Local Tower Information

Bristol Rural Branch

Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association

St James the Great, Abson - click for a larger versionSt James the Great, Abson



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Originally a medieval ring of three, two more bells were added in 1715, the lightest of these being recast in 1718. The ring was finally augmented to six with a new treble in 1802, however this bell may not have been acquired by the most lawful of methods. It is said that some youths of Abson, who were passionately fond of ringing, knew that there was an old bell in a farmyard at Slaughterford, Wiltshire. This they managed to carry away, and having broken it into pieces, kept it for a while before sending it to the bell foundry at Whitechapel, London where Thomas Mears I cast it into their new treble (weight 4-2-06, diameter 28 inches). Many names were inscribed upon the bell as subscribers, but the thieves were never discovered.

The bells were rehung in a new cast iron and steel frame with new fittings by Gillett & Johnston in September 1926. All the bells were cast with canons, but were then hung with bolts on iron canon-retaining headstocks. A contemporary photograph shows the bells being hauled up the outside of the tower, presumably on their way through one of the louvres, if not the tower roof. The reason for this is that only the floor of the belfry had a trapdoor, which gave the local ringers quite a task when one of the bells needed to be removed.

During 2006 it seemed that after more than two hundred years, fate had finally caught up with the Abson bell ringers as the sound produced by the treble slowly deteriorated, until in late October the suspected crack finally became visible. Inspections revealed that the metal was very porous (it was described as being "like Aero chocolate" by the Whitechapel Works Manager when it returned there in July 2008), the problem possibly being exacerbated by an overweight clapper. On 7th May 2008 Matthew Higby removed the bell from the tower, whereupon it was recast at Whitechapel at 16:26 on 11th July. Two bells for a new ring of ten in Sussex were also poured that day, so Abson probably got a third of its original metal back.

Whilst the treble was out of the tower, the opportunity was taken to sand-blast and repaint the bellframe and renovate all the clappers and other fittings. The new bell arrived on 25th September 2008, and despite having a flat crown was rehung using its predecessor's canon-retaining headstock. The old bell's long list of subscribers was reproduced on the new bell, along with the words "In memoriam Peter Taylor", the husband of one of Abson's ringers who died on 27th March 2008.

Until 2008, in the ground floor of the tower stood a cupboard that once held a faceless clock movement that struck the hours on the tenor. Weight-driven and hand-wound, the movement is on permanent loan from St Thomas à Becket, Pucklechurch where a new movement with dial was installed in 1923, and has for a number of years apparently been under restoration by a local horologist. The cupboard bore the date 1st September 1924 which presumably is when the movement was installed here.

The bells of St James the Great, Abson
BellWeightDiameterNoteFounder Date
14-0-07 28 inD# Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd 2008
24-3-00 28½ inC# Edward Bilbie I 1718
35-3-26 31½ inB Henry Gefferies c.1540
46-2-25 33½ inA# Edward Bilbie I 1715
59-2-07 37¾ inG# Bristol Foundry c.1500
610-1-24 40 inF# Bristol Foundry c.1450

Source: Bell data from Nick Bowden and Matthew Higby. Diameters of the original ring of six and details of the acquisition of the treble from "The Church Bells of Gloucestershire" (Revd Henry Thomas Ellacombe, 1881). Further information from "Bristol Rural News" (June, August and October 2008 editions). Inspected personally 15th February 2006 and 12th November 2008.

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.