Local Tower Information

Chippenham Branch

Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association

St Mary the Virgin, Marshfield - click for a larger versionSt Mary the Virgin, Marshfield



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The tower here was built by monks from Tewkesbury Abbey in 1470 and replaced an earlier central tower. It originally held four Medieval bells that were hung individually in rough oak frames made by local craftsmen, and were situated in what is now the Clock Chamber. All the bells swung north-south, and each would have been rung for its particular purpose. These bells were all recast by members of the Rudhall family in the 18th Century, and probably at various times before then, and two Rudhall bells still form part of the ring. The other two Rudhall bells were the previous fourth and sixth (of eight), and both were cast by Abraham Rudhall I in 1708. Their diameters were 33 inches and 37 inches respectively. The ring was augmented to six by Thomas Bilbie in 1739, and he would most likely have added a two-bell frame to the existing Medieval structure, probably along the north wall of the tower, the bells in it swinging east-west.

Sometime between 1739 and 1861 a further stage was added to the top of the tower - albeit slightly out of line with the rest of it - to eventually serve as the new belfry. In 1887 the whole tower was renovated inside and out by Canon Edward Feinnes Trotman, Vicar of Marshfield 1881-1910, as a memorial to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, and two years later in 1889 the six bells were rehung in a proper oak frame in the new belfry and an Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus installed in the ground floor Choir Vestry. The two 1708 Rudhall bells were also recast by Llewellins & James at this time.

On the death of Canon Trotman in 1910 two extra trebles were purchased from Mears & Stainbank, the 1899 six-bell frame being modified (and a large section of the wall carved out) to accommodate them. However, the eight bells put a strain on the frame and it was subsequently replaced with a new one of oak and steel by Llewellins & James in 1917. It is indicative of the lack of space in the belfry that the canons had to be removed from the two tenors, and their pits in the new frame separated by just a thin steel bar, simply to give them enough space to swing. The bells were hung in 1917 on plain bearings with oak headstocks, but just ten years later in 1927 the six heaviest bells were rehung on roller bearings with elm headstocks, after having the majority of their cast-in crown staples cut away, and the frame was strengthened.

By 2003 the bells had become difficult to manage and quotes were sought for rehanging. A report from Nicholson Engineering Ltd of Bridport, Dorset following an inspection visit on 2nd July 2003 stated that the fittings were in poor condition and the wheels near to complete failure, and that the bells were badly out of tune. Matthew Higby was finally contracted to undertake the task, and in July 2006 he removed the bells and frame from the tower. The seventh and tenor bells were repaired by Soundweld before all eight were retuned by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and the six heaviest bells then had the stumps of their cast-in crown staples drilled out and their remaining canons removed. The extent to which the bells were out of tune is clearly illustrated by the fact that ¾ cwt was removed from each of the two trebles, their previous weights being 4-2-12 and 5-0-18 respectively; indeed, the second bell is now lighter than the treble used to be.

A new galvanised steel frame was installed in the belfry, complete with concrete ring-beam foundation as the ledge upon which the previous frame sat was found to be in a state of collapse, and the bells were rehung with hollow cast-iron headstocks and new fittings in March 2007. All except the tenor were quarter-turned to present a new unworn face to their clappers, and the tenor was eighth-turned. It had been quarter-turned in the past, and because the clock's hour hammer struck it perpendicular to the swing of the clapper, the soundbow had been worn thin from both the inside and outside of the bell.

The bells were rearranged slightly in the new frame such that each bell's rope was moved one place around the rope circle in the Ringing Room. The seventh bell now occupies the pit that was previously home to the tenor, and as there was little space alongside the tenor in its new position, the clock's hour hammer now operates on the seventh bell. The Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus, extended in 1910 or 1917 onto all eight bells but unused for many years, was not reinstated.

The clock itself resides in the chamber between the Ringing Room and the belfry. A wrought iron, weight-driven birdcage movement, it is undated but may have been made by Thomas Bilbie in 1739 along with his two bells. It was probably rebuilt in 1826-7 as the Churchwardens' accounts for that year record a cash payment to Thomas Davis for the "Gilt Weathercock and ironwork for that and the clock". The dial is on the west wall of the tower and was originally directly behind the clock movement, but in 1861 it was moved higher up the tower to its present position. The in-fill of the original dial rod hole above the Clock Chamber window is dated accordingly. The clock weights fall from the ceiling of the Clock Chamber to the floor of the Ringing Room and are rewound by hand daily, although the clock can run for 36 hours unattended.

The bells of St Mary the Virgin, Marshfield
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
13-3-17 27½ inE Mears & Stainbank 1910
24-1-17 28¾ inD# Mears & Stainbank 1910
35-1-25 30¼ inC# Abraham Rudhall II 1720
45-3-04 32½ inB Llewellins & James 1888
56-2-00 34½ inA Thomas Bilbie I 1739
68-2-02 37 inG# Llewellins & James 1888
710-1-24 40¼ inF# Thomas Bilbie I 1739
815-1-22 45¾ inE Abraham Rudhall II 1734

Source: Inspected personally pre-restoration 7th May 2006 and post-restoration 13th August 2007. Bell data from Dove's Guide; previous weights of the two trebles from Nick Bowden. Details of previous bells from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Further information from Doug Bond, the website of Matthew Higby & Company Ltd, "The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, Marshfield - A short History and Guide" (H.W. Hayes & J.E. Walter, 1992), and documents in Marshfield Ringing Room.

Where a bell's exact weight is known, it is given in the traditional way using the British imperial units of Hundredweight, Quarters and Pounds (cwt-qtr-lb) in which there are 28 pounds in a quarter, four quarters in a hundredweight, and 20 hundredweight in a ton (one hundredweight is equal to approximately 50.8 kilograms). However, if only an approximate or calculated weight is known, it is given to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight.

A bell's diameter is measured across its mouth (open end) at the widest point and is given in inches (to the nearest quarter of an inch), one inch being equal to approximately 2.54 centimetres.