five bells were rehung with new fittings in a new oak frame with pits for six bells. The work cost £125, and on 24 February 1883 a band of change-ringers from Bromham visited Sharnbrook to try the rehung bells. At this date Sharnbrook, in common with most churches in the County, did not possess its own band of change- ringers, but the re-hanging of the bells made it possible for a new team of ringers to be trained in the art. As we shall see, the progress of the ringers under the leadership of John Dickins, himself a staunch Baptist, was such that within a few years it became desirable to add the extra bell for which space had been made in the new frame when the bells were rehung in 1882. In March 1887 it was resolved to obtain estimates for the cost of a new bell, but owing no doubt to a large number of parishes ordering new bells to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, it was not until September that a new treble arrived at Sharnbrook. It was cast by John Warner & Sons of the Crescent Foundry, Cripplegate, London, and the six bells were rung for the first time on Tuesday, September 6. 1887


Chris Pickford (Personal Communication) - History of Sharnbrook bells and bell ringers. Richard Forder (Personal Notes - 2007) Inspection of Sharnbrook Bells (C J P ), 1978 Records of the Bedfordshire Association of Bellringers, 1882-1982 (CR0: X529) T North, Church Bells of Bedfordshire (1883) Sharnbrook glebe terrier, 1822 (CR0: FAC 35/11) Files of the Bedfordshire Mercury, especially 1881-1887 Manuscript recollections of E P Duffield, written at the request of C J P 1981 St John Cooper Mss, British Library, London (Add Mss 34366, and 34373 f 27d) 'The Ringing World' No 4995 January 19th. 2007.
The United Benefice of Sharnbrook, Felmersham and Knotting with Souldrop This page last updated 24/05/2024                      Comments / feedback: please contact: webmaster